By Dawn Craig
I hadn’t planned on teaching Yoga Calm in a daycare setting. My sister had merely told the owner of my nephews’ daycare center about my experience using it as a counselor. When I presented the sample lesson plans the owner had asked for, it was like I’d provided a missing puzzle piece.
The owner loved the idea of sharing mindfulness in a kid-friendly way, teaching self-control and incorporating social-emotional activities to address the typical developmental challenges that come about with preschoolers and toddlers. We timed my classes for right after lunch and right before naptime to help ease the transition and cement the “CALM” part of the curriculum.
Yoga and young children may seem like a challenging combination, but then I think of something William Saroyan once wrote: “While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.”
I was reminded of this just today in my class with 8 brave little souls – in the moment when one child told me proudly, “Look! I did it! I am a huge bridge!”; in the moment all 8 stood completely silent and still for a whole 60 seconds. (Amazing, right?!)
How inspiring to see young minds practicing mindfulness and self-control at such a young age!
Yoga has been shown to provide numerous physiological and psychological benefits across the lifespan, from toddlers to those with decades of life experience. We know children learn best within the moment practice and from imitating the models we trusted adults provide them. Yoga gives them opportunities for both. And through yoga, they can learn, for instance, to recognize strength within themselves, to gain self-control of their bodies in stillness, experience support from their community, to learn how to be safe within themselves.
In a nutshell, the kids LOVE it because they can SUCCEED at it.
Here are some of the practical strategies I use when working with little kiddos (preschool to age 5):
My group has 8 kids total: two 2-year olds, four 3- and 4-year olds, and two 5-year olds. One has an Autism spectrum diagnosis. Sometimes we practice inside, using circle rugs as their yoga mats (or “islands,” as I call them). Other times, we practice outside, arranging yoga mats or beach towels into a sunflower shape.
And just as our group is small, in the beginning, our classes were quite short: 15 minutes. We’re now at about 25 minutes per class. As the kids learn, their attention span lengthens.
Props Are Your Friends
I use a lot of props to keep the kids engaged. I’ve also learned that a delicate balance of new props to consistent props is important. If I forget Hobie, the breathing sphere, or Charlie, the turtle puppet I use for breathing and anger management, the kids get very upset!
Here are the props I most frequently use with the little ones:
- Small round rugs or beach towels.
- Hoberman breathing sphere.
- Windmills, for breathing.
- Chime, for breathing. I also use this to challenge the kids: How long can we stay still and silent after the chime? (Sixty seconds remains our record.) Who can hear the chime the longest?
- Turtle puppet, for breathing and SEL work.
- Small stuffed animals, for breathing.
- Essential oil spray, used as a sensory tool right before breathing.
- Quilted mazes with a marble in them, as a visual aid for breathing and mindfulness.
I also keep the Relax Kids book of guided visualizations at hand to use at the end of each session.
Consistency Is Key
Preschoolers thrive on consistency, predictability, and structure. So all of our classes are organized along CALM-ACTIVE-CALM lines.
We start with CALM to set the tone – to come into focus and prepare for the flow of poses planned for the ACTIVE section.
I usually give a theme to the ACTIVE section. Sometimes, one of the Yoga Calm principles will serve as our theme (Strength, Listening, Grounding, Community, and Stillness). Sometimes, we’ll use themes such as the seasons of the year or well-known children’s books.
Often, we go through the ACTIVE flow twice, as the first time is often devoted to the kids getting oriented to the poses. The second time is more fluid. Then we return to CALM with a guided visualization, which the kids equate with “story time.”
Our group always ends with the kids picking up their rugs or towels and handing them to me as they leave in a quiet line to nap time.
You Never Know What They Will Take Away
One time, I sent home coloring sheets of the yoga poses we did in that session so the kids could teach their parents through use of the coloring sheet. This also helps reinforce that the activities can be done at home, as well as at the center – that they can ground and calm themselves any time they need to.
Even the littlest ones get it, as one of the 2-year olds taught me. I honestly wasn’t sure if I was engaging him or even reaching him. Two weeks later, his mom posted a video of her son teaching her how to do every pose we had learned and demonstrating four or five different poses.
You never know what they will take away.
Dawn Craig is a mother of three young boys, a Clinical Supervisor, a Certified Yoga Calm Youth Instructor, an entrepreneur, and a budding children’s book author. She has an MS in Applied Psychology and is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and a Child Mental Health Specialist. Dawn has worked with young children, families and adults for at least eight years, incorporating principles of counseling, yoga, and mindfulness. She has successfully applied Yoga Calm to fidelity with quite the range – from a local daycare with toddlers and preschoolers to a mental health outpatient setting with young children and adolescents. Dawn is inspired to incorporate practical, effective and fun ways for little kiddos to experience their resilience – physically and mentally.