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Teaching yoga so all can come

I began teaching yoga unofficially in 2011 when I lived at Highlands Biological Station for a semester. A group of us there loved climbing, running, etc. But, there was no climbing gym around and we needed ways to crosstrain. I'd been doing yoga for a while and would teach a class out on our pavilion. I loved it! And, I learned how much I had left to learn. As someone who is not always the best at taking me-time or resting, I found yoga to be essential to my well-being once I learned to slow down and shut up and show up often enough to get into the present on my mat. And, the teacher in me cannot do a thing for long without learning to teach it :). In my yoga practice, I'd seen how I went from jamming myself into a shape to finding openness in my mind and body (often using a prop instead of insisting I could reach the floor in every pose ever) to remembering to rest when my body and mind needed it. After graduating from college, I used the entirety of my summer paycheck to go to Asheville Yoga Center's Immersive Teacher Training to become a Registered Yoga Teacher-200. This was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. For three weeks, I did yoga for almost every moment I was awake. My chronically messed up feet and knees (yay running and dance - which I LOVE but was not good at balancing) got better. I learned that sometimes (often) restorative and gentle classes were what I needed, and I fine tuned my yoga practice and teaching practice while making friends. After becoming a registered yoga teacher, I taught classes at the college I graduated from, subbed for a local teacher in a class at a brewery, and started a yoga club at the school I taught at. Now, I teach a few classes a week at the community center in my military neighborhood. I LOVE IT.

Reading No Two Alike by Keith Baker

The classes I teach now are designed for families to attend. Using strategies from my Getting Started in Kids' Yoga training from Jaime Amor at Cosmic Kids Yoga and my years teaching teens and kids in a variety of settings, I design my classes so we discuss and play with our focus, loosen up, get active on a yoga adventure, and take time to be mindful. The family yoga classes I teach are NOT your average quiet yoga classes. Little yogis may spend class stacking blocks (and knocking them over), rolling themselves up in their yoga mats, and more silly antics. Our yoga sequences evolve as kids suggest how the story we are telling should go - like when we went on a night time walk in our neighborhood (in Virginia) and saw an elephant and a lion... I mix in silly activities like dancing to a song or an indoor snowball fight. If kiddos break off into play, we switch gears into a more strength and flexibility building flow for adults in the group - but regardless, I cue ways to keep moving for little yogis and to find an edge for adults. Finally, I LOVE to pull in some literacy work. In my Story Time Yoga classes, we start with sharing stories kids wrote and acting them out or we predict what the story of the week is about using the cover and act that out. This encourages kids to be writers, a skill that encourages a lifelong love of reading and writing. Then, we read the story and tell it with our bodies using yoga poses. We start or end with a literacy activity depending on the task and energy level. Finally, we relax with a breathing buddy friend (a sock filled with rice and lavender inspired by #Tinkergarten's forest babies). Together, we roll up our mats and head to the playground! Check the bullet points below for how I approach some of the parts of planning my classes:

  • I choose books intentionally. I look for books with a good message, beautiful but different illustration techniques, one character on an adventure through different settings or multiple characters (animals are awesome as many yoga poses are inspired by them!), characters who look similar to and different from the kiddos who come to my class, topics kiddos love (construction, pets, etc), and repeating or rhyming lines. Favorite books have included Kitten's First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes, Pete the Cat Construction Destruction by James Dean, and No Two Alike by Keith Baker.

  • I plan literacy tasks that can be done playfully. Some examples have been rhyming word sorts using words pulled from the book. Very young yogis might listen as their adults say the word and say parts of the word repeatedly (modeling annunciation and sharing new words with little ones boosts receptive (what kids understand) and expressive (what kids say) language). We might look for words that start with the same sound. This fosters phonological awareness - knowing that there are different sounds in words (eventually phonics is introduced by matching sounds to letter shapes). We've sorted illustrations from the book into sequential order to boost comprehension. One of my favorites is reading repeated lines of the book chorally. This is a low risk way for kids to practice intonation and fluency - Do they use emotion? Do they pause at commas? Do they sound like robots or interested readers? When kiddos can read lines well, they can understand them well without excessive frustration. Another week, after reading a book about being thankful, we colored in a person with the things we were thankful for.

  • I love having things for kiddos and adults to take home. We read A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka one week. This is a lovely wordless book. SO, we talked about all the different ways we could tell the story. Kiddos were invited to tell their adults the story to go with one image I'd printed. On the back, I had a brief summary of the general trajectory of writing.

  • The space for yoga is carefully designed. We use a room in a community center, so I drag along my portable yoga studio of mats, blocks, breathing buddies, mat spray, and my comfort corner items. Originally, I simply had coloring things on hand for kiddos who needed to switch gears. I was inspired to evolve this into a comfort corner by elementary teachers I know and the team over at Slumberkins. Now, my comfort corner has a hand painted landscape scene, a snuggly friend, a bottle to shake and find pompoms in, coloring supplies, and story books.

  • My classes are donation based and welcoming. I use a donation based model so families can afford to come. I remind them that donation based yoga only works if you donate what you can as often as you can ($3-10/class suggested as I live in a military community and am fortunate to be able to afford a low rate at this time and because I am serious about offering a class that ALL can come to). I always give the disclaimer to throw out the idea that yoga is quiet and totally calm when wee ones are with us, BUT emphasize that an ongoing yoga practice helps us develop calming skills. I remind families that we do not mind ruckus, but if they feel the need to leave, we are just through a door to playground or a lobby with cookies. Then, I teach in a way that shows I can use the ruckus. We run around from scene to scene. We jump. We roll up in mats. We make whole class trains and chug along together. When we offer opportunities to be loud and silly, kiddos feel less of a need to get their louds and sillies out at other times.

Comfort corner and breathing buddies

Are you excited about intentional movement with kids in your life? Looking for ways to make literacy work fun? Let me know how I can help! Share what works for you using #watchwonderbloom!

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