The Benefits of Teaching Yoga in the Early Years
Research is clearly showing that yoga is hugely beneficial for children. In fact, regularly teaching yoga can enhance focus, attention, comprehension and memory, encourage community and connectedness within the classroom and reduce problem behaviours by providing opportunities for reflection, patience and insight*.
Wow! There’s not an educator I know who doesn’t want to accomplish these things but knowing where to start with sharing yoga can be challenging. Your setting may have the budget to bring in a specialist yoga teacher which is a brilliant option as they will manage all the planning, ensure poses are EYFS safe and will usually tie lesson themes into your topic. Many settings, however, do not have the budget for this but are not confident to plan and deliver safe and effective yoga classes.
Whilst YouTube offers one alternative, you can never gain the same level of connectedness from a screen and yoga provides a great opportunity for us to reduce our screen time rather than increase it. It is my mission to ensure every child can enjoy the benefits of yoga which is why I create share resources and programmes to help educators and parents share yoga. I’m ready to share all the information you need to get you started (and keep you going).
I’m sharing a yoga story here to accompany the popular children’s book “Dear Zoo” by Rod Campbell. Sharing yoga stories is a great way to engage younger children to learn new poses and also a different way for them to enjoy their favourite stories. Simply read the story and share the poses as you introduce each animal. You can download a full set of safe yoga pose flash cards from my website (innerchildyogaschool.com) for free if you want to show a picture of each pose to the children.
Yoga in the Early Years
1. Begin to share the book with children sat in a circle, sitting crossed legged.
2. Ask children to be as big as they can in star pose like an elephant. They can bend at the hips and stroke the ground with their trunk.
3. Stand up tall and reach up high like the giraffe
4. Be like a lion in cat and cow pose. Enjoy a Lion’s breath together. Breathe in through the nose and then breathe out the mouth, while sticking out your tongue making a haaaa sound.
5. Be the camels hump in child’s pose
6. Hisss like a snake in cobra pose
7. Hang in forward fold like a monkey – can you tickle your toes while you’re here?
8. Be a frog in yogic squat. Are your feet flat on the ground? How far forward can you hop?
9. Finish in Downward facing dog like the puppy.
10. Encourage children to come back to a comfortable seated position and finish with a couple of deep, calming breaths.
Giving yoga a regular space in your timetable will mean children know what to expect. For some settings it works well to start the day with yoga and for others it is most successful as a calm end to the day. As with everything, the more regularly you incorporate yoga the more you’ll see the benefits but even if you commit to just one session a week your children will be benefitting! I recommend following a simple structure when you deliver yoga with children in the early years; starting class with some deep breaths and something active to let them “get the wriggles out” such as a game of yoga pose statues or simply shaking each body part in turn. Next, challenge them with some poses during a yoga story, having a fun in a game like “hop, hop pose” or “yogi says” and finishing with a focus on the breath. By sticking with the poses in my flash cards you can feel confident that the poses you are sharing are safe.
One of the questions I am asked most is whether children this young can really meditate – or even sit still. They can! Or at very least, they can find stillness and focus on their breath. Start by aiming for three breaths in stillness and you can progress from there. Using moving meditations is also really beneficial. Children can tap their fingers while saying mantras for example “I am calm”, “I am kind”, “I am brave”, or lift their arms in time with their breath. Making breath visual is a great way to engage children with it – fogging up a mirror, blowing onto a feather or blowing a Pom Pom across a table are easy ways to do this. Be sure to talk with children about how they feel when they do these things. If children can start to connect controlling their breath with feeling calm they can use these tools throughout their lives to enhance their well-being.
I have an entire member’s area (which is freely available) dedicated to resources to help teachers and parents share yoga and mindfulness with children, so if you’ve felt inspired to share the benefits of yoga with the children in your lives there’s plenty there to get you started.
I would love to hear how you get on or any other ideas you have of what would help you in your setting so please do get in touch to let me know how you’re getting on.
Vic is a specialist children’s yoga teacher, experienced classroom teacher and founder of The Inner Child Yoga School. It’s her mission to share the benefits of yoga with all children. She has online programmes for children and schools and a variety of free resources to help parents and teachers share yoga and mindfulness with children.