Teaching yoga to children has taught me a lot about myself as a yoga teacher. Children have raw energy which cannot be kept inside themselves and this changes the mood of the room for yoga.
At first this energy seemed daunting - even with 3 years' experience teaching children in classrooms. However, the last class before summer that I taught to my after-school kids yoga club was one of the best classes I have ever had the good fortune of leading.
So, I thought here might be a good space to share some of the things I learnt and failed at along the way. My hope is that other teachers, parents, and siblings will have a go at some yoga together!
1. Plan, and then step away from the plan
For this one, I'll tell you a story...
It was my second after-school kids yoga club, all 26 students turned up and I put my register away, replacing it with my paper plan. Being a Geography teacher I'd meticulously planned a Yogagraphy lesson with paper maps to travel around.
"Today we'll do a yoga adventure around the world" I said. Handing out paper and pens, some children already losing some interest at the sight of them.
"First we'll start in England and..." I had no idea of the first pose I'd planned for England, whilst I rifled through sheets for the pose, the kids made their own fun (jumping off mats and into poses ect - I'll come to this later..). This continued making me agitated and not creating a good atmosphere!
Take away: bring your plan and know it, but know it's OK to be organic when in class. Kids don't know what poses you've planned and really couldn't care less (same with adults) as long as it's well balanced, energising and yoga! Read the room and give children what they need, rather than your pre-prepared plan.
2. Create routine and boundaries
Collaborate with children to create boundaries and then seal them in some way, with a class high-five or mini-dance. I always bring in that mats are your safe space: stay on your own. Respect - your body, your neighbour, and your environment (mats, equipment).
To help this, have some simple recognisable routines, these keep children calm and feeling safe. Unlike adults, most children come into class talking, running and jumping - I have found sitting cross legged, bringing my hands to prayer and waiting for them all to join me is more powerful than shouting "sit down!"
We then begin and end each class with "Namaste, namaste is what we say", but there are many other ways including chanting and games, which I will come to next.
Use as many things to add to the playfulness as possible. Bring props, use partner poses, dress up, and use them all in your stories and games. As a Harry Potter fan, one of my favourite classes is using the magic of the books to add to the atmosphere! Bring a cape, stones for relaxation (place them on the third eye) or anything you like.
Sound (chimes, chanting or bells) are amazing for getting kids' attention back and holding safe space. 'Om mani padme hum' is a simple, well intentioned chant to teach to children, bringing them back to calmness.
All in all, have fun, give them a safe space and let them be creative!