If you have ever taught kids around the Halloween season, chances are that you’ve noticed the effects of too much sugar and too much anticipation on a group of kids. Other common times for kids to feel hyper is when they come back from vacation or just before the summer break. At times like these, I find it frustrating and ineffective to force a calmer vibe or to use quiet signals that normally work. Through several desperate moments – and sometimes by teaching with other brilliant teachers – I’ve found a few ways to let kids blow off steam so they can chill out and prepare for the more meditative aspects of yoga.
Movement: The first course of action I usually take is movement. This works great for anyone of any age. Think of a time when you felt stressed, had a hard time concentrating, or perhaps had too much caffeine. A brisk walk is enough to dissipate that frenetic energy. With your little yogis, you can keep the walk contained in the yoga class by beginning with Animal Walks. This is a warm up I learned through teaching kids gymnastics and capoeira and I couldn’t help noticing the parallels with yoga postures!
Depending on the room, form a circle or a line at one end of the open space. In a circle formation, kids will travel in one direction (tell them which one before explaining more!). In a line formation, kids travel across the open space to the other side, then back again. You can demo the animal walks first, or guide them as they do it themselves. Here are the different walks (click here for a video of the animal walks):
Dog walk – walk either forward or backward in DOWNWARD DOG
Cat walk – walk forward in CAT
Crab walk – walk forward or backward in TABLE
Frog/Bunny hop – hop forward leap-frog-style from a squat position
Call out the different animal walks in random order. You can add to the fun by occasionally changing the speed by saying ‘fast!’ or ‘slow!’ before one of the walks. This keeps the kids on their toes and helps ease them out of their hyperactivity into a sense of controlled and calm movement. Make sure to guide them in being mindful of their space so they don’t bump into other kids.
‘Safety goggles’ and spatial awareness: This is an issue that is especially important with young kids (ages 2-5). Remind kids to ‘put on their safety goggles,’ which is really just miming the act of putting on goggles. Alternatively, you can have goggles (or glasses) kids can put on – this adds a nice twist to a Halloween-themed class.
Sometimes the safety goggle trick isn’t 100% effective. In cases like these, I tend to use yoga dots or some other specific marker for kids so they know which space they should inhabit and then I steer the class towards an activity they do in their own space (on the yoga dot, yoga mat, or some kind of larger mat that has letters or numbers on it so each kid picks one to stand on). At times, a yoga version of ‘Duck, Duck, Goose’ does the trick as it allows kids to burn off their energy by traveling around the circle two kids at a time (rather than the whole class moving at once), while others remain in their spaces.
Experiencing opposites: I admit it: there have been many times when I’ve led a class of wired little yogis and thought wistfully about the hundreds of adult yoga classes I’ve taught and how much I love the automatically tranquil ambience in those situations. But it is somewhat like when adults tell me they can’t do yoga because they’re not flexible; I tell them that’s probably the reason they should absolutely do yoga! I’ve heard a lot of people say, “Can kids even DO yoga? I can’t imagine them in a yoga class!” To this, I reply, “But that’s why kids NEED it. Because it’s relaxing and helps them manage their bodies and minds.” Of course, we all love the model student that just does the activities and loves it and comes out of the class obviously 3 notches calmer. However, I’ve heard a lot of other teachers say, “So-and-so is always amped up during class, or not paying attention; it seems like he doesn’t know how to participate, but I know that he/she needs this class more than the kids that just follow directions without fussing!”
I’ve found that with kids who seem to thrive on doing everything fast, loud, and in a manner that might seem to be the exact opposite of yoga, it hardly ever works to make them do things slowly, quietly, and in a manner that I might deem ‘yogic.’ In these types of situations, I let kids have the joy of being fast, loud, and crazy, then I ask them to travel to the other end of the spectrum to experience the opposite. Some example activities for this are: silly monkeys (pretend to be monkeys, then silly monkeys, and then silly monkeys being stung by scorpions, and finally OM or hum to settle down), lion breath followed by bunny breath, and doing the Sun Salutation quickly first, then progressively more slowly.
Let kids be kids: At the end of the day, it has always helped me to remember that sometimes yoga class doesn’t end up the way we plan. This has taught me to leave room for the unexpected little things that I need to allow so that kids can just be themselves and get their needs met. For instance, something as simple as allowing for a quick water break can dissipate a hyper group. Other times, it can be helpful to allot some time for brief sharing at the beginning or end of class so that kids can tell you about their vacation or what they were for Halloween, so that they don’t take up time during the activities chatting about it. Unlike adults, kids don’t always draw boundaries between yoga class and time for other activities and topics. They want to share all of themselves – including their crazy, energetic moods! Embrace it and go with the flow.