The Guest Blog: 9 Things I've Learned From Teaching Kids Yoga
A few years ago, my Tween Yoga class begged me to teach them a “grown up” class. “Like, a REAL grown up class, JUST like you would teach the grown ups.” So I lined up their little bodies in a row (instead of a circle), and addressed them as I would any normal class (although I harped several times “remember, you can take a break in child’s pose whenever you need to…”). I taught the exact same sequence I’d taught a few hours earlier, to my afternoon Vinyasa class.
And they killed it. I mean, these kids were powering through vinyasas, and trying their absolute hardest to be at their most adult while practicing pranayama (I have never seen anyone breathe so earnestly). As we finished, I asked the girls what they thought of doing a grown up class.
“I liked it…” one little girl said. “But I never want to do that again.”
When pressed to think about why she didn’t want to do it again, she answered, “In our class, we get to laugh and giggle and move around the room. Staying in one spot is kind of boring. And we get to play games!”
All of this has gotten me thinking about why we don’t laugh and giggle as much in ‘grown-up’ class, about the way teaching adults informs the way I teach children, and vice versa. I’m realizing that everything I’ve learned from my kiddos is just as important as anything I learned in my Teacher Training.
Here are the 9 most important things I’ve learned from teaching Kids Yoga.
If you listen closely. Sometimes children can get to the root of the matter so much faster than adults. Goodness and kindness and compassion are inherent qualities. It’s not difficult to talk to children if you avoid talking down to them; I find that kids give the most profound answers when they know you respect what they say. When asked to answer the question “what does peace mean to you?” one of my nine year olds answered “Rain. Mist. Puddles.” “Does the rain make you feel peaceful?” “Well, yeah… because it’s just you, under your umbrella.” Kids can also iterate the moral of a story much faster than any adult could, because they know how to simplify. Kids don’t let morals get all muddy the way grown ups do. “It was about being yourself!” “It was about including people!” “It was about waiting your turn!” (Although occasionally I get the random answer and I know they’ve been daydreaming. “It was about vampires!!” Nope. No vampires in that story…)
There are many different ways to approach a pose. Somersaulting, jumping, turning, sliding, dancing – kids can get into a pose in a myriad of different ways. I am consistently reimagining flow sequences when I watch the little guys.
There are many different places to go within a pose. In kid’s class, I always give my little ones the opportunity to use their imagination in a pose. “What is your alligator eating? What kind of tree are you? Would you like to be a scary lion, or a nice lion, or a sleepy lion?” Kids do not care what they look like or sound like. They are not afraid to roar in Simhasana or moo and meow in Bindalasana. At some point, adults lose their ability to look even the slightest bit silly or childish. I often ask my adult classes to “play” within a pose – because giggling loosens up your body, opens your heart, and the discoveries are so much more interesting and gratifying.
Sometimes you have to give yourself goals in Savasana. The little guys get a rubber ducky if they are still and quiet and keep their eyes closed. The older kids get to “choose their own adventure” by picking a pose to rest in (they are big, big fans of Legs Up the Wall pose).
You can get a kid to do anything if you sing it. The Clean Up Song, Row, Row, Row in Boat Pose… I am particularly impressed when we do the OM song: “We rub our hands together, we sit up nice and tall, we take a huge big breath in, OM…” We speed it up, we slow it down, and suddenly these 3-years-olds are chanting. PS That’s really all chanting is, folks.
Analogies are imperative. These kids learn about the functions of the spine with a metal slinky, they learn to breathe by blowing bubbles, they imagine deep roots in tree pose. When I see the light bulb turn on for them, I know I can reference it in an adult class and get the same effect.
Don’t dwell on interruptions, and when you go off course, know that it’s never impossible to get back on track. Often – and I am talking about ten to fifteen times during a 45-minute class – someone says “Miss Caprice, I have a question.” Almost always, the “question” starts, “Once, when we went to California, and I had to share a bed with Baby Zachary…”Almost always, I will gently cut off a story by saying “Excellent! And now let’s do boat pose! Who remembers boat pose?!” The only time I ever lost it completely was when a child raised their hand, I responded “you can tell me after class” and the kid shouted “But it’s about AMERICA!!”
Never deny a bathroom break. I think that’s enough about that.
Hold the space. I try my darnedest every single week to keep my kids on their little mats. And we’re working on it. Because preschoolers pretty much just want to be touching you all the time. Preschoolers want to sit in your lap, and play with your hair, and give you a cuddle. This also means that I have been licked, sneezed on, and bled on, extensively. And I don’t mind. Because holding a child’s hand in Airplane Pose is exactly the same as cheering on a grown-up in Warrior III; the gratification of watching your students figure out how to do a pose on their own is exactly the same.
So grown-ups… how can you be a kid in practice? Play. Sing. Laugh. Use your imagination. Go for the simplest and most honest answer you can. Ask for a hug or a cuddle when you need it.
And know that it’s always okay to take a bathroom break!