Yoga for Kids: Tips and Tools for Happy Little Yogis
During my time as an Early Childhood Educator (ECE) and preschool teacher, I have had the pleasure of facilitating and witnessing first hand the benefits of yoga for kids. I’ve been planning this post for months now, and being that I just found out it’s International Yoga Day (all these days you never knew existed, right?), I figured now is the perfect time to share what I can about offering yoga for kids, from toddlers to preschoolers to elementary students.
The Benefits of Yoga for Kids
The world has become a fast-paced, busy and stressful world, and it’s not only the adults who are suffering from this. As daily activities and and responsibilities increase in our silly desire to prove our worth by constantly being busy, we’re all experiencing less and less down time, and thus less chances for de-stressing from our full and fast-paced schedules. By offering yoga for children, we are introducing them to a positive coping skill to find peace, relaxation, and calm down from our stressful lives. Yes, parents, that also means that you may see negative behaviours decrease as your child engages in this calming and intentional practice.
Another reason to utilize the power of yoga for kids is that it promotes movement, which is so essential to cognitive development and learning. It’s no secret that much of North America is seeing an increase in childhood obesity and sedentary lifestyle as children become more and more involved in passive entertainment from TV screens and immobile periods due to technological games and programs, even those intended for learning purposes. Yes, there are definitely benefits found in using technology with children, but everything in moderation. We do no good by sitting still, with eyes glued to screens, for large portions of time. By offering yoga for children, we encourage them to move their bodies in new and interesting ways, inspiring them to learn about and master their bodies, which increases self-awareness and self-esteem.
While there are undoubtedly many other benefits to offering yoga for kids, the last one I will mention is the coming together of a group. Facilitating yoga to large groups of children (10-20 3-5 year olds) in my preschool classes, I was in awe at the powerful feeling created in our class as we all moved and stilled our bodies together. By adding in vocalizations (something us older folks may feel uneasy about if you’ve never participated in the “ohms” and chants of yoga and meditation), a very powerful sense would come over the group. The intensity of letting out voices find unison and holding that vibration is something that truly gives the sense of togetherness and solidarity. What amazing and productive things can happen when we inspire such a sense of coming together in a group? I’ll let you think on that one yourself.
Tips and Tools for Introducing Yoga for Kids
So great. You know that yoga for kids (which is essentially moving our bodies in different ways and having fun with it) offers benefits. But how do you go about introducing yoga to kids, including young toddlers? If you’ve never participated in yoga yourself, this may seem out of your realm. Trust me – it’s not. When it comes to yoga as I use it with children, it’s all about building body awareness and learning to enjoy movement as well as moments of stillness. Here are some fantastic resources that I’ve found over the years and have been sharing with my little one since she was about a year and half. In the spirit of open honestly and ethical practice, I will let you know right now that the hyperlinks (where the words are blue and clickable links) are affiliate links for Amazon.ca, and as such, if a purchase is made through these links, I will make a small commission (which you do not pay for) from Amazon. Cool? Okay. Let’s do this.
This is the first way in which I offered yoga to children. There are courses you can take and specific stories and books that have been marketed to this, but essentially it comes down to simply telling a story and moving like the characters and elements in the story. There are two (and likely more) ways that you can offer yoga through story for children. One is to choose a picture book or story that includes some different animals or elements to try mimicking, and encouraging the children to try to be these parts of the story with their bodies, either as you tell the story, or after as you review the parts of the story. The other option is to choose some poses you would like to introduce to the children, and making up your own story to lead the group through each pose as you tell the story. This one has been highly effective for me working with children who have special needs and require certain movements as part of their therapy plan.
For early learners especially, props are very helpful in keeping the children’s attention and helping them make connections between the concepts we’re talking about and how we’re trying to move our bodies. These props can be a book with pictures, or stuffies/dolls/action figures that represent those parts of the story.
Itsy Bitsy Yoga for Toddlers and Preschoolers by Helen Garabedian
I found this book during my first year of teaching preschool, and have gotten an incredible amount of use out of it, even though I haven’t brought it out with my own little yogi yet. Soon, soon.
Itsy Bitsy Yoga for Toddlers and Preschoolersis an instructional book for adults who want to offer yoga for kids. It’s filled with some fantastic information and a variety of “8-Minute Routines to Help Your Child Grow Smarter, Be Happier, and Behave Better”, and explains many of the benefits of yoga for children. It is divided into sections (or routines) that help to develop certain skill sets and speak to a variety of behaviours and energy levels. These routines are “Wake and Stretch”, “Patience Please”, “Run, Rock, and Roll”, “Building Balance”, “Tantrum Taming”, “Strong and Sweet”, “Coordinated and Confident”, “Quiet Time”, and “Blissful Bedtime”.
Little Yoga by Rebecca Whitford and Martina Selway
Little Yoga is another book that introduces yoga for kids, but it differs quite a bit from the previous yoga book as it’s “A Toddlers First Book of Yoga”. A picture book, it walks the children through various poses by showing the simple drawn images of the character that represents the pose (for example, a cat) and a child doing the pose. At the end of the picture book, there are real-life images of children in each of the poses. I love that it has both of these options to show to children.
My little one immediately took to this book when we purchased it for her as a Christmas gift this past winter (along with her own non-toxic, eco-friendly Yoga Mat for Kids so she didn’t have to take over Mommy’s – though she still does). She quickly became confident with the poses and will go roll out her yoga mat on her own and grab Little Yoga from the shelf, to practice yoga all by herself. She’s brought it out to show her friends when they come over, who also seem to be drawn to it, and there have been several occasions where I end up laughing and moving with a small group of toddlers impromptu in our living room.
Memo Yoga – A Yoga Game
My husband picked up this yoga matching game for our toddler when he was on a trip, knowing how much she enjoys yoga and hoping it would further her interest. So far, Memo Yoga Card Game hasn’t been a hit, but I think it’s still a bit old for her developmentally. We’ve kept it around and play with the small tiles of children doing different yoga poses every so often, and I plan on reintroducing it to her in a more structured way when she’s a bit older (it’s rated 3+, and while there are many things that are suitable for children thought they are rated higher, this one seems to be true to that age suggestion).
The idea is that you play “memory” with the cards, placing them upside down and taking turns to see if you can find pairs by remembering where certain cards are (way above my little one, at the moment, it seems), and assuming the postures when you make a pair.
Yoga Pretzels – Yoga Activities for Kids & Grownups
This is a phenomenal supportive yoga for kids material, and I was very excited to find it (and more varieties of these yoga card sets) at a recent ECE conference I went to (ECEBC 2016). I wasn’t sure if they would be too advanced for my little one, like the memo game, but already we’ve gotten some fantastic use out of them. This Yoga Pretzels set consists of 50 large laminated cards that offer different poses or activities, and are divided up into 9 categories. These are: Breathe (tune in and focus), Game (be playful and creative with friends), Balance (feel poised, composed and aligned), Stand (become stable, strong and grounded), Forward Bend (reach, release and flex), Back Bend (be supple, open and trustful), Twist & Stretch (twist, turn and extend), Partner (have fun working together), and Time In (unwind, rest and revive). Each category is easy to find in the deck as they are prominently labeled as different colours.
I’ve shared some very positive moments connecting with my little one while we explore these cards, and we’ve only had them for a short time. I’m looking very much forward to using this set with my preschool and private childcare children as well, as I just see so many benefits and uses to these cards.
I love that my little one has been so receptive to yoga, and it gives me great pride to see her practicing the poses and using her body in so many different ways, in a variety of situations. There may be hope yet that she grows to escape my own personal lack of coordination, balance, and body awareness!
Have you enjoyed yoga with children? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on yoga for kids. Will you try it? Have you found other materials that you’d like to let us know about? Please help us broaden this topic with your voice. Comment in the space below this post, and do make sure to connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and/or YouTube. If you liked what you read, you can also join the other parents, caregivers, and awesome beings who are receiving a short notification once a week to let you know what’s new and exciting on this blog. Click here to head to the simple sign-up form.