How to Teach Children Yoga (And Boost Their Mental Health in the Process)
Yoga brings countless benefits to children and adults alike. Not only does it help us to become stronger and more flexible, but it gives us tools to manage our mental health and wellbeing. Why should there be a minimum age limit on that? If you’ve reached a similar conclusion and want to bring kids yoga into your home or classroom, you might worry you need a fancy qualification to know how to teach children yoga. Fortunately, no matter where you are today, you can get started in some form. Yoga is for everyone, and guess what? You’ve been doing it your entire life! If you can breathe, you’ve already been practicing one of yoga’s principal teachings.
In this guide, we’ll run through who can become an instructor, along with tips for effective teaching and a reminder of why yoga can be such a fantastic skill for little ones to learn. Done right, this can be an incredibly fulfilling practice, so don’t do yourself and the world an injustice by shying away if you feel called to teach.
Can you teach yoga to children without training?
This might come as a surprise to some, but you absolutely can. We’re firm believers that yoga is for everyone, and you shouldn’t need a piece of paper or a fixed number of hours spent training to be able to pass on the joy of mindfulness to others.
There isn’t one universal way to do yoga – there are many different types, and people are always creating their own “twists” on the practice. This is why the UK doesn’t impose any legal requirements on yoga teachers – the area would be practically impossible to legislate due to its variety.
If you’re new to yoga, you might be thinking: “But how could I teach yoga when it involves all kinds of fancy poses that I can’t do myself?” Yet yoga is about far more than poses. It also involves things like breathing, meditation, and positive thinking – arguably, these aspects are the most valuable of all. The sooner you can pass these tools on to children, the better, so don’t hold yourself back by waiting until you can perfect every last pose.
Having said that, it’s a good idea to get to grips with the basics of yoga before you try to teach children. This doesn’t necessarily have to take the form of a training course, and could simply mean attending a few classes as a student. Many adults enjoy learning in tandem with their children, always staying one step ahead through their education and then passing on what they learn a few weeks later.
However, if you’re serious about your commitment to becoming a kids yoga teacher and would like to take it to a more commercial level, you may want to consider the UK government’s recommendations to have two years’ of experience practising yoga under your belt and to take an accredited course.
How to teach children yoga: Key principles
Now we’ve established that teaching yoga to children is open to just about everyone, it’s time for you to find out if it’s something you could pull off. Here are a few key principles to keep in mind.
Remember you’re dealing with children
Yoga for children shouldn’t just be recreating adult classes for smaller bodies or teaching the same concepts with slightly simpler language. Children have a very different set of wants and needs for you to cater to.
Adults attend yoga classes because they choose to; meanwhile, most children do yoga because their parents took them there. As a result, they’re more likely to be tired, hungry, or unable to concentrate. Approach this with compassion, and learn how to motivate children if they’re having a bad time. Kids yoga is all about having fun – accomplish that fun and you can’t go wrong!
Since we’re dealing with children here, there’s no need to treat everything too seriously. Yes, your students are here to learn yoga, but that’s not going to happen unless you can make it a fun activity. Play is the most powerful form of learning on the planet. In kids yoga, you can cover everything you wanted to teach while having fun in the process.
Give the children plenty of time to play and interact with each other – and maybe even join in yourself. Tap into the inquisitive nature, unbounded energy, and creativity of children to add a touch of playfulness into your practice.
Skilful sequencing is key
When teaching yoga to adults, you can generally start a lesson by diving straight into an hour-long asana sequence (or whatever else you’re focusing on). But when you create a yoga lesson plan for kids, it’s a good idea to incorporate warm-up activities to help them get into the zone. This could include games, songs, or stories. As the class continues, you may also want to ask them to work in a pair to encourage cooperation and keep things interesting.
Keeping the children engaged is critical, and our favourite way to do that is through a 15-minute program – more on that shortly.
How to teach yoga to children
Now, it’s time to turn these underlying principles into a framework for teaching yoga to children.
Follow a 15-minutes program
Adults might be able to focus for the full duration of a 90-minute yoga session, but most children would be lucky to last for half this length. Research shows that regular 15-minute yoga sessions improve children’s mental and emotional health. As with many things, “little and often” wins.
This is why it’s so important for adults to realise they don’t need a fancy course to be able to teach yoga – it’s far more achievable for parents to carry out these mini sessions than to take their child to multiple classes with an instructor each week. If children can attend a yoga class with a qualified teacher to further the skills you’ve been working with daily, that would be super, but it’s not essential. The main thing is they do something each day – little and often is key.
As children get older, they may be able to concentrate for longer, but we recommend starting with sessions of 15 minutes first.
Have a plan for emergencies
If there’s one thing you can count on children for, it’s needing regular bathroom breaks. Now, imagine a situation where several kids want to visit the bathroom simultaneously and there’s a limited number of toilets available. Without planning ahead, a simple (and predictable) scenario can lead to disaster.
Consider incorporating bathroom breaks into your classes, and let older children know they can excuse themselves if they need to go (maybe through a nod or hand motion). If teaching a formal kids yoga class, you’ll need an assistant to handle this. Of course, if you’re at home with your own family, there’s no need to worry.
This is just one example of how we can cater to the needs of children.
Relax on alignment
Adult yoga teachers often fixate on whether their students have perfectly aligned legs, properly stretched backs, or whatever else they need to adopt the perfect position. But when you are teaching children, this is far less important. Your primary focus should be on helping your pupils learn techniques to manage stress while having a great time. If you’re achieving this, little else matters. Children will copy what you do, so adjust yourself and they’ll follow. Simple !
Being outdoors reduces stress levels and enhances emotional wellness. So, if you have an outdoor space available to you and the weather is good (rare in Britain, but you never know), why not take advantage of that? However, bear in mind that children’s energies expand when they’re outside, so it will be very different to a class indoors. Use games like yoga tig where the children can make use of the space.
Consider the reluctant yogis
When teaching yoga to children, you’re going to encounter less than enthusiastic students. Instead of forcing them to get involved, allow them to sit quietly and observe what’s happening, with the option of joining the class if and when they feel comfortable. This helps them to mentally prepare to join the class, at which point they’ll be able to reap the benefits of yoga. Find out what they like and theme the class accordingly. For instance, you could incorporate a song they love into a game of yoga freeze, or theme the class around Star Wars if that’s what they’re into. Ask for the child’s input – they’re the expert in their own likes and dislikes, after all.
Why teach yoga to children?
If you’ve read this far, chances are that you had at least a niggling feeling that yoga can offer something useful to children. You’re not alone – while there were just three primary providers of children’s yoga teacher training in the UK in 2010, there are now 30.
But just in case there’s a shadow of doubt in your mind, let’s run through some of the key benefits.
Improved mental health
One in ten children aged five through sixteen suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder – that’s around three children in every class. Sadly, when young people experience stress and anxiety, it often leads to mental and emotional diseases that carry into adulthood.
While traditional medicine and nutrition can sometimes treat the symptoms at a physical level, they fail to reach the root cause (as reflected by the rising numbers of mental health issues). The cost to our healthcare and prison systems are increasing because we have failed to help those in need.
Yoga offers a real solution. Research has proven that regularly delivering a 15-minute yoga and mindfulness program to children will improve their mental and emotional health – even if the adult leading the session didn’t have any yoga or mindfulness experience.
Improved physical health
Yoga teaches us to gain awareness of our bodies through movement and deep breathing. Over time, children become stronger, develop better posture, and improve their sense of balance.
The stretching done in yoga classes can also improve aerobic capacity – according to a study by John Hopkins University, yoga is good for the heart. All in all, it’s great for a child’s health.
Better ability to focus
Since yoga offers a range of physical and mental benefits, it shouldn’t come as a huge shock that it can improve a child’s ability to focus. As children participate in yoga classes, they improve their stress management and behaviour, which boosts their classroom performance. This is why many schools are now incorporating yoga practices into their school curriculum.
Say yes to yoga
Yoga for children doesn’t have to be an exclusive or inaccessible practice. We believe that you don’t need excessive kids yoga teacher training to bring mindfulness and yoga into a child’s life. In most cases, all it takes is a simple 15-minute session to reap the benefits and prevent the many mental and emotional imbalances we see in children and adults today.
Mini Me Yoga is an accredited organisation dedicated to sharing yoga training programmes with parents, schools, and any other adults committed to improving children’s wellbeing and mental health via fun workshops. We offer a range of educational resources and workshops, so if you’re interested in learning more about bringing the benefits of yoga to the children in your life, feel free to contact us or browse our website.