Last fall I had an opportunity to teach yoga once a week to 20+ fifth graders for a few months. We didn’t have mats or much space to work in, so after they removed their shoes and gathered on the carpet, I focused on mostly seated and standing poses for 15 minutes.
Very few of them had much experience with yoga. I wanted the students to love yoga as much as I do, and to create a program that might result in them later continuing to practice yoga.
Here are my take-aways from the experience:
1. Keep it simple. Om means “everything that is”. Namaste means “I honor you.” Don’t overwhelm them with Sanskrit and anatomy.
2. Teach them belly breathing. It will serve their lives well to learn it now. Ask about it now and then. After a couple of months, it may become a habit.
3. Leave them wanting more. Keep sessions short and make it fun. Let them experience the joys of yoga. So their downward-facing dog isn’t perfect. They’re 10! Let it be, and let them howl or bark like dogs! There’s plenty of time later for them to perfect their poses if they choose.
4. Pay attention and ask for feedback. Can everyone see? Did everyone hear that? Where do you feel that pose the most? What is hard about that pose? Yoga is about awareness. Foster it.
5. Be inclusive. As with adults, some kids take to yoga more than others. Praise all effort lavishly, and tell them it’s not a contest — yoga is good for every body. After a couple of months, ask them to remember what it was like the first time they did tree or eagle pose. They’ll get it.
6. Ask for volunteers to demonstrate poses after you’ve taught them a few times, and over time, give everyone a chance to demo a pose. They will learn the poses better, knowing they may be in front of the class, and be eager to get in front of their peers!
7. Let them experience sitting in silence for a minute at the end of the class. That may be a revelation — it was for the kids I taught, who begged to sit longer. (We worked up from one minute to five.) They may not get any silent stillness in their lives other than this — and they may really begin to value it at a young age.