Teaching yoga to toddlers is as challenging as it is rewarding.
When I first started out as a kids yoga teacher, I walked into my first toddler classroom met with blank stares and eventually tears. Toddlers are sensitive and emotional beings but when they finally embrace you as a yoga teacher (and I'll teach you how!) they will fall in love with you and yoga!
The year between age 2 and age 3 is an exciting one. Toddlers are realizing that they are separate individuals from their parents and caregivers. This means that they are driven to assert themselves, to communicate their likes and dislikes, and to act independently (as much as they can!). Toddlers are also developing the language skills that help them express their ideas, wants, and needs. At the same time, toddlers do not understand logic and still have a hard time with waiting and self-control.
They have BIG emotions. Lots of tantrums! Why? They have a tough time regulating their emotions at this age. This makes it challenging when you first meet them in the classroom to teach them. Let me get to the point: You are new and you are a stranger which means you are SCARY! When you first enter that classroom, the toddlers will need to get used to you as their teacher and will need to learn to trust you. Do not let this discourage you! After two or three classes they will start to love you and yoga! It will be the most rewarding experience.
Teaching Yoga to Toddlers
Toddlers are visual learners. Use images and subjects they can relate to when teaching them yoga poses. I always recommend animals as most animals can be turned into yoga poses.
Cow = Bitilasana
Cat = Marjariasana
Horse = Vatayanasana
You can use a simple animal board book to teach the poses. I like to read the page, point to the animal. Ask them if they know what animal it is, this helps you engage with the children. Then demonstrate the pose (ask them to copy you as best they can). Then I always like to ask "what sound does the cow make?" and we all say "moooooo!"
Some books I love to use in my classes (click on the images to purchase):
Sarah illustrates both the pose and the animals so that it is easy to understand for the child.
Use Stuffed Animals
Stuffed animals bring comfort to toddlers so I love to use them in my classes. In our classes we like to use a stuffed avocado named Mr. Avocado that the kids look forward to seeing each week. They love to give him a snuggle! There are a number of yoga games you can play with stuffies in yoga (example: pass the stuffy around the circle just with your feet, balance the stuffy on your head, etc.) in our older classes, but for the toddlers its just there for comfort and storytelling.
For example: The stuffy can whisper something in your ear and you can tell the class. Or the stuffy cant wait to see everyone doing their best today at yoga!
One super special stuffy we also love to use at Little Yogis is Meddy Teddy. He's super famous because he can make actually yoga poses with his body! How cool is that?
Keep the Pace!
Toddlers and preschoolers alike get distracted EASILY. Its super important when teaching the little ones to keep a fast pace or you will lose them quickly, especially if there are toys in the room. Keeping a quick pace will keep them engaged and will help keep their attention on you. As you grow as a yoga teacher you will learn this over time and will soon become a pro.
Be an Actor
Being a kids yoga teacher (and especially for the little ones) means you have to be an actor of sorts. You cant be shy to get a little silly and even make a complete fool of yourself sometimes!! If your class theme is about going to the farm, why not dress up as a farmer? If your theme is about space, why not dress as an astronaut? The more you are engaged and having funny the more the students will LOVE it. Embrace it and become a kid again! That's the best part about being a kids yoga teacher.
Have Fun with Props
Using props helps the children stay engaged and keep their focus on the class. When I bring my "bag of tricks" into the classroom the children immediately rush to it and to see what we are going to use.
Here are some of my favourites for toddlers:
Use these for warm ups. I pass out a scarf to each child and ask them to wave it up and down, side to side and in a big circle. Then I ask them to throw them up in the air and catch up. You can find my favourites here.
A great visual tool when teaching toddlers to breathe deeply. Find it here.
Instead of bring large yoga mats to each class, all you need is yoga dots. This gives the students a sense of place so that they don't move around. I always like to say we have glue on our bottoms and we are glued to our dots!
I hope this helps you in your toddler yoga teacher journey!