Updated: November 4, 2022
By Heidi Nechtman, Pretzel Kids teacher
Do you want to make your kids yoga classes more inclusive, but aren’t quite sure where to start? Are you a teacher of special needs kids who wants to bring yoga into your classroom? Or are you a parent or caregiver of a special needs child who might like to participate in a yoga class?
Well, you’re in luck as yoga is for everyone, including children with special needs. And, practicing yoga asanas can help with mental and physical health – if you do so safely and inclusively.
Kids with special needs are an incredibly diverse group. Some may need help with balance, while others may need to take breaks more often. By including all children in your yoga classes, this means you’ll be listening to their unique needs. In some cases, you’ll also need to accommodate those needs.
1. Have flexibility, patience and understanding
Whether you are working with kids with anxiety, children with balance and muscle strength challenges, kids who are on the autism spectrum or have ADHD, or youth with limited mobility, you should know a few basic principles of teaching yoga to kids with special needs before you start your first class. And remember this: The children need you to be flexible, patient and understanding.
2. Ask, listen, and adjust
Every child that you teach will have different needs and preferences. Some might love doing yoga poses, but are unable to stay focused during meditation. Others would rather color in a worksheet than play a yoga game. Still other children are great at seated yoga poses, but lose their balance when practicing standing asanas, like tree pose and dancer pose. Keep this in mind: You may need to make special accommodations in your class.
Wondering how to go about this? It’s no big deal! First, check with the child or their parent to find out what helps them succeed and feel most comfortable. Then, adjust your plans in any way necessary. You may need to:
- Be more in tune to individual children within your group class.
- Slow down your instruction and demonstrate what you’re doing for kids who may process things more slowly or be overwhelmed by lots of activity.
- Learn any triggers a child may have so you can modify your class accordingly.
- Deaf or hard of hearing students will likely need to see your face at all times and may need you to repeat instructions.
- Allow the student to move around or just sit and watch for a moment when they are uncomfortable, as long as they do not disturb the other students.
- You can even designate a special spot for them to sit if they need to remove themself and put something that comforts the child there, like a favorite toy.
- Get to know what’s typical for the child you are teaching. For instance, if a student is humming, flapping their hands, etc., this might be a sign that they’re happily stimulated and are enjoying themselves.
3. Props, props, props!
When it comes to the actual content of your classes, you can adapt the poses you’ll be using so that all students can take part. You can also provide different options for poses for the kids to choose from. For example, not everyone can raise both hands at one time, but they may be able to raise one hand at a time! This way, you can incorporate activities that improve balance, strength, and flexibility and your class can be accessible to everyone.
One great way to adapt yoga poses to students with special needs is to encourage the use of props. You can use foam blocks, rolled up yoga mats, the floor, or weighted sandbags to provide reference and sensory input. You can also use balance balls, chairs or walls to help with balance, or turn a pose on its side and use the floor or wall as a prop. When using props, ensure that the child does not feel unwelcome or singled out. Offer the prop to all of the kids and make it fun – who doesn’t get excited about doing yoga with an exercise ball? Plus, using props can be helpful for all kids, especially young ones!
4. Pick a routine and stick to it
It’s always good to create a routine for what’s going to happen in your kids yoga classes. Not only does sticking to a routine help you get organized, but it also ensures that the kids come to class prepared for what’s to come. Although all kids benefit from routines, kids with anxiety, autism and other special needs can use the structure even more. So, tell them how the class will flow, and try to go with the same order of activities every time. Repeat some of the poses in every class so that they feel like they are experts!
By the way, the Pretzel Kids Method gives you a proven system. This is perfect for guiding you towards becoming a consistent yet flexible kids yoga teacher – pun intended – in less than 12 hours! You’ll also get the Pretzel Kids Guidebook, full of activities and games that you can mix and match to craft the kids yoga class routine that’s just right for you and your students.
5. Above all, safety first
Be aware of the child’s physical limitations, such as balance and joint or muscle issues. Educate yourself on the particular safety needs of the child’s condition or disability. Props, as discussed above, can be really useful for this. For example, a student might have issues with balance. To prevent them from falling, try an activity or pose where they can hold onto the wall. Go slow, and partner with the child and the child’s caregivers to determine their needs. Listen, listen, listen!
6. Keep calm and have fun!
When it comes to being the best kids yoga teacher, it’s important to keep in mind that they’ll match whatever energy you bring to class. If you’re excited, they might be excited, too! If you’re nervous, though, they might mirror this. So, try to stay calm, and your students will usually follow suit, making for a focused, productive class. For special needs children, you may want to consider adjusting the volume of any music you’re using or turning off the music altogether. Choosing a calming theme for class can also help your students relax. And, be sure to use breathing techniques or humming to calm all of the kids down – this is a great way to either start or end a class. Remember: All the kids are in the class to learn yoga and mindfulness, and have fun. Differing abilities are not just ok – they are great! Remind every student that yoga is a practice and we all are learning together.
Get started and teach yoga for kids with special needs!
Yoga really is for every child – some students may simply need different adaptations than others! Learning to teach yoga for kids with special needs will not only broaden your student base and help you deepen your own yoga practice. This will also help you offer other kids in your classes an amazing real-world experience in learning about accessibility. Finally, teaching yoga to children with ADHD and other special needs gives you a chance to provide yoga instruction to kids who may really benefit.
If you’re a parent or caregiver searching for kids yoga classes, consider becoming a kids yoga teacher and look no further than Pretzel Kids.
And, if you’d like to learn more about teaching kids with special needs, especially those on the autism spectrum, Pretzel Kids has a yoga teacher training course for that!
Heidi Nechtman is a Pretzel Kids teacher in Tempe, Arizona. She’s passionate about sharing yoga with those that may not have access to it. Kids are one of those groups! She teaches littles, tweens and teens mindfulness and yoga at their level — and with lots of fun. You can learn more about Heidi here.