5 Tips For Teaching Yoga To Children With Special Needs

Yoga is an exercise that incorporates balance, breathing, and coordination into smooth movements or poses that “flow”.  Teaching yoga to children with special needs is tricky.

 But there are definitely some amazing tricks to get the job done.

(This post contains affiliate links for your convenience)

As an elementary school based OT, I often push into work with whole special education classes. While every child is unique, the majority of the children need help with strength, fine motor skills, motor planning, coordination, and balance.  Almost all of them struggle with following directions and staying focused.  Sound familiar?

That’s why Yoga is my go-to activity for kids with special needs. It works on everything for everyone.

Research shows that teaching yoga to children can help improve behavior, attention, focus, and social skills. Physically, it can increase a child’s strength, coordination, bilateral integration, and even fine motor skills.   Yoga has TONS of therapeutic benefits for kids.  To learn more about WHY to teach yoga to kids, check out this post I wrote for MamaOT, called “The Therapeutic Benefits of Yoga for Children”.

teaching yoga to children

Here are just a few.

  1. Social skills– Yoga is a non-competitive exercise, which is important when working with children who struggle with motor skills. Yoga simply asks for you to “do your best”.  There are also many partner yoga poses that children can do together, encouraging socialization and fostering partnership.
  2. Attention– Studies show that doing yoga can increase a child’s ability to focus and reduce hyperactivity and other maladaptive behaviors.  (Chan, A.S.,  Cheung, M.,  and Sze, S.L.).
  3. Gross motor skills – Yoga works on balance, coordination, strength, motor planning and so much more.  It increases core strength and postural control, which children need in order to sit up straight in their chairs.  Core Strength is so important!
  4. Fine Motor Skills – Many yoga poses encourage weight bearing into the hands. This helps to strengthen the muscles of arms, forearms, and hands.  Balancing your weight on flattened palms strengthens the tiny muscles of the hands.  Many poses also require children to balance some of their weight on their hands to hold the pose or to hold themselves up. This helps to strengthen the muscles of arms, forearms, and hands.

6 Different Ways to start Teaching yoga TO children

To make your sessions fun and engaging, change up the way you teach yoga.  

  1. Books:  There are tons of yoga books with stories that you can read that take you through each pose.  My personal favorite is ABC  of Yoga for Kids.  We go in order and choose one pose for each letter.

2.  Youtube Videos:  Simply put “Yoga for kids” into the search bar, tons of cool yoga videos pop up.  The kids at my school love this “Frozen Themed Yoga Story”.  Put it on the smartboard or your ipad at home, and you’re all set.

3.  Yoga dice:  My kids LOVE the Yoga Dice I made from some giant dice I bought at the Dollar Tree.  I just photocopied pictures of some of the poses from one of my books and taped them onto the dice.  The kids get to pick a die, roll it, and whatever pose it lands on, the whole class does together.

teaching yoga to children

4. Season-Themed Yoga:  I love to use the season themed yoga activities over at Pink Oatmeal to keep my sessions fresh and up-to date.  The kids get excited that the pose is themed to the holiday, festivity, or upcoming event.  Plus, it’s perfect for those days when the kids can’t concentrate because of the “Holiday Party” or upcoming vacation.

teaching yoga to children teaching yoga to children
teaching yoga to children teaching yoga to children

5. The Core Strength Handbook:  This handbook has been so helpful in creating fun yoga lessons for my kids.  The printable cards are perfect for creating games and  activities.  Plus, they make awesome “OT homework” cards.   (Check out my 5 Creative Core Strength Activities post.)

teaching yoga to children teaching yoga to children

6.  Yoga Cards:  There are so many awesome yoga card sets. Plus, they are easy to transport (many of them fit in your  back pocket).  And, the kids can turn them over to discover the new “move” they will learn.

teaching yoga to children

Tips for teaching yoga to a special needs class

Before you begin teaching yoga to children, you need to consider some important factors.

  • Calming or alerting – What kind of input are you trying to provide?
  • What are the children able to do independently?
  • What level should you start at?

1. Decide if you are Calming or Alerting

Sometimes you’ll have classes of children that are very hyperactive, loud, and unfocused.  For these classes, set up your environment to invoke a sense of “calm”.

    • speak in low voices, hushed tones
    • discourage talking among the children
    • soft peaceful yoga music
    • low lighting (I love battery powered tea lights)

      In some classes, the kids are generally lethargic and difficult to alert.  In that case, you want to provide an “alerting” environment to “wake” the kids up.

      • use bright lights
      • use partner poses so children can socialize and work together. This is a suggestion in one of my favorite books, Sensory Processing 101.  Kids LOVE Partner pose yoga!
      • sensory processing

        Sensory Processing 101 is a go-to resource for therapists, caregivers, and parents of children with Sensory Processing difficulties.

      • encourage talking, acting out the poses (bark during downward dog, etc.) or singing (row your boat during the boat pose)
      • count out loud to see how long you can hold poses
      • set a timer on the smartboard
      • use engaging games with a boisterous voice
      • music with a fast pace or beat

2. What CAN the children do independently?

(What level should you start at?)

If the class has children with significant physical, cognitive, or attention issues, yoga is still an engaging class activity that addresses many different goals.

For children with significant physical difficulties, obtain permission from the parents and/or physician.  Yoga should be an added benefit to a child’s daily routine, so safety is imperative.

Consider the amount of “teacher help” in the class.  Are there several adults? Only two? This should impact your level of difficulty.  For children with significant physical impairments, consider using chair yoga; even gentle stretching can help improve balance, coordination, and motor planning.

Other Tips for Teaching Yoga to Children

3) Teach Drishti:

Make a “Drishti” for each child to look at during the yoga session.  A simple picture or visual with an eye on it will do the job.

teaching yoga to children teaching yoga to children

Drishti in “yoga” refers to eye gaze.  With children, emphasize that their eyes need to be focused in order for their bodies to remain balanced.  

First, demonstrate by having the kids stand on one foot while trying to look around the room to find the window, the ceiling, etc.  

Then, instruct children to stare at the “Drishti” visual cue in front of them.  Count to see how much longer they can keep their balance.  The kids are always so proud of their progress!

4) Use Visuals to Teach Spatial Awareness:

Rebecca over at Dinosaur PT wrote a wonderful blog post about this. She suggests using foam shapes to show children where their body should be during each pose. This is particularly helpful when you are working with a group of children. Some children will always need more help than others, so having visual cues ready to go can be a big help!

teaching yoga to children

5) Keep at it.

Repetition is so important.

It builds endurance and helps children who struggle with motor planning to grow more comfortable with each position. Every yoga pose can be graded from easy to more difficult. Your students will learn the basics of each pose. Then, you can teach the next (more challenging) pose or step.  Some children may succeed with the new pose, while others stay at the beginner level.

That’s Ok, every pose is beneficial!

Yoga is a wonderful activity for any classroom, regardless of the level of ability, age, or gender. Work on physical skills like motor planning, strength, balance, and coordination while helping children to focus, follow directions, and self-regulate.   Use the tips and tricks above to start teaching yoga to children.  They work!


Chan, A. S., Cheung, M., & Sze, S. L. (2008). Effect of mind/body training on children with behavioral and learning problems: A randomized controlled study. In B. N.DeLuca (Ed.), Mind–body and relaxation research focus (pp. 165–193). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science. Retrieved from www.cuhkinrc.com/attachments/File/Ch_8-Chan-PC.pdf

Related Posts:

Twiddles Sensory Toy

How to Improve Self-Regulation With The Twiddle® Sensory Toy

<The Twiddle® Sensory Toy is the answer you’ve been looking for!  >


I’m so excited to write about a new product I found called the Twiddle®.  This is a sponsored post, which means I was compensated to write about the product.  I only endorse products that I use personally in my practice, and the Twiddle® Sensory Toy is a new favorite.

Twiddles are soft, therapeutic activity/comfort aids that assist caregivers and professionals specializing in children with autism, ADHD, sensory processing disorders, developmental disabilities, and more.

This post contains affiliate links.

Twiddle® Sensory Toy

What is a Twiddle® Sensory Toy and what is it for?

The Twiddle intrigued me when I first saw it – what an awesome idea!  It’s a comforting, engaging tool that looks like a toy or a stuffed animal but functions as a sensory aid to keep a child’s hands busy and mind focused.

It has gadgets on the outside and a soft flexible plastic orbit ball on the inside; perfect for active hands that like to squeeze, pull, and play!

Continue reading

How To Help A Child That Uses Too Much Pressure When Writing

Many children use too much pressure when writing.  Read on for OT tricks to conquer this problem!

“He breaks pencils like crazy, and then wastes 5 minutes each time to go sharpen it!  Why is he pressing so hard?”

The teacher’s cheeks were pink with frustration.  I could see her patience with Billy was at an all time low.

This little boy was bright, but he wasn’t producing neat work and he wasn’t finishing his work in an appropriate time frame.  And all because of one silly reason:

Too much pressure.

There are a few reasons why a child may be pressing too hard when writing, coloring and drawing.

too much pressure when writing

Continue reading

5 Creative Core Strength Activities

Need ideas to help your child get strong? Here are five creative core strength activities using the Core Strength Handbook!

Core Strength Actvities

Does Your Child Have Weak Core Strength?

Does your child slump and slouch all the time?

Do they have difficulty with balance?

Is their “helping hand” holding their body up, rather than hold their paper steady?

Do they always lean on a chair, the couch, or other furniture when sitting on the floor?

Are they struggling to participate in exercise due to poor endurance?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, your child may have weak core strength.

I’ve been on a CORE STRENGTHENING kick lately.  Poor Core Strength is often an underlying cause of many other deficits a child may be demonstrating. Plus, it counts as “heavy work”, because it provides proprioceptive input – so it’s great for my sensory kiddos too!

I’m still having a great time using “The Core Strengthening Handbook” written by my pals over at Inspired Treehouse.  It has cute little exercise cards, as well as one-page explanations with QR codes that link to a video of HOW to do the exercise correctly!


Confession – I’m totally obsessed with my new laminator lately and can’t believe I didn’t give in and buy one earlier. Truthfully, I didn’t know how cheap they were.  (AND HOW FUN!) If you are in the market for a cheap and durable laminator, I highly recommend this one:

Continue reading

2 Magical Crayons That Will Immediately Change Your Child’s Grasp

<How to change your child’s grasp by changing their crayons>

“He uses all of his fingers…  and he gets annoyed when I correct him!”

As a pediatric Occupational Therapist, I hear this from a lot of moms and teachers.  Pencil and crayon grip is important, and it can be difficult to change when a child gets older.

But there’s hope!  I promise!


This is Harry, a 4-year-old with no interest in crayons.  In the first picture, he’s using a palmar supinate grasp, which is typically seen in 1 to 1 ½ year olds.  His mom, a teacher that I work, with approached me looking for help.  Her question: 

How can I change my child’s grasp?

Change your child's grasp

Harry’s preferred grasp was a palmar supinate, using the pinky side of his hand to control the movement of the crayon. This grasp was inefficient and immature for his age.  It also didn’t allow the small isolated movements of his fingers during writing and drawing activities.  Coloring and drawing is a significant source of the fine motor exercise a 4-year-old child should be getting.  So if the child isn’t using the right muscles for the activity, they are missing out on valuable strengthening time.


As you can see by the 2nd image above, Harry’s mom took my recommendations – and it WORKED!
I’m so excited to share my favorite trick to stop kids from using too many fingers AND 2 magical crayons to use.  But here’s why these tricks are important for parents and teachers to know.

Continue reading


10 Reasons Every OT Should Attend #AOTA17

<#AOTA17 is a must!  See 10 reasons why you HAVE to go!>


I’ve been an OT for seventeen years, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d never attended the AOTA conference until #AOTA15 in Nashville, Tennessee.

My excuses were:

  • It cost too much
  • I’d have to miss work
  • None of my friends were going/ I wouldn’t know anyone

Two years ago, my old roommate from college asked me if I was interested in attending #AOTA15 in Nashville.

YES!   I’d been dying to go to Nashville, it was a chance to hang out with my former partner-in-crime for a few days, so I was totally in.

That trip totally changed my perspective on the AOTA conference. 

Truthfully, I had no idea what I’d been missing!

Now, I can honestly say that I’ll make every effort to attend the AOTA conference each year. I decided to write this article to convince the Occupational Therapy practitioners who are thinking “hmm maybe…” to   “YES!” for  #AOTA17.

Here are 10 reasons YOU should go To #AOTA17 in PhilLY!

*This post contains affiliate links

Continue reading

A Valentine’s Day Motor Monday: Super Simple Hand Strengthening

I have a confession: I love the Dollar Store.  I just do.

The problem is that it’s impossible to leave without a few extra things.

BUT – that’s how I ended up with my latest and greatest Valentine’s Motor Centers.  

I swear I just went in there for a couple of birthday cards, but when I saw the “seasonal section” filled with Valentine’s Goodies, I couldn’t resist.

These adorable pink and red Valentine’s Day “table scatter” hearts were the perfect size for little hands to work on grasping.  I just started adding to my basket.  


Why resist?  It’s for the children!

Continue reading