It isn’t babysitting, and it isn’t the Wiggles; teaching yoga to children is creative, joyful and includes the transmission of serious life skills, such as body awareness, emotional regulation, concentration, kindness and healthy self-esteem.
A couple of weeks ago, I finished Children’s Yoga Tree’s 40-hour Foundational Children’s Yoga Teacher Training course. I’ve learned loads, met some caring, inspiring people and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I make no secret of the fact that I think the practices of yoga and meditation are for every body, and can improve our wellbeing and our relationships, including with ourselves and our planet. It was wondering how we can best introduce these tools to people early on in their lives that led me to research and then undertake yoga teacher training for children.
I’m not a parent and I don’t work in schools or with kids, so I knew there would be (and still is) much for me to learn. At the outset, I hadn’t quite imagined the extent to which kids really need yoga and what an important business this is. As well as the physical benefits of strength and flexibility, yoga can:
As I look at this little summary, I think it isn’t very different from the needs of many of my (adult) friends and the ways in which the practices of yoga and meditation can help us all.
For my assessment, I had to create a class and teach it to a child. Creating yoga classes is something I thoroughly enjoy. I take a theme – for adults, one or more key points of focus and learning, such as a breathing technique and specific movement or muscular engagement. I research it, practice with it, work it through my class sequence and consider how I can develop and adapt it over a month, taking into account the different students that I work with. I consider prompts for self-insight, and transitioning awareness and learning “off the mat” so that it is useful in our day to day lives and relationships. For children, a similar process applies, but the themes can be drawn from a much wider pool – limitless really – including the natural world, history, space or different cultures. You can include songs, stories, games, breathing exercises and craft. It is fun, creative, and ever-evolving.
Actually teaching my class plan was a much more challenging experience! There’s no denying it: holding space for kids, and working with their fluctuations of energy and focus isn’t easy work. Observing the classes of yoga teachers who are more experienced in teaching children take their classes was another perk of the course. There are some excellent teachers doing this essential work in London, and it was clear how much the children looked forward to their weekly classes.
As a lover of high-quality resources, it’d be remiss of me not to mention the quality of the Children’s Yoga Tree manual. It is considered, clearly set out, and comprehensive. As well as information on each module (ranging from class planning to running your children’s yoga business), it contains a toolkit of class plans, practices and poses to use. It is among the best yoga teaching manuals that I’ve seen. Likewise, the coursework was rigorous and useful, and I would recommend the set reading: Developmental Movement for Children (by Veronica Sherborne), and Best Practices for Yoga in Schools put together by the Yoga Service Council and the Omega Institute.
I’d love to encourage parents and teachers to investigate yoga programmes and workshops – they are available all over London and are so fun, with so many benefits for all the family!
Please do share below your own experiences of teaching, training to teach or participating in children’s yoga or mindfulness classes. It’s an area where I’ve found people are willing to share experiences and resources, which helps us grow a supportive community.
Breathe, make space, be compassionate.
If you are a parent or teacher interested in introducing yoga to children or your family, do get in touch! You might also want to check out Kira Willey – she has some great songs which introduce poses and breath work. Her TED talk makes a good case for the introduction of these practices in schools.
Children’s Yoga Tree was founded by Emma Charvet and Siobhan Power to provide a high standard of yoga and mindfulness for children and families in the UK. Their website provides information on their yoga programmes for schools, family yoga workshops, yoga therapy and special needs yoga, workshops for teachers and teacher training courses in London and elsewhere. Their blog contains some thoughtful and practical insight into yoga for children, most recently telling Dylan’s story in a special post for World Mental Health Day. Emma also wrote a great article for OmYoga magazine on her vision for incorporating yoga into family life. What a place the world could be …!
Many thanks to Kimann Jones of Yoga Home for allowing me to observe her yoga classes for children with special needs at a school in Hackney. Yoga Home is a registered charity and provides yoga classes and therapeutic massage free of charge to a range of community groups and schools in Hackney.