Last week President Obama visited College Heights Early Childhood Education Center where I teach yoga to 1 year olds and up since last year. When I asked my students several questions regarding the time they spent with President Obama, my passion for the importance of teaching yoga to preschoolers was completely validated. Read on and I’m sure you will appreciate the brilliance of these kids as much as I did.
My first question was to my Toddler class. I simply asked “how was seeing the President?” They are 2 years old and these are some of their answers. “ He is as big as a mountain.” “He is strong.” “He has big ears.” “He smiles”.
I probed a little deeper with the older kids. I inquired, “How is meeting President Obama related to what you have been learning in Yoga? “ These kids are 3 and 4 years old and their answers blew my mind, put a smile on my face and no doubt melted my heart. These are some of their responses.
“He is tall and strong like a mountain.”
“He stops and breathes when he talks.”
“He stands strong.”
“His heart is open.” Then I said “please tell me what makes you think that?” The little boy who is 4 said, “Because Ms. S. (that’s me J), his shoulders are back and that keeps the heart open.”
A few other amazing answers from these children are “His words are clear.”
“He is nice to every body because his heart is open.”
“His heart is open so he shares his light with everybody.”
“He is happy when he sits because he sits up straight and lifts his heart.”
“He has power in his belly.”
We all have moments in our lives when we say to ourselves; wow I have done my job well. Kids listen. They are hungry for information. They remember. It’s very important for us teachers to teach them well. With answers like that, I know I have done my share. Let your light shine. Namaste’.
I want to share some experiences and some trial and errors to encourage teachers to continue with their mission, even when it seems like you’ve hit the wall, or run out of ideas, or question if you are making a difference.
Yes, we all hit the wall. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t know what’s on the other side. The climb over can be tough, but anything that’s easy is just that, easy. Teaching children is a challenge. Teachers need to be able to tap into their own light, with conviction, to put forth their best effort, class after class, year after year. All teachers understand that, right? But, what if you are teaching pre-school children? What if you are introducing them to something brand new and want them to love it so they will continue? What if you were teaching them yoga?
That’s what I do. That’s what I’ve been doing for 7 years. I’m writing this after just completing a week long camp for pre-school children. Ages 3-7. There’s my first typo–7. Way before I started teaching, our mentors such as Marsha Wenig, Yogakids International, put children in the 3-6 age group. That MATTERS. I’ve co-created a program for ages 3-6 for Grounded Yoga, and my partner, Sedef Dion, and I were very conscious of the age appropriate poses, songs, and chants. Sedef was in the teaching arena daily with classes as young as 12 months, and ranging up to 5 years old. Her perspective on “when age matters” was instrumental in our writing the program. We both considered ourselves to be in a labratory, using techniques and poses on different ages to see how they would respond, and our lab trials were successful. Some poses are just not age appropriate for pre-school. Ages 3-6. Please don’t confuse this with “I have a 5 year old that can do Vasisthasana”. So do we. I’m not suggesting that you limit your teaching to a particular set of poses, please push the envelope and when you feel your student is ready, introduce more challenging poses. What I am encouraging here, is that to have a balanced, successful teaching experience, teach to the age before you. Teach to that energy. If you teach a 10 week session to pre-school children, each week will bring a new energy, therefore new challenges. Be ready. Be repetitive, and don’t give into boredom. If you find yourself saying “maybe they can do this”, I bet you they can, but are they ready? The gift of teaching PRE-Grounded to PRE-School is “PRE.” Before. Teach them the basics of good etiquette on a mat, stacking bones over and over again, using laughter to encourage their learning. Don’t over estimate the goodness of teaching basics. When they are ready to take that important step to becoming Grounded, they should be ready.
Back to my typo. 7. I was delighted to see this child in camp, because she has been practicing with me for 3 years! Yes, she started at the ripe age of 4. She was allowed to enroll because she wanted to come so badly. I’m not saying that she didn’t have an amazing experience during camp, she actually benefited because I was able to allow her to “teach” to the other children. Yes, teach. The Grounded programs Quest for Elevation prepares the children to become teachers themselves, and it works. She actually left camp with an advantage on her peers because of this experience. But for me as the teacher, the days were a challenge to not only give her a rewarding experience, but to introduce brand new yoga to the 3 year olds. The basic poses are easy for children to master. The songs and simple chants are fun and engaging. The YogArt projects were simple enough for the range in ages, and the older children learned and embraced them, and as the photo and video shows, Age Matters.
I would never suggest that you not take a teaching position because the age range is out of the limits I’m suggesting here. Teach to all children, whenever you have the opportunity. What I am suggesting, is to be ready. Start with an open mind, and be prepared for the struggles that will show up. Having a 3 year old in your class is one of the greatest gifts a yoga teacher can have. The opportunity to share the joy of yoga for the first time to a child–Priceless. Having a wide age range of students will be a challenge. It will be hard. It will make you a better teacher. When that class is your class, walk into the experience ready. Ready for an amazing journey with obstacles and triumphs. Find your breath, and TEACH.