Kathleen Callaghan is a speech-language pathologist (SLP) at The Hello Clinic in Portland, OR. She has had a personal yoga/meditation practice for many years, and started teaching kids yoga in 2012 when she was working as an SLP at an international school in Jakarta, Indonesia. Kathleen is certified to teach kids yoga through OmSchooled in NYC and is also a certified mindfulness instructor through the year-long program with Mindful Schools in the Bay Area. She runs the website Wild Things Yoga, which provides resources and ideas for bringing yoga/mindfulness into the classroom and home, and posts articles and ideas on Facebook. In addition, Kathleen holds her RYT-200 for teaching yoga to adults and has done extensive training on alignment-based yoga for adults.
Three highlights come to mind when I think of this lovely energetic group of 2nd grade boys.We focused on two “challenge” poses in our classes - handstand and another arm balance called Crow. Both require a great amount of focus and concentration. Initially, the boys rushed and fell - and rushed and fell some more. But at some point one of the boys looked at me and said, “Hey! If I slow down and focus I can get into Crow!” From then on, he totally got the idea of attention and concentration as a skill that would help him (at least in yoga :)). One of most active and dysregulated boys took a while to grasp this concept, but when he realized that he could get up into handstand if he just took a minute to make sure his arms were placed right and remembered to breath, he was so much more successful. And my absolute favorite moment was watching a boy with low self-confidence (and a proclivity to giving up) spend 10 straight minutes working on Crow over and over and over again. When he finally got up into the pose and held it, the joy on his face was like sunshine on the brightest day.
My own life-changing journey with yoga and mindfulness is what led me to integrate it into my work as a school-based speech-language pathologist. Movement and language naturally go hand-in-hand, and yoga has the added benefits of supporting attention, emotional regulation, anxiety and stress management and resiliency (among many many other advantages). Adding mindfulness to the mix sweetens the deal as it also targets those emotional regulation, awareness and perseverance skills that are so incredibly important to our ability to function in the world. For all kids, these are skills that will serve them well in relationships, school and work.
Whether you have a personal yoga/mindfulness practice or not, all you really need to introduce yoga to your kids is excitement, a little bit of time and a lot of creativity. And most importantly, a willingness to experiment with it yourself. While sitting your kids in front of a video or book is totally okay when you need to get to other things on your list, I think yoga and mindfulness carry so much more weight when little people see the adults in their life modeling the practices.
Below are some tips for integrating yoga into your day in both small and bigger ways, depending on how much time you’ve got on your hands:
- Practice! If you already have a yoga and/or mindfulness practice of your own, find a few minutes (or more!) to practice in front of your kids! If they see you practicing, they may get curious and want to play around with the poses as well. I love this video as it demonstrates that your kids don’t have to do exactly what you’re doing - but just that they are engaged in the practice in some way and exploring what it means to move their body with purpose.
- Reading! If you have a family of avid and/or budding readers, you can check out my website, Wild Things Yoga, for a multitude of lesson plans designed around popular children’s books.The lesson plans all highlight speech-language targets that can be integrated into both the read aloud and the yoga postures/activities. The lesson plans can be scaled up/down depending on how much time you have and all can run the gamut of ages from preschool to elementary school.
- Props! Two of my favorite props are:
- The Hoberman Sphere: this is a great tool to help kids focus their attention and learn how to use their breath to help calm or center themselves.
- Yoga Pretzel cards: The Yoga Pretzel cards are great for: showing kids different poses and the steps to get into them; for making up yoga stories by picking a handful of cards, placing them in some sort of sequence, and then telling a story based on the cards/sequence while doing the poses; and for playing games such as “musical mats, which is similar to musical chairs except you use yoga mats and place a card on each mat - as the kids find a mat, they have to do that pose.
- Games! If you have a group of kids together, there are so many fun games to play that integrate yoga, mindfulness, and skill such as cooperation, attention, and listening. On my blog, you can find a list of super fun games (including how to play them) for all ages. My personal favorites? “I’m Going To Yoga And I’m Going To Do….,” Intuition, and Plow Relays.
- Kid/family yoga classes! Many studios now offer yoga classes for kids and/or families. This is a great way to spend time together as a family in a fun, kid-friendly environment. Search for “kid yoga classes” or “family yoga classes” in your area.
- Waiting! In our busy world, we still often find ourselves waiting for things - for the grocery checkout, at the doctor’s office, sitting in traffic. We often pull out technology to keep our minds busy in these small moments, but these are great times to practice yoga and mindfulness! For example:
- Standing in line? See how long you and your child(ren) can balance on one foot and then the other.
- Sitting in traffic? Practice “mindful seeing” by taking 60 seconds to stay completely still except your eyes, and then talk about all the things you noticed that you don’t typically notice when you’re in the car. You can do the same with sounds - be completely quiet and still, and notice all of the sounds you hear in 60 seconds.
- Waiting at the doctors? Find a space out of the way, and do 3-5 half or full sun salutations (snake sounds optional :)). Or bring along some mandalas and find a quiet space to meditate while coloring. Mandalas have been used in many cultures over hundreds of years to support meditation practices. You can find mandala coloring sheets for free online or buy a mandala coloring book.
For more information or ideas about integrating yoga/mindfulness into your children's life, Kathleen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.