"When I started teaching yoga to kids as a volunteer teacher I was frustrated with the lack of quality, affordable tools out there," she said. "So I used the principles of play and storytelling to create a curriculum that wouldn't just help the kids learn yoga, but find more relevance and meaning in it too. It really worked."
A 2011 graduate of Pace University-Lubin School of Business, Cardoza used her marketing skills to establish Yoga Foster, as a not-for-profit with an attractive website that sought donations.
"Everything, from our teacher training to mats and other supplies, is provided free of charge, so any school or community organization, without the means for activities like arts-based or physical education programming, can start a weekly program that makes a comprehensive impact," Cardoza said.
What makes Yoga Foster different from other programs - like Om Schooled and Bent on Learning - is costless trainings and activities, with emphasis on make-believe for young kids Cardoza said.
"When the teacher instructs warrior, for example, it may be as a warrior in the jungle trying to get his way off Yoga Island," Cardoza said.
The Williamsburg resident and former children's piano teacher, discussed the importance of play, creativity, and websites with Ann Votaw, from YogaCity NYC:
Ann Votaw: What is it about creativity that is so special?
Nicole Cardoza: Creativity is one of the most underrated and misrepresented concepts in education today, particularly with the youth we serve. Creativity enables us to take what we know and apply it an innovative manner to tackle problems large and small. Unfortunately, we often focus only on what kids know, and not the various ways they could apply it. We aim to give kids a chance to do so in our programs, physically, mentally and emotionally, in a playful, lighthearted setting.
Votaw: Explain a class structure.
Cardoza: The class is structured like a usual yoga class with sections for discussion, reflection, imagination, and exploration. Our instructors are monitoring individual and group effort to ensure each are getting the best opportunity to grow. The teacher comes up with a thematic plot, and the kids develop confidence, sociability, and collaboration by coming up with twists like zombies and ghosts. The teacher plays music, and the kids use their mats in different ways to work with the story. They try to solve problems, and we reflect on the story at the end. We have a rest period and use mantra and breathing, all the things we teach in traditional yoga.
Votaw:What are your ways of measuring results?
Cardoza: Our results for our students are based in measuring and increasing the level of creativity that our students exude. Our Three C’s Approach uses traditional children’s yoga and storytelling methods to enhance levels of clarity, confidence, and collaboration for each child, so week by week the instructors can measure their lesson plan’s effect on each student, and adjust accordingly. We are also introducing benchmarks for our teachers to ensure they're learning and growing, too.
Votaw:You have an impressive on-line presence.
Cardoza: Thank you!
Votaw: What advice do you have for anyone wanting to start a yoga enterprise?
Cardoza: The Yoga Foster channels are run by myself and a marketing coordinator we recently brought onto the team. I think it's important to have a fully functioning web page. There are tons of really low-cost options out there, like squarespace.com. Beautiful website templates and options out there that don't take a lot of time for a teacher or studio to use. When someone has the first impression of our plan, it's going to be online. Before we had an office in Midtown Manhattan, when it was me in my bedroom, the only available space we had was a digital presence.
Votaw: You have an active Facebook page with lots of photographs and color. Explain your social media strategy.
Cardoza: Authenticity is key. If you are a teacher or studio owner, share your passion of yoga or what it means to you on social media. Let yourself shine through. A lot of yoga studios post people doing poses, but we use a childish tone in what we share. We ask our photographer to shoot the kids in motion having fun. We don't want it to be perfect.
Votaw: What's next for you?
Cardoza: Right now we're preparing for our biggest fall yet through our Back To Cool campaign, because we believe school is a lot cooler when yoga is involved.
To date, Yoga Foster's Back To Cool has raised more than $1,700 on crowdrise.com. By this fall, Yoga Foster will serve more than 2,500 children in 40 organizations in New York as well as Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh. Yoga Foster has trained more than 100 teachers with its 20-hour trainings for yoga certified and non-certified instructors alike.