When I introduce myself to my class every year, I use a "teacher box". It's a medium-sized box full of some of my favourite things. For example, it includes an empty bottle of perfume, a cardboard cutout of a pizza slice, an empty shopping bag, a yoga strap. and a dog leash. I tell my students that this box contains special items that tell things about their teacher, and I ask them to guess what each item means. When I pull out the yoga strap, it leads naturally into a discussion of what yoga is. With young children in a school setting, yoga poses (asanas) are the most accessible and easily recognizable component of yoga, and I always begin there. Next, I might show some pictures of me doing various yoga poses and talk about why I'm doing each one (strong arms, improve balance, feel brave, to help me sleep or relax, etc.)
You might choose to share a book about yoga from the Peaceful Piggy series. If you download this book digitally to an iPad or iPhone, you can Airplay it to your Apple TV and project it. Reading the paper copy is always great too. I love the Peaceful Piggy series as it simply and engagingly explains yoga poses and meditation to kids. If you don't want to purchase the books, there are YouTube videos of people reading them, but I'm not sure about the quality. Another book to check out is Moody Cow Meditates if you wish to explore meditation with children.
A couple of my teacher friends do a yoga pose of the week as part of their morning routine. After children hand in their planners and do their morning jobs, they head to the carpet (or wherever) and start practicing the designated yoga pose. You could teach this pose on Monday, or you could have a video playing on the SMART Board for children to follow along with. One of my friends really likes Go Noodle's Maximo. This part of the site features short yoga pose videos that are very accessible for kids.
The wonderful thing about yoga is that it can be woven into anything you're doing in your classroom without making a big deal about it.
Yoga in your gym class...or as a movement break!
Play musical yoga mats: it's just like musical chairs, but we set up the mats in a circle and move from mat to mat. I like to mix up how we move--walking, hopping, running, crawling, etc. When the music stops, everyone finds a mat and one child names a yoga pose for everyone to do. Or, the teacher could name a pose, or a child can choose one from a pile of yoga pose flashcards.
Partner yoga: put some mats down on the gym floor (the thick ones stuck to gym walls work well) and introduce one partner yoga pose at a time. Kids of all ages (and adults) love partner yoga! Check out these ideas here.
Here are great resources with more ideas: Yoga Games for Children Yoga in My School
Retell stories using yoga poses!
Almost any story can be retold with yoga poses, but stories about animals work especially well. We love using Jan Brett stories as they always contain a wide variety of animals. Learn more here about our retelling of The Mitten with yoga poses. The Snowmen series by Caralyn Buehner is great too, and it's easy to make up the poses to represent the characters/actions WITH your students (you don't need to be the expert). Namaste Kid has many scripts for retelling stories with yoga poses.
Indoor recess fun!
Check out Cosmic Kids for a great indoor recess or movement break activity. Project one of their videos on the SMART Board and allow kids to physically participate in the story they're featuring.
Points to consider
-yoga with kids will NEVER look like an adult yoga class, so get all ideas of perfection and silence out of your head. First of all, it's really important to use the kids as your #1 resource and allow them to co-create yoga sequences with you. "What pose would feel good next?" "This story has a rabbit in it. What pose could we do to be the rabbit?" "Let me hear you meow and moo as you do cat/cow!" Yoga with kids is fun! If it's not fun, they won't want to do it.
-not all families support the idea of yoga in the classroom. Always let families know that you are planning on integrating yoga poses and movement into your classroom. Explain how yoga enhances learning and teaches important skills such as focus and self-regulation (in addition to physical health benefits). Sometimes families confuse yoga with a religious practice. Yoga is spiritual but not a religion, and I wouldn't recommend including that spiritual side in your classroom anyway. Make sure families understand that you will be focusing on the physical poses of yoga and address any questions or concerns they might have.
-and always make sure your administrator is aware of what you're doing in your classroom and supports it. The best way to accomplish this is with a quick overview of the many ways yoga enhances a child's ability to learn!
How do you encourage students who don't want to try yoga?
As long as your families and school administration are supportive of yoga in the classroom, I would never present it as a choice. It is yet another learning activity that we all engage in together in our classroom. Occasionally I would experience reluctance from some of my little boys, and I would explain that yoga makes us better at all of the sports we like to play. Hockey players who crosstrain with yoga were a powerful motivator for them. If a child completely refused to do yoga, I'd tell them to sit quietly on their mat. Usually when they see how much fun the other kids are having, they are reluctant to miss out.
And don't forget...
Introducing yoga to your classroom practice is a great way to teach kids important tools to support their learning and increase their ability to cope with stress. I really wish that yoga had been part of my life from a young age instead of something I turned to later in life. Just remember to make sure everyone is aware of your plans, start small by choosing one thing to try, share your successes with your staff and families, allow children to co-create, and HAVE FUN!