The last thing most kids need on top of a competitive school curriculum (and often equally competitive extra-curriculars) is another highly structured class. But yoga ‘play’ brings fun, focus, and learning into young lives, much like the benefits we adults can gain from‘serious’ yoga practice.
Great yoga teachers play and facilitate more than they instruct—that’s the secret—the learning comes naturally, happily, and effectively to help children cope better at school and at life.
Here are 10 ways yoga helps as child’s play.
1. It blends learning with play - think yoga ‘playground’ more than a ‘classroom.’
While free-yoga play can quickly descend into chaos, there needs to be a balance of structure and spontaneity as school children aren’t likely to respond well to being stuck on their mat after being stuck at a desk.
Even when taught within the confines of a classroom, creating a play-based environment where there are different ‘stations’ for asana and yoga games, and a quiet circle or corner for stories, relaxation, or meditation, can help a class feel more like a creative exploration.
Yoga is a great opportunity for physical activity that builds strength, balance, flexibility, and gross motor skills without competition—it truly is play at its best.
2. It facilitates language learning.
Incorporating Sanskrit into class can help kids with language development as children learn foreign-sounding words in strong association with physical movement, yoga stories, and themed sequences.
Combining muscle memory with auditory processing can be an effective way to learn language. And it’s fun for the little ones to try to wrap their tongues around the words (Dandayamana Bibhaktapada Paschimottanasana, anyone?)
3. It infuses counting.
Counting and even simple arithmetic is easily incorporated into a class through breathing exercises and holding in postures, and young children can get a strong physical sense of time that accompanies a mental count.
4. It involves music (and drama).
Music, particularly singing songs, helps make yoga fun and multi-sensory.
Setting the tone for a class, music can guide young students through sequences with playful and dramatic cues (but without the pressure of performance), while song lyrics can convey important messages about yoga philosophy, self-acceptance, and connection with people and nature.
5. It encourages social and ecological studies.
Through learning various ‘animal’ postures, little yogis can go on an imaginary journey around the world, learning about native habitats and ecology in a fun geography lesson.
In Tree Pose (Vrksasana), for example, they can form a forest with their classmates. When they assume Lion Pose (Simhasana), they can envision themselves in Africa and feel the might of a lion inside themselves (great for self-esteem).
6. It promotes holistic (mind, body, spirit) learning.
Yoga provides a vehicle for children to learn with their whole bodies, engaging the senses and creating awareness of the mind-body-spirit connection.
When a kid’s yoga class involves storytelling, games, music, asana, and mindfulness, it truly becomes an immersive, holistic experience. It caters to all learning styles—there’s no better way to learn.
7. It brings less stress, more calm.
This one is as obvious for kids as it is for adults—the ability to calm and center yourself in class translates to everyday life. For school children, this helps with exams, performances, and the daily rush of overscheduled and overstimulated lives.
8. It improves focus and builds confidence.
Concentration, on breathing, asana, and even playful yoga games again translates off the mat. Because yoga is non-competitive and encourages inner reflection, it helps kids to know that their confidence comes from within themselves, ready whenever they need it.
9. It teaches resilience.
Some postures aren’t easy, especially for young kids, but by teaching them in a play-based class without pressure, students are taught that it is ok (even fun!) to ‘fail.’ This resilience helps them overcome challenges at school and in life.
10. It cultivates empathy.
A good kids’ yoga class encourages self-acceptance, even in failure. It teaches and shows how we are all connected as beings and individuals, helping children learn to feel empathy for others who struggle just like them. This valuable lesson has the power to prevent bullying in our schools.
When yoga flows with kids’ innate curiosity, imagination, and self-belief, learning truly becomes child’s play.
Do you agree with this list? What are other ways yoga can educate and develop great values in young children? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!