February 2nd is not only Groundhog Day, it has also historically been, and continues to be, celebrated as the midpoint between winter solstice and spring equinox. It has been called Imbolc, Candlemas, and Oimelc, and is a time of celebrating the lengthening of days and the first signs of spring. This connection to light makes this day a great theme for kids’ yoga. Of course, the image of a groundhog coming out of the ground and looking for his shadow adds even more fun to this theme when it comes to teaching kids yoga.
Remember: if the groundhog sees its shadow when he comes out of its burrow, it means that spring will come late, whereas if the sky is cloudy, there will be no shadow to see and in this case it is said that Spring will come early. This idea of light and shadow is great for a copycat type of game! Pair the kids so that one does a posture and the other acts as the shadow, mimicking what the other does. Prompt them to do certain types of poses. For instance, you can call out, “Standing pose! Sitting pose! Your favorite pose!” To add a fun twist, and to make it more challenging for older kids, you (the teacher) can hold up a drawing of the sun for sunny weather or a drawing of a cloud for cloudy weather; do this at random to keep the kids on their toes. If you hold up the sun, then the kid playing shadow will mimic what their partner does. If you hold up the cloud then the shadow doesn’t copy their partner and they do whatever they want. Increase the speed to test kids’ listening skills and visual attentiveness!
Another concept at play here is the emergence from underground. This idea is ripe with possibilities for kids to play the part of the groundhog. For instance, each kid can pretend to be a groundhog in a burrow by resting in CHILD’S pose. You can use the same sun and cloud from the previous activity. Verbally guide the kids to uncurl and come out of child’s pose to transition into a standing pose of their choice (other than TREE pose–keep reading to see why). You will be holding up either the sun or the cloud. If it’s the sun, then kids lay back down in SAVASANA to signify a longer winter. If it’s the cloud, then kids jump into TREE pose to signify an early spring. Repeat it a few times to give kids a chance to experiment transitioning from CHILD’S pose to a standing pose of their choice. You can emphasize a slow transition for teaching them control and patience, or fast transition to energize the class, depending on the mood.
Recycling games can be fun as well when cast into a new theme. Many teachers, including myself, have had their kids line up in downward dog to create a tunnel for one kid to go through in some prescribed way. This can be recast into the theme of Groundhog Day, either with the same downward dog tunnel, or with a bigger tunnel as needed: kids stand in two lines facing each other so that each one has a partner. They hold hands with their partner, making a high arch with their arms to create room for the groundhog. You can join the tunnel formation if there is an odd number of kids after selecting one kid to play groundhog. Send the groundhog through the tunnel; they must go through in a particular way, for example, on all fours, walking in downward dog position, or slithering through on their tummy. When they get to the other end, they stand at the head of the tunnel and wait for their partner to go through. Continue until everyone has had a turn.
Of course, not every kid knows the story of Groundhog Day. In that case, a story can come in many creative versions and this creates fun possibilities for you or the kids to make up a ‘groundhog pose.’ If you have time for a more detailed story, a great one that provides the history and biology of groundhogs is called Groundhog Day, by Gail Gibbons. However, if you want a story with a humorous twist, try Grumpy Groundhog, by Maureen Wright and Amanda Haley, or Groundhog Gets a Say, by Pamela Curtis Swallow. In addition to whatever version of the story you use, consider making up a ‘cloud salutation’ in place of a ‘sun salutation’ if you and your kids are hoping for an earlier spring!