When I began teaching kids yoga, one of my favorite ways to engage a group of young yogis was to introduce class with a storybook. No matter what kind of energy filled the room, the kids would always grow wide-eyed in wonder when I started to pull something mysterious from my bag of tricks.
Yoga stories are a wonderful way to teach, bringing together imagination and creativity through storytelling and movement. In fact, we have several favorite yoga resource books based on this exact concept: Sydney Solis of Storytime Yoga fame, and Donna Freeman, author of the recently published Once Upon a Pose, to name a few.
But while storytelling comes naturally to some, others enjoy using a children's book to set the theme of a class or to engage children in discussion.
There are basically two ways we suggest using children's books as part of a yoga class or practice. First, choose a book with various characters, objects or images, which can be easily imitated in the form of a yoga pose. Since children are easily drawn to animals, and yoga includes dozens of animal poses, this is a sure-fire way to capture a child's attention and lead a practice in a fun and light-hearted way.
The second option is to choose a book which contains a meaningful message, such as gratitude, selflessness, peace, love, self-respect and self-confidence, earth care, etc. You can read these books to lead to a discussion, tying in yoga principles and combining with several poses. For instance, you may find a wonderful title on love, especially around Valentine's Day, and use the book as a way to get kids talking about what it means to love others or to love one's self. Finish the discussion and proceed to several heart-opening poses, such as camel or cobra.
Of course, it's great if you can find a book that offers both a meaningful message and inspirational characters to lead poses. One of my favorites for kids aged 3-6 is It's A Good Thing You're Not an Octopus by Julie Markes. Amazon.com's editorial reviewer Emilie Coulter says, The world of small children is filled with day-in, day-out challenges and tiresome activities. If someone's not telling you to get dressed, they're making you eat lunch, climb into the car seat, or take a nap. However, young humans should count their blessings. Baby birds have to eat worms for lunch. Tigers may not ever have to climb into a bathtub, but that's because their mothers are always licking them clean! And imagine being a shark when it comes time to brush your teeth–all 200 of them. Julie Markes hits her mark with this clever picture book, which will probably make at least a few human children appreciate their relatively simple daily routines (at least when compared to shoeless caterpillars).
As you can tell, Markes' book has an engaging and entertaining storyline which includes vivid illustrations of animal characters, while teaching an important value: gratitude. With this book, I'd read it once, slowly, allowing for lots of giggling and absorption of the beautiful illustrations. I'd engage the kids by asking if they ever feel frustrated or irritated that they have to do these mundane tasks, such as brushing their teeth or sitting in their car seat, and remind them, as the book says on the last page, "It's a good thing you're you…phew!" The yoga practice would follow, whereby the kids would be asked to remember the animals and situations in the story, and we'd perform the poses together. Some poses can also be games or creative movement, such as Octopus, which used two children side-by-side on their backs, with 8 arms and legs in the air "flowing" through an imaginary ocean.
Here are more book suggestions from members of the ChildLight Yoga team:
Miss Lisa's (Flynn) Favorites:
Hey, Little Ant, by Phillip M. Hoose
Great picture book and story of a little boy who has to decide whether or not to step on an ant he sees on the sidewalk. It focuses on the conversation between the boy and the ant. Wonderful to use a discussion starter on the theme of non-violence, respect for others, etc.
I Like Myself, by Karen Beaumont
Hysterical picture book focused on self-acceptance.
These are staples in my library as they reflect so many of the yoga principles such as positive thinking/being content, self-acceptance, honesty/truthfulness (being true to you!), and many others. There is one main theme per page in these books, so one book can be used as a discussion starter for a whole series of classes.
Miss Sharon's (Trull) Favorites:
Pete's Pizza by William Steig. It was a fun book to read with the kids and then the kids make themselves into pizzas using the props that are in the books. They asked to do it again this week. I got the book from the library.
Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae. Gerald is a giraffe who thinks he can't dance, but a cricket encourages him to find a different song to dance to. It is a fun book and you can to a lot of yoga poses based on the animals in the jungle or the way they are dancing.
Miss Lisa's (Burk-McCoy) Favorites:
Older Elementary (grades 3-5):
All I See is Part of Me by Chara M. Curtis (good for slightly older children, as the ideas are more complex – all about how we all have the same light within us. Namaste!)
If the World Were a Village by David J. Smith (good for mid/late elementary school-aged; perspective/awareness book – imagine the world was made up of 100 people – statistical exploration of issues like food, literacy, nationality, etc.)
Younger Elementary (grades K-2):
How to Be, by Lisa Brown (a boy imagines what it would be like to be different animals – turtle, monkey, snake – only to be reminded at the end that the best thing is to be yourself; pose exploration with a message!)
Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister (a book about learning to share; a good lesson and can lead to a great take away (sparking scales for everyone!)
Small Green Snake by Libba Moore Gray (fun, quick read – short, rhythmic phrases – and lends itself well to creative pose exploration)
With so many wonderful children's book titles, we're sure you'll have no problem finding these and other great books at your local library. Do you have your own favorites? We're all ears! — Amy Bevan
Amy Bevan is a freelance writer, local reporter and host of The PranaMama, an online wellness and lifestyle magazine, and frequent contributor to ChildLight Yoga's blog, The Kids Yoga Resource, as well as certified ChildLight Yoga Instructor and Itsy Bitsy Yoga facilitator. Amy resides in South Berwick, ME with her husband and two young children.