Never underestimate the importance of using metaphor in teaching Kids’ Yoga. Even if you add an element of imagination, kids will come up with their own way to embellish on it; for instance, when balancing on one foot in postures such as Tree Pose, even when they can do it properly, kids often decide to be funny and pretend to lose their balance so that they can be dramatic as they crash down to the ground. This is a typical response for young children, and sometimes I roll with it and experiment with more imaginative reasons to stay upright as well as fall over. One fun way of doing this is to let them express the contrast between standing still with control and letting go of control by falling. For instance, in teaching Mountain Pose, you can say, “Stand tall, reach for the sky, be straight and strong like a piece of uncooked spaghetti; now be all floppy like a piece of cooked spaghetti,” and flop your arms and let your legs be like Jell-O.
Often, food is a great metaphor that kids can identify with and they gladly share their own creative ideas. For example, I also teach Kids’ Gymnastics and one day in class I was teaching a group of 4 and 5-year-olds to do forward rolls using a wedge-shaped cushion to help them get momentum. The wedge is about 4′ x 4′ x 2′, a big piece of equipment for small kids. I put it on the mat and started to explain how to safely do a roll down the slanted side of it when suddenly, a few of the kids started pretending to nibble on it while wagging their ‘tails’. “Mmm, cheese!” they cried out. To my adult mind, it was a wedge; to their boundless imaginations, it was cheese, and they were mice.
Gymnastics and yoga are different practices, but both provide opportunities for kids to use their imagination in ways that help them move their bodies with greater awareness and joy. Toys and props are key in catching and holding kids’ interest. You can tell an amazing story and act it out with the most amusing gestures, but kids also want—and need—something to interact with and touch. In gymnastics, this comes in the form of equipment, such as the ‘cheese’ mentioned above. In Kids’ Yoga, the possibilities for toys and props are as wide as the teacher’s imagination.
One versatile toy that kids love is pom poms. I first learned of these during the Kidding Around Yoga (KAY) training I attended in 2013 at the San Francisco Integral Yoga Institute. I use pom poms to help kids fix their gaze on one point as they do balancing postures, and also help them practice moving and stretching their toes as they try to grab them with their feet. I even use pom poms when we’re resting in the Secret Garden: I tell kids to put the pom poms on their bellies while they lie in Savasana and imagine the pom poms are beach balls floating lightly on the ocean surface, which is the rise and fall of their bellies as they breathe.
Even a yoga mat can be a prop. Going back to using food as a metaphor, during the KAY training, Haris Lender taught us the movements for a song called Yummy Yoga, which involves lying on the mat sideways and rolling up in it to pretend you are a burrito, sushi roll, cannoli or other rolled-up food. I also like to bring in popular games that kids naturally play, for example, jumping from yoga mat to yoga mat and pretending that the surrounding floor or carpet is lava. I remember playing this game when I was a child. This is a great way to teach spatial awareness while adding an element of excitement and using the mats as clear boundaries.
Kids can think in metaphors if we let them act it out! Metaphors are keys in explaining and demonstrating a fun and balanced practice to kids. As teachers (or parents), we can help them stretch their bodies and they, just by being kids, push us to stretch our imaginations.