As a certified children’s yoga instructor, and a mommy, I’ve had the pleasure of introducing yoga to young children, starting at toddlers on up–and oh what fun it’s been! You may even see your younger baby doing some traditional yoga poses naturally (downward dog and happy baby are some early favorites)!
Below are some helpful tips on introducing yoga to younger kids, from a yoga professional:
*Why Yoga For Kids?
It makes sense. Kids love to move, they are super bendy, and they have great imaginations, allowing them to bring the poses to life with an extra element of fun. Yoga all started with poses that were created to imitate things around us. The mountains, trees, animals…and kids are great at “make believe”! As a bonus, yoga does some really great things for our bodies and our brains. Learn more here and check out my recommended reading here.
*What age should we start at?:
I’ve found that preschool age, on up, is a perfect fit! Children 3 and up really grasp the instructions, and know how to listen to their bodies if something doesn’t feel right or is too hard, and can communicate that important safety aspect with you. Some 2-year-olds will be able to follow along with some of the early poses, but I would caution against going beyond a few beginner yoga poses at a time, unless working with a professional kids yoga teacher.
Occasionally young toddlers will just be rolling around and come into a perfect yoga pose on their own, out of nowhere. Downward Facing Dog is an early favorite, even with kids as young as 1 or 2. If you see it, cheer it on. “Hey, you are doing yoga! That is a doggie pose–way to go!!”. They love the praise and will most likely repeat the pose several times. They also love to follow along with big siblings, or hold hands with mom and dad while trying out standing poses. That’s awesome! However, remember that toddlers don’t have great balance yet, and should always go at their own pace. See my safety precautions farther down in the article.
* What You Need:
- Comfy Clothes to move and stretch in (leaving shoes on, or go barefoot)
- A safe, open spot to move around (carpet, or on a rug/mat works best to avoid slipping and to protect tender kiddo tailbones).
- MOST IMPORTANTLY yoga poses that are adapted to be age appropriate for kids!
Check out my Printable Beginning Yoga Cards for 12 starter poses including bright pictures and step-by-step instructions. The printable yoga cards will provide you with a good foundation of how to do the yoga poses correctly and safely for full benefits. No prior experience in yoga is needed for the parent/teacher, or child.
*What Poses Should I Start With?
Keep it simple! Even if you are an experienced yogi yourself, you want to make sure to keep the children’s yoga poses very basic to avoid injury, and to keep it engaging for little ones.
Below are a few helpful beginner videos!
Step 1: Watch my instructional video on the 5 Foundation Poses of Children’s Yoga (Ages 3+ can follow along!):
Step 2: Have your students join along with some fun Beginner Poses!
Step 3: Download my Printable Yoga Cards to continue the journey. CLICK HERE
* How Should I Teach?
Kids love to imitate. That’s why they especially love the yoga poses named after familiar things such as animals, airplanes, stars…They also love imitating you—so I always recommend doing the poses with your kids/students, especially when they are first starting out. Make it a fun family or classroom experience together.
* Start Slow & Encourage—as with anything new, some kids may want to watch you a few times before they feel comfortable trying themselves. Let them know that balance, strength, flexibility, are all things that take practice. They will get better the more they try (but don’t force it–that takes the fun out of “playing yoga!”). P.S. Try not to over-correct. If the poses don’t look “perfect”, that is just fine! As long as there is not a risk of injury (for example: putting weight on their head or neck, overstretching, falling over), then generally, it is best to let your children express themselves in whatever way they enjoy doing the pose. 🙂
* Praise is key! Use lots of excitement, and like any new thing your child/students are learning, when they figure it out, cheer for them!
*Verbal Prompts: Once you and your children are familiar with the poses, you can shorten the instructions down to prompts such as: “Show me your butterfly wings!” “Can you squat like a froggie?” “Do your doggie yoga pose!” (then of course, follow with praise!).
*With Safety in Mind: As with any “exercise” program, you definitely want to have some basic understanding about proper alignment and safety from a professional before you, yourself, give it a try, or try to instruct your kids. (there are lots of blogs about kids yoga, and some of them make me cringe a bit–please make sure the poses you offer your children actually come from an experienced teacher). All of my products offer easy-to-follow instructions for poses, with beginners in mind. Become familiar with the do’s and don’ts of the poses first, so that you can safely teach them to your kids. It also helps to find a certified yoga teacher, that specializes in children’s yoga, who can give in-person advice on proper alignment, and getting the most benefits out of the poses. Plus, children’s group yoga lessons are filled with FUN!
A few additional safety notes:
- It’s important that we always listen to our bodies on any given day (meaning, things that felt good yesterday, may not feel good today–your body knows itself very well, so stop right away if it doesn’t feel right/hurts).
- Please teach your kids these rules before beginning:
- Make sure your children never hold their breath during the poses. Speaking of breath, my pose instructions do tie the breathing (inhaling and exhaling) to the motion of the poses. Preschoolers on up will understand this, toddlers won’t, which is just fine. Continue to remind them to breathe through each pose (and not to hold their breath), because sometimes when they are really concentrating to balance, for example, they may forget.
- Don’t do any poses where pressure or weight is placed on the neck or head. (For example, in downward facing dog, always make sure the arms are holding the weight of the body, and not the head resting on the ground). I never do a traditional fish pose, or headstands with kids. Also, little ones have a tough time with balance, so be mindful when doing any sort of upside down pose, and maybe have them stand next to a wall or chair when doing a standing balance pose on one leg (tree pose, or airplane pose, for example).
- Let children go at their own pace. Don’t try to move their body into a position, or force them into a deeper stretch. This can lead to injuries! Using words to instruct, or better yet, demonstrating the pose yourself for your little one to copy, is the best practice.
Adding fun noises, or other teaching points/questions (“What color is your butterfly?”) just adds to the experience! Showing them a picture of the pose, or a picture of the object/animal you are teaching also helps spark the imagination of how the pose should look.
Small stuffed animals or toys work great as props. For example, you can teach downward facing dog by placing a toy in front of small toddler, and asking them to reach their hands down on the floor next to the toy and balance. Or have them reach their toy high in the sky during extended mountain pose. During bridge pose, drive a toy car under your child’s bridge to bring it to life. When teaching breathing exercises, use a small stuffed animal to show how the belly rises high during a full inhale (buddy goes up), and the belly sinks back down on a full exhale (buddy goes down). So many fun ways to use lovable toys during your yoga play.
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