Many adults tend to think of yoga as a solitary practice. However, with kids it tends to be very much a social event, so ice-breakers are a very important element. For classes where kids don’t already know each other, we can bring in fun ways to help them learn names; however, many classes consist of groups that already know each other. When kids learn one another’s names they are more likely to feel comfortable with the group, whereas in groups that are already acquainted, ice breakers can serve more to create a space for kids to share more about themselves and their lives.
Let’s start with ice-breakers for learning names. One simple activity I like is to go around the room and have each student say, “My name is ________ and this is my pose!” Each student can make up a pose or movement that they like or that they feel fits their personality. If it is a group that is unfamiliar with yoga, assure them that any position or movement is good, and that the point is to be creative and do what feels right. Perhaps give them a few examples before beginning so they don’t feel put on the spot, especially if they are new to yoga. To help them all remember everyone’s name, you can follow it up with a memory game to test them: each kid gets a turn to go around the room and see whose names and poses they remember.
Another similar activity is to ask each kid to say their name and then try to use their body to make the shape of the first letter of their name. Just as in the previous example, this can be done as a memory game, with each subsequent kid repeating the names of all previous kids while trying to make the letter shapes they did before saying their own name. This is generally more appropriate for older kids (5 and older).
Even in classes where kids already know others’ names, they enjoy sharing facts and stories about their lives. Breaking the ice isn’t just about learning names, it’s also about sharing experiences, feelings, and ideas in a group. I taught at a preschool in San Francisco to a group of kids who also attended my gymnastics class, so I saw them twice a week for one or two years. They were ages 2-5 and and were always eager to share stories about a recent event or a vacation they just came back from. Often, one kid would share a story and suddenly all the other kids wanted to jump in to tell a story of their own.
Rather than suppress this enthusiasm about storytelling, I learned to reserve a short space of time for each kid to tell a little something about their vacation, favorite moment of the week, or favorite animal. These moments of group sharing can be creatively tied to postures or concentration exercises. For example, if the kids are arranged in a circle, you can go around the circle and let each kid do a posture that everyone must hold while they tell a 15-20 second story (maybe a little longer if the class is longer than 20-30 minutes) about where they went for Spring Break. When the next kid shares, they do a different posture that everyone else must hold until they finish their story and so on until each kid has shared. Be firm about keeping the story to the time limit and perhaps use a bell, tingsha, or chime to signal when it’s the next kid’s turn. This is a great activity to use when kids have just come back from a break or vacation and are still getting used to being back in school.
Sometimes if I don’t have time during the class, I reserve storytelling and sharing for the end when I am giving stamps or stickers (a common practice at many schools where I have taught; we use it to reward good behavior). This is a time after they’ve put their shoes back on and they are waiting for their parents or teacher to come get them.
Remember, ice breakers are good not only for the kids to get acquainted with their peers and share more about themselves, but also for you as the teacher to get to know them better.