One of the comments I most often receive is in response to telling people I teach toddler yoga, and usually runs along the lines of “Oh, my little one wouldn’t do yoga, he won’t stay still long enough”. The fact is that teaching yoga to toddlers is challenging, I have found the most difficult age group to plan for and to work with is those little people aged from around 10 months to 20 months. But it is possible.
You have to revisit your ideas of what yoga is, and how a yoga class will look. Yoga with toddlers will not involve much stillness, or much quietness (although there is time for both of those in every lesson). We may not do very many poses that you would recognise from a traditional yoga class. We will not be talking about alignments or thinking too much about how to do the poses correctly (although we will check that everyone is doing their poses safely). What we will be doing is moving (lots), singing, laughing, cuddling, massaging, and having fun.
Toddlers will not always join in with everything in a yoga class (or anywhere else). They are busy learning about how to be independent, and part of that involves them starting to assert their own opinions on things. A toddler has a mission to explore the world around them, learning so much from their explorations, so we will see them moving around the room seeking things of interest. A hole in the wall may need a long and thorough investigation, a curtain will provide hours of entertainment, a particular mark on the floor can be stared at for ages. But wherever they are and whatever they are doing, these children are aware of everything around them. They are constantly learning and absorbing, and even when it can feel that they are not involved with the class at all, they will suddenly surprise you later by doing a pose, or singing a song from that class.
When teaching this age, you have to be flexible. I always plan my lessons, I plan our theme, our adventure, our songs and our poses. But I can teach the ‘same’ lesson 4 times a week, and every time it will be different. I try to watch the children, see their cues, judge their moods, work out whether the next activity will work just now or if we need to move about first. Can we start doing some individual poses or do the children need a minute to connect with their parent first. Is everyone full or energy, or are they actually getting tired and need to quieten down. I don’t always get things right, but I am always learning, and the more I work with this age group the easier it gets.
It will never be easy though. Toddlers like to keep you on your toes. One week they will suddenly decide that they no longer like the cat and mouse game that has been a favourite for months. Going upside down will always change the mood and result in giggles except for one particular afternoon, when it just doesn’t work. There will be days when they just want to sit, days when they just want to cuddle, days when they just want to scream. But even on these days when it seems that nothing is going right, children will take comfort from the familiar routine and activities. I always use the same hello song, the same structure for class, the same activities to signal relaxation, the same goodbye song. Young children feel secure when they know what is coming next.
And what about the days when I finish a class, exhausted, and wondering whether I have actually achieved anything? Well then I take a breath, I look at my own children, I look at the children I teach. I see how happy they are, how secure they are, what a loving relationship they share with their parents. I see the child who was racing around the room 5 minutes previously now lying still next to his mum. I see the little one (who has spent the last 20 minutes hiding under a table) crawl over to her mum who’s lying in savasana and rest her head briefly on her chest. I see the parent who arrived hassled and rushed lying down, completely relaxed, eyes closed and a smile on her face. And I know that it’s worth it.