Friday, October 8, 2010

Teaching Toddler Yoga - Yes, it is Possible!

I went to teach my first Toddler/Parent yoga class with deep anxiety. I had no idea how it would go. Sure I had a toddler, teach adults yoga, and had several sessions of “Music Together” behind me, but these are toddlers, who at their best, are charming and unpredictable.  Add to it that from all my research, it seems no one really attempts to teach toddlers yoga. It seems like a gap between baby yoga, and teaching children who are mostly five and up. I ask myself, am I crazy!?

At the beginning of class, I explain that children learn best by seeing and doing. If the parent is having fun, doing yoga, the toddlers will look and learn that the class if fun, and is important. Young children do not have long attention spans, so I prepare the parents to let their children oscillate between participating with the group and self-directed play. Group instruction can be overwhelming for toddlers, especially the younger ones.

My goal for the Toddler/Parent yoga class wasn't to simply run the toddlers through movement and poses. What I really wanted to do was get the parent interacting with their child, so they would have "skills" to bring home and do with their toddler later. I also wanted lots of opportunity to "teach at the toddler level", but also give time and space to cater specifically to the parent, so the parent would feel like they also got something out of the class.

For the first class six mom's and six toddlers, (ranging from 17 months - 2.5 years) managed to have a joyful time throughout the class. Both parent and child smiled, clucked like a chicken, did standing/sitting/inverted yoga poses, and played. Many children held tight to mama's leg. But eventually relaxed and let mom do her thing as they toddled behind or around.

Some children were quite observers. Some children excitedly interacted with me. It seems that the toddlers under two were less apt to actively participate. However they did observe and absorb, had fun with mom, and learned about "group instruction" and socialization. In fact, one little observer, I am told, went home and tried airplane pose by himself even though he didn’t try it in class.

The energy in a toddler class can flip on a beat. One moment the toddlers are all deeply engrossed in whirling the yoga straps around. The next second, two toddlers burst into tantrums, and their fitful energy captures everyone's attention. It's up to me to redirect the classes attention to something more attractive (and peaceful) so off we go singing row row row your boat while sitting on the floor, toddler facing parent, "rowing" forward and back. The parents are great at managing any outbursts (which are perfectly expected in a toddler class), but it never really seems to effect the flow of the class. 

Toddlers sure love songs, so it has been fun thinking up poses we could do to songs. For example, we all sing "London Bridges" while the parent does a modified bridge pose (on your hands and feet lifting your seat off the ground).The children love when the bridge falls down and we have to “build it back up with wood and clay”. Some of the children braved crawling under the mama bridge (hoping it didn't break). For the parents wanting more work, I show them the full pose with straight legs to hold while we sing. Some of the children even tried to create their own bridge shape with their bodies.

It was really great to see and teach the same kids each week. Each week the children were more comfortable, participated more and knew what to expect. I was tickled to see some of the older kids really getting into trying the poses with us. Even when I was teaching to the parents, some toddlers would float by and try the pose then float away (or even stay).

I remember one class when we were doing our animal walks in a circle, and 2-year-old Ella calls out "unicorn!" so we all morph into unicorns pointing one arm out of our head and galloping. There is so much give and take, imagination, and intuition happening in each class. As the teacher, it really ignites a special part of me that normally lies dormant. It makes me be spontaneous, and helps to pull my creativity out, while prompting me to stay completely intuitive in the moment, always making sure there is harmony and peace.

The beginning of class is full of fun and energy and enthusiasm, but by the end of class, the mood is calm and relaxed and centered. It always amazes me at how quiet and peaceful the energy is by the end. I look around the room awed by the sweetness of parents lying with their little one by their side.

Another unexpected result of the class is that it has strengthened my mini yoga sessions with my almost-three-year-old son. Before I didn't really know how to teach him yoga at a level he could comprehend. Now I feel like I have a whole pocket of tricks to pull out when we are bored at home and need some movement and interaction. We have created this whole "play" where one of us pretends we are a seed (crouched in a ball with our head down and knees apart) while the other waters the seed until it slowly grows into a tree (eventually moving into tree pose). Then the non-tree picks the apples, and bakes a pie, while the yogi tries to hold the balancing tree pose. Then the tree gets chopped down and made into wood.

Teaching this Toddler/Parent yoga class has definitely touched something inside of me. I am thrilled to expose such young ones to the joy of movement and yoga. Even if they never do yoga again, perhaps when others talk of yoga when they are grown, they might smile remembering that seed planted long ago.

Now that the five-week session at BABS is over, I am missing the weekly buzz. I am bummed that I can't continue teaching my little yogis until January (I am pregnant and due this month). But happy that another teacher is courageous enough to teach it while I am on my maternity leave. 


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