Yoga for Girl Scouts: Planning a Kids Yoga Class
By: Steph Ball-Mitchell, E-RYT-500, RPYT, RCYT, YACEP
Yoga for girl scouts is such a fun experience, for the girls and the yoga teacher! Girl Scouts is all about empowering girls, and yoga is such an empowering practice. As we come closer to Women's History Month, empowering girls through yoga is top of mind. Children's yoga in general is such an important practice that gives kids the tools they need to cope with stress, increase body awareness and cultivate a mindfulness practice.
Girl Scouts is a national nonprofit organization here in the U.S. that facilitates girls discovering friendship, fun, and power of girls coming together and supporting one another. Girl Scouts enables girls to gain courage and strength through experiences while building skills through projects and stewardships. Girl Scouts are organized through local councils which have multiple service units. Each service unit has multiple troops. Each troop has weekly meetings and opportunities to get badges through service and projects. This week, one very special Girl Scout Troop earned their yoga patch when we completed a one-hour yoga class.
The first thing you need to know when planning a yoga class for girl scouts is the age of the girls. The troop I taught most recently was my daughter's mixed level troop. We had Daisies, Brownies and Juniors which breaks down to three first graders, three second graders and one fifth grader. Ideally, I probably would not typically group first graders and fifth graders together just because there is a pretty big gap there in both the physical body and the level of maturity. By the time kids reach fifth grade, they may or may not be on the verge of puberty which brings a lot of changes in the body and also emotional changes. This is a completely different class than teaching yoga to first graders.
I chose a theme that would resonate with the entire group, and I decided on a few kids yoga warm-ups, standing poses, yoga games and partner poses that would be appropriate for everyone. I mixed some animal poses with dynamic movement that I usually reserve for younger children with a sun salutation sequence that I can adapt to any age group. The standing poses are unchanging, and I have room to customize them as we move through the class, depending on what the students are giving. I also wanted to add in some mudra action.
I knew we were going to need yoga mats, so I had a few options available. I could have brought some of my yoga mats from home, I have plenty. But, I really wanted the girls to have their own mats to take home. For kids, I know I can always find inexpensive mats at Five Below, but these are very low quality. I could order from my favorite yoga mat provider, Jade Yoga Mats but those are pretty pricey. There's always Sunshine Yoga, where I can get affordable mats in bulk. I've also ordered children's yoga mats on amazon before and you can find quite a few cute designs, but the mats are smaller and built for kids so the girls would not be able to grow with their mats.
I decided to reach out to Jade Yoga Mats and ask if they have any coupon codes I could use since the mats would be for a nonprofit organization. I have a long history of ordering from Jade. I probably have a dozen mats that I personally practice with scattered between my home, my car, my studio, my home studio and our Texas retreat center. I also have Jade mats for my students at my studio, and I've ordered them as gifts for yoga teacher friends, my daughters and my husband. I love their mats because they are environmentally friendly, they provide a decent amount of cushion when my bony knee caps are pressing into the ground and they are also grippy enough that I never slip and slide. I feel like they're a very safe choice, and they're also easy to clean.
Jade Yoga Mats got back to me right away, and they said they could donate mats for my girls to use! They sent a donation form for me to complete and then they explained that they have mats with imperfections that they would be sending out. I couldn't believe it. I was super excited to be able to get the mats for the girls. These Girl Scouts would have quality yoga mats that they could keep forever.
Two days later, the mats arrived by FedEx and I was blown away. Not only did they donate mats for each girl, but they also paid to have them sent by FedEx.
I got some of my brand new lavender eye pillows out of my home studio space and packed them to take with the yoga mats. The Girl Scouts yoga class was the day before Valentine's Day, so I was theming it around self-love and I thought the eye pillows would be a nice touch. I wanted the girls to feel the type of empowerment that comes with knowing you have everything you need inside of you and that self-love is the most important form of love to practice.
There are so many ways that we can practice self-love. Every time we make a smart choice for ourselves we practice a form of self-love. There are so many opportunities to make good choices for ourselves; in fact, we are never without a choice. We always have a choice. Even if our shoes come untied, we get to choose to tie them again or leave them untied. We don't always recognize the many ways that we have to show ourselves love, but opportunities for self-love are plentiful. When we get the rest we need and eat foods that work well in our bodies, we are practicing self-love.
Whenever I teach kids yoga, I always try to arrange the mats in a circle. I feel like this helps to foster a sense of community and to create a welcoming space. It also takes the "front of the room" and "back of the room" out of the equation because we're all the same. Nobody really gets their feelings hurt about who they're positioned next to because we're all looking at one another in one big circle. It also sets up the space in a way that easily facilitates yoga games and yoga partner poses. It's easy for everyone to see the physical demonstrations and it's easy for me to watch the students to make sure all the children are practicing yoga safely.
When I first arrived to teach my kids yoga class to the Girl Scouts, I told the girls that we were lucky enough to get these amazing yoga mats from Jade. I explained my personal passion for Jade Yoga Mats, as I opened the box. The girls bum rushed the box and everyone started grabbing mats. We positioned the mats in my typical circle orientation and I told the girls about how sacred the space of a yoga mat really is and how important it is to take care of your yoga mat. We talked about what that looks like.
I told the girls that when we are practicing yoga, the only thing that matters is what happens on your own mat. We don't need to worry about what anyone else is doing on their mat because we're all different. We all live in our own unique bodies and each of our bodies has its own story and moves in its own special way. No two people are alike which is why we don't compare ourselves to others. There will be times in the class when we are working together and connecting, and there will be other parts of the class when we are tuned into our own bodies.
I always let the kids know that I'm here to guide them, but they always get to make their own choices for their own bodies. If they don't want to do something, they don't have to do it. Anytime they want to leave the room to use the restroom, they always can.
Here's the sequence that I ended up teaching and it worked out beautifully.
We begin by choosing a comfortable seat, and I offer the children 3 different options. We put up the peace fingers of both hands and come into Prana Mudra as I explain that we want to get our energy circulating through our bodies. We take about 30 seconds here to ground and center as we take a moment to think of all the people we love, and all the people who love us.
We stretch the spine into a rainbow shape as we inhale and turn the gaze up from our seated position (seated cow pose) and we reverse the rainbow as we exhale and round the spine, tucking the chin to the chest (seated cat pose). We repeat this a few times.
We extend the arms overhead and interlace all but the index fingers as we lengthen on an inhale. As we exhale, we fold to the left and lengthen the right side body. On an inhale, we come back through center and grow tall. On the exhale, we fold to the right to lengthen through the left side.
We let our arms dangle to the sides loosely and swing back and forth. Eventually we hold all the way to the right and then to the left. We've now moved the spine in all six directions and we're ready to practice.
We rock into table top pose and come into sunbird on each side. Then we step the feet in to the outsides of the hands to come into a yogi squat.
We're in Malasana and we start to talk about the noises that frogs make. The girls give me their best frog sounds, and I offer them the option to jump up and down the length of their yoga mats like frogs. Every one of them takes me up on the offer. Eventually we find stillness and tip back onto the sit bones, bring the hands behind us with the fingertips pointing towards the feet and align the feet with the hips as we lift the hips into an upward plank.
Here we are in crab pose, so we start to go on a crab walk keeping the belly lifted
After we've burned a bit of energy hopping like frogs and walking like crabs, we come to stand so we can burn some more energy in Sun Salutations. I walk them through the first one slowly(ish) and moving through a few cues for each posture. We go through one more a little more quickly. Then it's time to have some fun!
I ask the kids what we can do to make these sun salutations fun. What if we bounce up and down as we flow through the sun salutations? We try it, and the kids all laugh. What's next? We put one arm behind our back and go through the sun salutation, laughing when we go into a one arm plank and lower to the belly, come to cobra and back to downward facing dog this way. Finally, we try the merengue and dance our way through a sun salutation.
I notice that the girls are short of breath, and we hold in down dog for a few breaths before coming to stand and moving on.
The girls have been asking for tree pose since I arrived, so we finally come into tree pose and then sway back and forth like palm trees blowing in the wind. We repeat this on the other side.
We briefly run through Warrior I, Warrior II, Warrior III and Reverse Warrior on each side. Then we pull out our imaginary swords and figure out where we would hold our swords in each of the poses. I call out different Warrior poses and the girls jump from one pose to the next. Occasionally, I cue them to switch feet and the fun comes because they never know what to expect. I only call out Warrior III once on each leg, and always after Warrior I, but they don't know what's coming and it feels like a game to them.
We come down onto the ground and the girls face one another. Someone has to be my partner because we don't have an even number. We bring out feet into a V shape and our feet touch our partner's feet. We hold hands and start to rock back and forth like a See-Saw. Then we begin to take circles, switching directions eventually. We release our hands and then hold on to one another's right hands while we reach the left arm behind us for a twist. We trade sides and get the same twist on the other side.
We come into staff pose and hook our seat belts as we are driving in our imaginary cars. My right foot starts to ring and we all reach out to grab our right feet and bring them to our ears. We have a brief telephone conversation in this hip opener, but we're driving so we must hang up. We throw the phone in the backseat as we bring the foot as close as it comes to behind the head. We do the same thing on the other side.
We come to lie on the back and hug the knees into the chest, rocking back and forth. We then come into a reclined twist in each direction.
We don't have the wall space in this kids yoga for Girl Scouts class, so I offer each of the girls a chair and they bring their legs into a chair. I let them know I'll be bringing eye pillows around and ask them to bring their hands on their bellies if they don't want one. I place an eye pillow on each girl's eyes and dim the lights as the Disney lullaby remix of "let it go" from the frozen soundtrack plays.
At the end of the kids yoga class, I leave the lights dim. The music ends and I tell the kids to bring some gentle movement into their bodies. Eventually we meet in a seated pose and say the special word, "namaste."
If you're interested in becoming a kids yoga teacher, you can join us in our upcoming Children's Yoga Teacher Training.