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Yoga for Kids with Special Needs: Visual Supports are Powerful

Since most children with special needs process visual information more effectively than auditory, the presence of visual supports in a yoga class can lead to greater enjoyment, relaxation and connection. This simple accommodation is often overlooked, used inconsistently, or viewed more as a fun prop than a necessary learning and participation tool. Visual supports are best utilized on a regular basis and since they are truly beneficial for all children, they can be included in every class you teach.

1. VISUAL SCHEDULE

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Visual schedules allow children to see the structure of the class, to map out the flow in their mind, and have the potential to reduce any nervous or anxious feelings. All you need is a dry erase board, or piece of paper, and markers. I recommend creating the schedule with the children at the start of class and keep it simple -- no more than 5 items and no need to dive deep into detail. Even if the children are not yet readers, using words vs. pictures for the schedule in a yoga class is effective. With that said, stick figures or simple pre-made pictures with minimal background noise work as well. However, I rarely use the latter as I am all about efficiency and writing out the schedule is quick and impactful -- even for preschool-age children and non-readers.

Teaching Tip: After completing an item on the schedule, erase it to instill a sense of accomplishment and to show the children what is next. Or even better, let the children take turns erasing the items!

 

2. YOGA CARDS

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I always have a stash of yoga cards in my bag. The Yoga Pretzels deck was my go-to until Next Generation Yoga released the Yoga Cards for School-Based Educators (cards pictured above), and now my bag is a little heavier because both decks provide such powerful visual support! Similar to a visual schedule, yoga cards clearly display the flow of the class and reduce anxiety by eliminating not knowing what is happening next. Also similar to a visual schedule, you will want to keep it simple and clear by displaying only 3-4 cards at a time. Once the pose, breathing exercise or whatever is on the card is complete, remove the card from the display. Yoga cards also support motor planning and if the children participate in choosing the cards, they receive a sense of control and collaboration. You can use yoga cards for an entire class or just for a particular section where visual support is needed.

Teaching Tip: At the beginning of class, invite the children to each pick a card. Then, sequence out the cards to create a safe and fun flow, following the beginning-middle-end bell curve. It is typically best for the teacher to hold onto the cards and again, display 3-4 at a time. Teaching a large class? Get creative and combine the cards. For example, practice Heart Belly Breathing in Feet to Sky pose.

 

3. MODELING

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Do the class with the children. Practice the breathing exercises. Demonstrate the yoga poses, and not just when introducing them, but for the duration of the class. Whatever the kids are doing, you should be doing too … with a few exceptions. For example, if you are giving a sacrum press while the children are in Child’s Pose or a foot rub in Savasana, first, model the instruction. Then, let the children know you are going to move around the room. Even with this seemingly clear instruction, you might have some kids get up as well. If this happens, move back into Child’s Pose or Savasana or whatever is happening at that time, to model for these strong visual learners.

Teaching tip: Keep in mind the mantra, “Kids do what you do, not what you say.” Let this help guide your modeling while teaching.

So, how do you know what visual supports will enhance the children’s yoga experience? Typically, there is not one right answer. The success of a visual support depends on how it is presented (again, keep it simple and clear) and if the children are included in its introduction and involvement in the class, such as choosing a card and erasing items from the visual schedule. So, when deciding what support to use, give yourself space to get quiet, connect with the children you have the privilege of sharing yoga with, and listen to your heart. Trust that the answer is already there.

How do you use visual support when teaching yoga to children with special needs and/or is there something here that resonates with you? I’d love to hear from you. Comment below or email me.

xo, Nicole