How to Teach Yoga & Mindfulness to Kids: 5 Most Important Tips
Teaching adults yoga and teaching kids yoga are two completely different things. You can't go in there with a sequence and then just instruct with a nice meditation and savasana. You have to open your mind to the far-reaching expanse and wonder of a child's mind and get out of your adult head.
Adults have to climb mountains and get stuff done. We have goals. That won't change for you as an adult teaching a kids class, as you'll see.
Yes, yoga has to be fun for both adults and children. But they have, as we all know, completely different ideas of fun. And so completely different reasons for coming to the mat.
Adults love goals, and to them, your bringing them closer to their goal of feeling good (letting go of some of that stress and increasing their health) is fun for them. Adults are actually seeking to get back to that innocent, free state. One of their goals in coming to yoga (whether they know it or not) is to get back to joy and freedom, to let go of stress and anxiety.
So in a sense, an adult coming to yoga is trying to get back to the childlike state, whether they know it or not. Yoga is an adult's attempt to play, to return to the free soul they knew in childhood. Even to heal the pain and fear since then. Nonetheless, these are goals.
But a kid's reason for coming to yoga? Their goals? They are coming to celebrate the freedom and innocence they enjoy now. They are there to revel in the childlike state that is theirs. They are there, quite simply, to have fun. To enjoy the now they live in so wonderfully.
And as a yoga instructor, your job is to take your students to their goals. Whether child or grown-up.
So the atmosphere of your kids class should be that of fun and exploration. Yes, your own goal will be to secretly, sneakily make room for mindfulness and health in the present and future of your children and so do your part in creating a more conscious generation, thus saving the world.
BUT they are there to have fun and to learn. Those are their main goals at all times (what a beautiful way to be). And truly, having fun and learning come hand in hand for them. It is, in fact, the best, the most effective way for a child to learn: having fun.
5 Most Important Tips to Delight Your Kids in a Yoga Class:
1. Realize the developmental difference of a kids class:
It is my belief that 3-6-year-olds should not be mixed with 7-12-year-olds. They are just not at the same place developmentally. Sometimes you can't get away from having a mix of ages in a class, but do encourage parents and other organizers to realize the benefit of separating the age groups.
Here's why: a 4-year-old is going to love making animals noises in all the different poses. A 9-year-old will roll her eyes: This is a class for babies. They like different music, they like different games, they like different activities. You don't want to alienate one group or confuse the other.
There are exceptions to this, but a kids class changes a lot according to the age. There universal things that can be done in all kids classes, and these things are pretty basic and few: mindfulness techniques for meditation, kindness exercises and the yoga poses themselves.
Another thing to recognize is that your class will be shorter: 30 minutes is good for both age groups. 45 minutes only for the older kids. I would even say 20 minutes for anyone under the age of 5. The shorter attention span for children will most likely cause them to get out of hand in the end, wanting to move on.
Don't get frustrated when this happens, it's just kids being kids. Shorten your class and provide activity for them to stay interested. Keep the activities appropriate and watch them to see what their minds do enjoy.
2. Form a structure for your children's classes that they can look forward to and that will optimize the way their minds work.
Start with a mindfulness exercise or meditation while their minds are focused and concentrated, while they are fresh and interested. This might not be the case for you, but I start out with the most important thing that I think they should learn, and the most important thing to me is to help children manage feelings, emotions and thoughts. The first part of class is for growing in awareness.
This could be playing a game called "Thought Catcher" and seeing how many thoughts we can see or hear or notice right when they are happening. Or it could be a breathing exercise called balloon breathing wherein they fill up their bellies like balloons for a count and let the air out of the balloon for a count.
There are all kinds of mindfulness meditations and exercises for children. This will put them in a more calm and focused state for the rest of the class (and there will be a smaller chance of having any kind of drama).
Then it's yoga time: I'd say come up with ways, according to the age group, to teach the kids a handful of poses, about 5-7 of them. Yes, go ahead and teach them the sanskrit name. Let them snicker and try to say it themselves (all part of the fun), and then teach the animal or "kid" name for the pose (example: prasarita padottanasana turns into twinkling star pose).
Then you can turn to the fun activities. These are playful games that not only reinforce the instruction of the poses you just taught them, but also they should sneakily promote your own goal which is to instill mindfulness into these children for the sake of society, which needs it so badly.
If you need some ideas on exercises, games and meditations then you will really appreciate this free Teaching Kids Mindfulness Cheat Sheet:
This is where my heart beats fast. I love to teach children how to be aware, loving, grateful and creative because they take to it so well--better than adults. I'm not really teaching so much as reminding them! They are so open to that joyful feeling that comes with these ideals. It is beautiful to see.
There are all kinds of fun activities you can do to promote health, yoga poses, mindfulness, kindness, gratitude and creativity. Change it up with each class, you do with the beginning mindfulness exercises and yoga poses in the middle of class.
3. Let them be wild and free for a full five minutes.
The structures and schedules of today's kids stress me out. I am wary to sign up my child up for T-ball even though I know he would love it. I'm just not ready to structure him into a team player yet, I guess (inject your parenting judgment here) but most of all, I don't want to start the scheduling thing that starts to happen at this age.
It's just me. I commend parents who are giving their kids the fun and lessons of scheduled activities, and we are on our way into it, but I'm keeping a wary eye on that schedule. I want him to dig in the dirt and imagine different worlds for a little while longer.
So my kid students, at the beginning or end of class (depending on what you want to do, but I find that towards the end of class is better for this), get a great big dance party. I turn up the music and allow them to be as crazy and as goofy as they want to be, as loud as they want to be, the only rule being that they don't hurt themselves or others.
I partake too which helps them to be a little freer. It's good for me too to make goofy faces and dance my booty off.
They can dance, they can just sprint around in circles, they can scream at the top of their lungs, they can jump up and down, they can act like animals, they can punch the air.
No one is allowed to judge anyone else and the music is loud so any sounds they make aren't noticed by anyone--it's just fun time.
They are free to do whatever suits them in that moment. The music seems to help them to relax into this, as if transported out of the class.
I admit, it's a little hard to shut this down. But what helps is doing the freeze game wherein they stop what they're doing and freeze exactly where they are when the music stops. This creates such a riot when the music stops, and they can be funny and look at what everyone else is doing to be funny.
It's important to encourage the silly, showy goofiness of children. Remember that. Laugh with them. When they want you to do it, laugh at their humor and silliness.
4. Give them a good close to the class, complete with homework.
Once everyone calms down from the hilarity of "crazy time" as we like to call it, let everyone circle, either standing, sitting or lying down for savasana.
Try to calm their breath and minds, creating a little bit of a mindful moment as you did at the beginning of class: try a breathing exercise, a visualization meditation or a prayer, not as long as the beginning.
This is not only a way to rein them in so that the teacher or parents aren't freaked out by the crazed kids, but also, you want them to take some calm and peace and some sort of love and compassion with them.
This is actually easy to get if you request it after the free, wild time. Most of them will actually feel very calm after letting out some pent up energy, personality and emotions.
After this little prayer, exercise or meditation, send them with some homework: 10 things to be grateful for a day, or one act of kindness that no one will find out about, etc. Even if you aren't meeting with these children weekly, you can still give them homework. You could even call it life-long homework if you don't see them consistently.
This may sound preachy, but this kind of homework is something that kids will eat up. Like I said, joy and kindness and creativity - these things come much more naturally to children. It's we adults who think it's preachy.
5. Find a way to make each kid feel special.
If you aren't teaching to a whole gymnasium full of kids, then this will be much easier. If you are teaching to a gigantic number of kids, just send out as much loving energy as you can, look at as many as you can, and let them interact by calling out answers to some goofy questions or some other questions (HOW DO YOU FEEL TODAY?! Let them respond by yelling their answers..something like that).
Try to look at all of them, have some of them come up to where you are to assist you or help you to show everyone how to do the pose.
I've never taught a big number of kids, but I imagine the best way is to send your energy to the whole room, look at all of them, ask them questions like a call-and-response, ask for volunteers. This is how I would go about this.
If it's a small class, I like to chant their names instead of OM. If seated, we incorporate circling our arms into anjali mudra as we chant. Sometimes we even chant the children's names at the peak of sun salutations - that's a lot of fun but takes up some time.
We usually just do half salutations for this (forward fold, half lift, fold, circle arms to come to mountain and brings hands in front of heart to chant the next child's name and then repeat).
It helps to try to remember the children's names, give hugs if you are a hugger, listen when they speak to you, look them in the eyes, tell them they are doing well if they are, call them out on good behavior, give each child a chance to shine in the games, and everyone gets a chance to talk or share if they want to, but also respecting when a child does not want to do that.
You never know what a child is going through. Also there is a lot to learn from them so pay attention to each one if you can.
I have loved teaching my kids classes. They are, of course, challenging in their own right. It's supposed to be fun and free, but you can't let them walk all over you and disrespect your time and everyone else's. You have to be firm, but kind too. It requires more alert awareness from your own soul than a regular, adult yoga class. Watch your words, actions, and thoughts.
It's difficult, but worth it. It's the work of giving children tools and setting up habits that will help them tremendously in their challenging lives. It is also the work of investing in the future of the world.
Comment below if you teach kids yoga or are thinking about it! Want to know your thoughts!
Related: 7-Minute Mindfulness Meditation
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