Kids' yoga is definitely different than adult yoga. And here's what teaching kids yoga is really like:
1. Kids' Yoga Isn’t Quiet: Sure, there are quiet moments. From my experience, kids really love Savasana and will be especially quiet and still if they know a foot rub is coming, or are listening to a favorite song or story. We often begin class with a collective OM or an “OM Song.” We often sing Sun Salutation instructions together to help us remember the poses and to keep us all moving and at the same time. But when it's time to practice the poses of the day, there can be chatting, laughing, down dog barks and cat-cow meow-moos. Kids are full of life and personality, and your class will be too! Don’t expect to just hear breathing.
2. Kids Don’t Sweat Like Adults, But Things Can Get Grubby: It wasn’t until I completed my first adult teacher training that this fact hit me hard on the head (or in the palms of my asana-adjusting hands): adults can sweat a lot in yoga, but kids generally don’t. There’s no need for towels or mopping up the floor after an active class. But an active kids' class can stir up other things, like germs. I sometimes hand out scented hand sanitizer as a “treat” to awesome yogis before or after class. Sometimes we do a “Karma Yoga” project and collectively wipe down the mats. You’d be surprised how much kids love to help out and keeping the space tidy together is an awesome way to teach kindness and impart the spirit of the Yamas, or social values, to kids. Kids aren’t afraid to roll around and get dirty, and though its great to encourage that adventurous spirit you don’t want to necessarily encourage the actual “dirt” bit.
3. Classroom Management Is Key: While it's fun to keep kids' yoga classes playful, a definite structure has to be in place to keep everyone safe and learning. You may want to choose class guidelines together and then collectively sign your own yoga classroom contract so the rules are self-generated and not just imparted. It's a great idea to have a “Peace Place” where a kid yogi can take a break if one is needed instead of disrupting the class. And as the teacher its important to remember that strong and loving boundaries are part of yoga. Its a great practice of Patanjali’s sthira sukham asanam, or the idea that it takes both steadiness and softness to achieve yoga. See if you can supply both for your kid students.
4. Poses Are Better in Twos, or Threes: Kid yogis love to work together. While in adult classes everyone keeps their eyes to themselves (for the most part) and their bodies on their own mats, kids like to link up their trees into forests and their chair and tabletop poses into complete kitchen sets with their friends. Kids love to learn collaboratively, and it's a great opportunity to practice cooperation, friendliness, and compassion -- which are all big yoga lessons.
5. Kids Keep it Real: You will know immediately if your kids' class is working or not. Kids keep it very real, and will tell you what they love and don’t love about your class. Don’t take it personally, take it as information. In fact, I’ve gotten so used to kids' honesty that I find it a bit unnerving to look out into a class of adults practicing with straight, unreadable, faces! I’m used to smiles or tongues sticking out, laughter or tears, and just knowing exactly what my kid students are feeling.
6. It's Not Playtime: Kids need to stay challenged to grow, and they learn quickly. Challenge them by teaching the Sanskrit names of poses, if appropriate, and teach the differences between Surya Namaskar A and B. Talk about similarities and differences between poses. Do a book report on famous yogis, or draw and decorate mandalas. Kids' yoga doesn’t need to be a playtime free-for-all, and learning a lot can be a lot of fun.
Two key words in kids' yoga are Love and Listening. If you love yoga, that will shine through and the ever-perceptive kids will read that in you and respond. If you listen to your students and stay flexible in giving what is needed at the moment, you will have a class where kids both learn a lot and have a lot of fun. And hopefully, seeds for future yoga exploration will be planted! And you will grow, too.
Om Schooled, a guide to teaching kids yoga and the forthcoming Essential Yoga, a guide for adult beginners. She has taught dozens of classes a week in NYC public and charter schools, studios and privates, working with a curriculum she created. She now leads OM Schooled teacher trainings in youth yoga - This article was originally published at Mind Body Green Blog