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Friday, April 10, 2020

The Best Ways to Teach Yoga to Different Ages of Kids

photo courtesy Sara J. Weis

Kids yoga is a non-competitive activity that allows them to have fun and exist outside of the daily stresses of life. It helps children learn about themselves by being present and mindful in their bodies.

When I teach kids yoga, the emphasis is on creativity and having fun as they pretend to be a cat, tree, superhero, or wherever the poses and their imaginations lead them. While learning the yoga basics they are also discovering how the poses make them feel.

Through yoga, children will experience body awareness, empowerment, and ways to slow down and be in the moment, all in a safe and fun environment. Each new year and stage of development brings with it a unique excitement and challenge.

The following general guidelines will help you decide what types of yoga games and activities are most appropriate for your students or your own children.

Early Childhood: Ages 2-5

In the early years of development, children are filled with boundless energy and naturally move through space without giving thought to how their bodies react. Though they may tire quickly, they also recover quickly and are ready to go, go, go, well before parents have fully recovered!

At this age, children are learning and taking in new sights and ideas all the time, but they are also self-absorbed and have difficulty collaborating and cooperating with other children in games that require many steps and concentration. They also don’t understand the concept of losing, or just don’t like it.

From ages two to three, one-on-one imitation exercises, modeling, or follow the leader-type games work well. Children at this age may be able to participate in small groups with older children for some group games.

Most of all, children at this stage need repetition and routine. This knowledge is helpful not just in their play, but in all areas of their lives. Children at this age have difficulty waiting for their turn, but they learn as it is shown and modeled. The language skills they are rapidly soaking up will only help them better articulate their wants and needs as they develop.

From three to five, children are also just beginning to experiment with ways of getting along with one another. Pre-school aged children are just discovering all of the different ways their bodies can move around—skip, hop, gallop, shuffle, run, walk backward—making active movement games especially beneficial.

Yoga for kids two to five should include whole body movements that allows them to learn how to use the space around them. Keeping games short, five to seven minutes at the most, and giving simple directions helps them stay present and focused. Children this age are easily distracted, but they are eager to learn and engage well with repetitive directions, movements, and play.

Incorporating pretend and fantasy into yoga games feeds imaginations and allows for unique personalities and ideas to emerge and grow. When you find your groove with this age group, class can become a joyous experience, full of play, creativity, and plenty of silliness!

photo courtesy Sara J. Weis

School Age: Ages 5-11

As kids mature, they develop longer attention spans, stronger bodies, and more control over their movements. But they also need variation, as they grow bored more easily with anything too repetitive.

Physically, kids this age can handle additional large motor movement and poses, so incorporating more complicated games and activities will challenge them and keep them engaged. Also, introducing themes helps them retain information and recall it when needed.

This age group enjoys cooperation and teamwork, and friendships become increasingly important the older they get. Children at this age are quickly learning interpersonal skills as they move through elementary, primary, and intermediate schools. They understand the concept of taking turns and often have a developing or well-formed understanding of teamwork.

Late Childhood or Teens/Tweens: Ages 11-14

Into their early teen years, kids enjoy working with peers, competitive games, and trying newer, advanced poses. While building on what they already know, this is a good time to include poses and challenges their parents or other adults may be doing in yoga. The control they have developed over their bodies makes it so they are capable of a wide variety of movement.

They are ready to start learning technique and honing each pose. Good questions to keep them engaged and aware include: How do the poses make them feel? What are they mindful of?

Kids are often interested in how yoga will help them outside of the classroom, whether it’s in sports, school, or other aspects of their life. Because we are all made differently, yoga is non- competitive as each student discovers their own awareness through poses and games. Always remind them: Yoga is a lifelong journey.

Kids yoga is not about doing every pose perfectly. There is no such thing as a perfect pose— everyone’s bodies grow and move differently. Children are instead encouraged to focus on the journey of discovering themselves.