I don’t like rules, never did. Neither do my children...but there are certain basic agreements we need to keep to be able to function as a family, as a community or in a yoga class.
I tried having no rules in my classes; well, it didn’t work. But rules are hard to keep; they are a struggle and a form of torture for both teacher and students to uphold. So my conclusion was not to have many rules, and I came up with this one and only rule...
The Rule of RESPECT
So respect is the only rule in my classes. We need to respect the teacher and listen to them, but this also means mutual respect. So, the teacher also needs to listen to the students, and if it is one student’s turn to talk, all of the other students in the class need to listen to them.
Respect of course means no physical or verbal violence, it also means respecting the space we practice in, down to the yoga mats and props. This also means respecting that relaxation is a quiet time. There is no rule that says that you have to lie down and close your eyes, but we have to respect our friends and be quiet when they relax so that they can enjoy it -- even if we choose to read a book or make a drawing instead.
Regardless of how many rules you choose to have, it is important that you keep your rules at all costs. Otherwise, you will have an environments that’s a very difficult place to teach yoga in. Have you heard about “freedom within safe boundaries”? This is what the one rule respect is all about.
So if too many rules and no rules at all don’t work, here is the yoga lesson gem: find the middle path!
This reminds me of those two kindergartens I used to work in. They were on the same street, just a block away from each other, but they were the total opposite as far as discipline:
In the first kindergarten, there was army discipline. This is what I often heard there: “in our kindergarten there are two languages; the language of the giraffes and the language of the coyotes. And In our kindergarten, there are only giraffes.” Do you know what the language of the giraffes is? Giraffes don’t have vocal cords in their long throats. And coyotes? They make lots of noise. If you make too much noise in this kindergarten, they'll say, "Oh no! Not in our kindergarten! No coyotes here, only giraffes!”
Now, this was one of the easiest places for me to teach yoga in, the children always did what I said. But when it came to being creative, dancing, inventing new poses or yoga stories, I felt that a lot of the kids were barely able to do it. So my mission in this kindergarten was to make the children break free and be a bit crazy for an hour!
The neighboring kindergarten was the total opposite. The director of this place believed that children know best for themselves; you don’t have to tell them what to do all the time. Everything is allowed as long as you don’t hurt yourself or others. There were set activities, but nothing was mandatory.
This was one of the hardest places for me to teach in, but also the place where I enjoyed the most, and have invented - with the children - new ways to do yoga and new poses. Creativity and self-expression were overflowing in this place. What a joy!
So those are two extremes as far as discipline goes, and you will need to find your place somewhere in the middle where you feel comfortable with managing the class.
Why I Choose Kindergarten Number 2
I personally vote for kindergarten number two! Freedom shapes people as strong individuals that can think for themselves and are able to be creative and solve problems. But with oppression and fear...let's just say - how many things have you done, or didn’t do, in your life just because you were afraid?
Think about all of those missed opportunities or prolonged suffering that you endured because of fear. Fear paralyzes. Fear inhibits learning and destroys trust both in oneself and in others. I don’t believe that it is the best educational technique even if it makes life much easier for grownups.
Here are my tips for managing kids yoga classes:
- If children come from their own free will, you will hardly ever have discipline problems. If they have to go because it is a part of the school curriculum or because their parents make them go, there will be more issues. (Power of free choice!)
- If the class is small enough for you to give enough attention to each individual child, you will not have many challenges. If the class is too big for you to give personal attention to children, they will try to get it by force…usually by disrupting the class.
- If you create a relationship with each child and become their friend, they will follow your lead. If you are just the teacher - or worst, the substitute teacher - they will make your life difficult. This is why I always come to class at least 15 minutes before and stay for 15 minutes after. I invest time in creating personal connections with the students.
- If you are intense, tremendously energetic, big and confident, there won't be any disciplinary issues. But if you are all Om Shanti, tired, and "soft"... well, they will climb all over you.
That last item, I call “The Law of the Jungle.” If you want to be the leader in the class, you need to be everything MORE than the kids are. You need to be:
- Louder than them
- Faster than them.
- More excited than them
- More dramatic than them
- And crazier than them!
If you're not, your students will follow someone else who is. If the class is super fun, there will be no space for setbacks. If it's boring, there is simply not going to be a class. Either they wont come back the following week, or if they have to attend, they will disturb your class so much so that you will not be able to conduct it either. Fun is always the most important element in teaching yoga to children!
"Never Talk to the Walls"
Another good piece of advice, as my Dad used to say it, is to “never talk to the walls.” This means never give instructions when no one is listening to you. Always always always first gather the kids' attention and then give directions. If you talk when no one is listening, the children will simply get used to not listening to you. Keep this in mind from day one.
I’ll share with you one of my unfailing methods to get kids' attention: Raise your arms over your head, and bring both of your index fingers together. Slowly bring them down in front of your mouth, while making the sound “shhhhhhh.” The second time, make the “shhhhhh” loud, and the third time, make it very soft. Try it – it works!
Change Your Expectations and Perspective
Remember that your students are just kids and that chatting, playing, wandering away for a bit are all part of being a child. Have realistic expectations to avoid disappointment. Take things lightly and come to class to play, not to work!
Most adults have forgotten what it was like to be a kid and they expect kids to listen and participate and do what they are told all the time. But kids are kids; they play, laugh, explore, test boundaries and express their emotions and their needs whenever they feel like it – things that we, as adults, should learn to do more.
When chatting or quarrelling does happen in the class, I just move to sit between them, place my hands on their backs and teach the class from there for a bit. There is nothing that a bit of positive attention and the magic of touch can’t cure!
Besides changing our attitude, we can also change the way we see things. The same actions can be seen as creative or as disturbing depending on how you, as a teacher, look at it. Next class, try to incorporate the kids' seemingly disturbing actions into your practice.
For example, if one of the kids is starting to jump up and down on one leg while you are telling everyone to do the Tree pose, make the whole class practice jumping trees. By giving this student the spotlight, you took care of the cause of the problem (his desire for attention), and you got an opportunity to make your class more fun.
Lastly, remember that you are the teacher and that you have the power in the class to transform negative things into positive ones and bring the class back to where you want it to be.
You are the leader!
You are the king of the yoga jungle!
So take charge and make it FUN!