Teaching The Sun Salutation To Preschoolers
By Susan Kain, RCYT
Both parents and educators wish to inspire children toward a healthy lifestyle. Introducing yoga at an early age not only builds strength and flexibility, but can bring a level of calm into their lives. As a registered children’s yoga teacher, I strive to prepare imaginative, fun and thematic based classes for participants, but I also encourage parents and caregivers to create their own home routine. One way to begin is with a basic Sun Salutation or Surya Namaskara.
What is a Sun Salutation?
The Sun Salutation is a traditional yogic warm-up of linked poses called asanas. The Sanskrit term, Surya Namaskara translates as ‘salute to the sun’. For young children this interpretation might become ‘hello sun’, a ‘sun dance’ or a ‘sun thank you’. Since there are many styles of yoga with different poses included for each of their Sun Salutation’s, feel free to select the one which is most appropriate for you and your child.
Preschoolers love make-believe, stories, costumes, props and sounds. Consider using the same basic poses, but in order to keep their salutation interesting, pretend to be different characters, create a new story around the poses or set up an ‘audience’ of toys to watch. You might play the Beatles, ‘Here Comes the Sun’, the ‘Mr. Sun’ song or follow along with Kira Willey’s, ‘Dance for the Sun’.
How to Begin Introducing a Sun Salute to Your Child
You are encouraged to celebrate every attempt at poses by your child at this age. Some days a ‘Hello to the Sun’ may consist only of the Mountain, Tall Mountain and Forward Fold poses. Whatever comes, give lots of praise and do the poses with them!
Below are basic poses found in one common variation of a Sun Salutation. I have included notes with elements my class participants enjoy as perhaps your child will too!
1-Mountain Pose – Stand tall like a mountain with arms to the sides.
Note: Count with your child how many seconds they stand like a statue before it is time to go on to #2.
2-Tall Mountain Pose – Reach both arms overhead to the sky.
Note: Hold up a cut-out paper yellow sun for your child to ‘High-5’.
3-Forward fold- Encourage your child to fold over to tickle their toes or tickle your toes!
4-Lunge – Step one leg back, traditionally it is the right leg, keeping the front knee bent at 90 degrees. The back knee can be lifted or on the ground.
Note: Children often need to watch their parent with this pose. To encourage them to take a big step back, use a piece of paper taped down or some visual as a marker for that foot to reach to.
5-Downward facing dog – Step the front leg back from the lunge to get into an inverted ‘V’ position.
Note: Children love to be in downward dog under your ‘dog house’ or have a plush animal under their ‘dog house’. Everyone can bark together!
6-Table pose transition to belly -Bend both knees to become a table (quadruped position) and then slowly lower onto the belly.
Note: You might ask your child what they can see, smell or hear when they are on their belly and that close to the earth.
7- Cobra – Place the hands under the shoulders and lift the upper body.
Note: Children love to hiss or move their tongue in and out like a snake in this pose.
8-Downward facing dog – From the cobra pose, return to a table and then pike the hips back into the inverted ‘V’ of downward facing dog.
Note: Show your child how they can ‘wag their tail’ by moving their bottom side to side or ‘walk the dog’ by bending one knee and then the other.
9-Lunge (other side) – Bring the right leg forward and bend that knee.
Note: Use the marker from #4 to show where to bring the leg forward to from downward facing dog. While in the lunge the back leg can be lifted and lowered like a wound-up toy.
10-Forward Fold – From the lunge, bring the back leg forward so both feet are now together.
Note: Once again tickle the toes or have a favorite toy do the tickling.
11- Tall Mountain – Reach the arms back up to the sky.
Note: Children never seem to tire of ‘High-5’s’ to the sun, especially when you challenge them by holding it higher and higher.
12-Mountain – Return the arms to the sides or to Anjali Mudra, (prayer hands) at the heart center.
Concluding the Sun Salute
Standing opposite your child in Anjali Mudra, take a moment to remind them that their special inner ‘sun’ or ‘light’ is behind their hands at their heart center…..that your light shines to their light and their light shines to your light…..that they are amazing, unique, kind, and loved.
Researchers and the Role of Play
Yoga for Preschoolers should be all about play. Lev S. Vygotsky, a pioneer in developmental psychology, said ‘play is a leading source of development in the preschool years’. Play can deliver important concepts and skills at a time when children are beginning to overcome some of the impulsive behaviors of their early years. Swami Saraswati felt the yoga experience for the child between two and six years of age ‘must be done through play.’ He continued to say, ‘As the child grows older and enters school, the presentation of yoga can take on a more structured form as do other class activities’.
Bodrova, Elena, and Deborah J. Leong. 2011. “Revisiting Vygotskian Perspectives on Vygotskian and Post-Vygotskian Views on Children’s Play and Pedagogy.” In Rethinking Play and Pedagogy in Early Childhood Education: Concepts, Contexts and Cultures, edited by Sue Rogers, 60–73.
Saraswati, Satyananda. 1990. ‘Yoga Education for Children.” 25-28.
Saraswati, Satyananda. 1990. “Yoga Education for Chiildren.” 30.
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