WHY SHOULD WE PRACTICE YOGA WITH OUR CHILDREN?
Covid-19 has had a huge impact on the way we are currently living our day to day lives. Our ‘lack of control’ over the current situation and uncertainty about the future has caused many of us to experience some level of stress or anxiety. This is also a time when children can experience anxiety and uncertainty as their daily routines are turned upside down. Practicing Yoga and mindfulness with your children can be used as a helpful tool to support their physical, emotional and cognitive development in a fun, exciting and creative way.
Not only does Yoga support children’s gross motor skills such as balance and coordination as it strengthens and stretches just about every muscle in their bodies, It also fosters fundamental dispositions such as focus, concentration, determination, resilience and persistence as they learn to hold poses for longer, more sustained periods of time, while also building a positive self-image and self-awareness.
Self-awareness is just one of the many benefits of yoga for children, as they develop the ability to stay present in the moment and the ability to recognise what is happening in their bodies as they begin to notice and feel each body movement , while developing an increased awareness and deepening of their breathing.
Keeping it fun
It’s important to remember that when practicing yoga with toddlers and pre-schoolers we must keep it fun and exciting. Using techniques such as songs, games, props and visual supports are some of the fantastic ways to keep young children engaged in a yoga session. Nature, food or animal poses are some of the many great ways to keep things exciting for young children, while also fostering their imagination and creativity. It is important that the yoga practice is in alignment with the developmental stage of the child or children you are working with, for example, you couldn’t expect a very young child to create and hold a yoga pose perfectly as they’re not as physically developed as an adult.
Yoga for toddlers
Toddlers are usually bursting with energy so using action songs or dance can be a great way to engage young children at the beginning of the session in a fun and exciting way. This allows them to expel any excess energy and engage in the yoga session with a deeper level of focus and concentration. When it comes to creating the yoga poses, the use of visual cues is fantastic for younger children aged 3 and under. Children of this age are still mastering their imaginative abilities and will often rely on the imitation of others, so it is good to have some tangible props incorporated into the class, for example….
Collect a range of animal soft toys and place them in a basket or a ‘magic sack’ (this can be just a simple pillowcase). Invite your child to select a soft toy from the ‘sack’ and carry out the corresponding animal pose for each toy.
Using songs or nursery rhymes is also a fun way to create yoga poses, for example, you could sing ‘Old MacDonald had a farm’ or ‘We’re going to the zoo’ while creating the corresponding yoga pose for each animal, or you could sing ‘If your happy and you know it’ but adapt the song and actions to suit whichever poses you want to teach. Any song or nursery rhyme can be easily modified to suit your class, just think outside the box.
Using picture books is also a nice way to teach various poses as you can choose a favourite storybook and create some interesting poses to correspond with the storyline. Don’t forget it is okay to make up the poses or perhaps even ask your child to come up with the poses. The sillier the better!
After all the fun and excitement throughout the yoga session it is important to allow the body and mind to rest and unwind with a short relaxation period. When working with children under the age of 3, it is important to keep it short and sweet, perhaps 2-3 minutes at the most. This age group find it particularly challenging to lay still for long periods of time and will become restless easily. The use of calming music and a range of sensory experiences is an amazing way to achieve this important time of rest. Using a silk scarf to slowly brush over your child when they are laying down on the floor, a feather to brush against various parts of their skin, simple body massage or perhaps even blowing bubbles and letting them pop over your child’s body are just a few of the many ways to encourage a relaxed state during a relaxation period at the end of a yoga session with toddlers.
Yoga journeys for pre-schoolers
By the age of around 3 years and over most children have developed a very active and wild imagination. This is where you can begin to incorporate themes or storytelling into the yoga session. You could take your child on a yoga journey to anywhere in the world…… an African safari, the jungle, the beach, the playground, outer space, Antarctica, pretty much anywhere your imagination and creativity takes you! You can ask your child to choose a mode of transport to get to your yoga destination such as an aeroplane, car, boat, train, hot air balloon, or bike and you can then create the corresponding pose using your imagination and creativity. Through these worldly yoga journeys, children are developing their knowledge and understanding of the natural environment and all the living beings within it, including people, animals, trees and plants.
An integral aspect of any yoga practice is always the relaxation period at the end of each session as it allows the chance to tune back into the present moment, becoming aware of your breath, allowing you to notice how your body feels after an energizing yoga session. This can be thoughtfully integrated into your chosen storyline or theme when practicing with pre-school aged children. Perhaps your transport back to the present moment is a magic carpet. Using calming music as background noise, you can guide your child into a relaxed state by revisiting your journey, talking about the things you experienced, and encouraging them to actively visualize these moments in their minds. A helpful hint for encouraging young children to tune into their breath is to place a small object, such as a small soft toy onto your child’s tummy when they are laying down during their back. As your child breathes, you can encourage them to watch the soft toy as it gently rises and falls, rises and falls. This promotes diaphragmatic breathing, where you effectively breathe using your abdominal muscles rather than breathing with your chest and throat muscles. This technique is known to have so many health benefits including relieving stress, anxiety and depression as it lowers your heart rate and your blood pressure.
Give it a go!
Practicing yoga and mindfulness on a regular basis offers so many health benefits for both you and your child. It also provides the perfect opportunity to connect with your child in a meaningful, but incredibly fun and exciting way. I urge you and your whanau to give it go, as we could all use a little something to uplift our spirits during these times of fear and uncertainty.
Bachelors of Education (ECE)
Head Teacher at Our Kids Glendene
Sarah has been a member of the Our kids Glendene teaching team for over 5 years. She is passionate about working within a mixed age setting and she believes that forming strong, reciprocal relationships between kaiako, tamariki and their whanau is foundational to achieving the best possible learning outcomes for our tamariki.