Teaching Kids Yoga to Children with Hearing Loss

I’Megan Johnson Kids Yoga Teacher and Hearing Loss Expertm delighted to bring you this guest post by Megan Johnson. Megan is an expert in working with children who have hearing loss. She is also certified by Cosmic Kids as a kids yoga teacher. This post is taken from her forthcoming book – Teaching Yoga and Mindfulness to Children with Hearing Loss. More information and a sample of the book can be found at her website:  http://www.learninglotuses.com/

Children’s yoga has many benefits . Better concentration, increased physical activity, improved relationships with peers and stress management to name a few. However, all of the things we know about teaching yoga have been focused on those with natural hearing.

What about children with hearing loss?

Here are three things you need to know about hearing loss:

  1. Hearing loss is different for everyone. There are many types and degrees of hearing loss, making abilities and interventions different for each individual.
  2. Hearing aids and implants do not restore hearing loss. They serve as a way to amplify sound but they do not make sounds clearer or fix the parts of the ear affected by hearing loss.
  3. Children with hearing loss face many challenges in building positive relationships, communication, social-emotional development, behavioural regulation, and academic development. More so than children with natural hearing. This is because of their reduced ability to overhear conversations and their need for explicit information and instructions on topics such as emotions and behaviour.

Yoga and mindfulness for children with hearing loss can have the same positive outcomes as for children with natural hearing. However, the audiological differences must be considered when teaching. Here are some tips for helping you teach yoga and mindfulness to children with hearing loss:

1. Voice basics

  • Speak slowly and clearly, but normally. Don’t yell or mumble. Speak in a way that you would speak to someone who does not have hearing loss.
  • If you need to repeat yourself in class, repeat EXACTLY what you previously said. Chances are the children caught some of what you said so can fill in the gaps if you repeat it. Changing the wording of your statement, means the children have to “start over” in understanding you.

2. Make sure everyone can see you

  • When children are active they tend to cluster together or around the teacher. Crowding makes it harder to see you and can be dangerous for practicing yoga poses. Ideally, make sure everyone has a mat (their own space) for the duration of the class.
  • Children with hearing loss are better able to lip-read** if they can see you.  They may also be able to hear you better, as the sound waves of your voice face them directly.
  • Good light makes it easier for the children to lip-read. Try to place yourself where there are no shadows crossing your face.

**It is important to note that not all children with hearing loss can lip-read. Lip-reading is a skill that is learned over time. It is dependent on many factors including: age at which the child received their hearing aid/implant, whether lip-reading is practised at home or school, and the type and degree of hearing loss. Furthermore, even if a child does know how to lip-read, during a yoga class in which you are always moving and not always facing the children, lip-reading becomes impossible. When you can, try to be in a position in which the children can lip-read.

3. Music

Music can interfere with hearing aids and implants. I always have the music playing in the room before my children arrive to class. Music playing when the children come into your class will become ‘white noise’ as they settle into the environment. But if you turn on the music after the children have settled into the environment, it will be distracting and take away from the practice. Playing a specific game (like Yoga Statues) where turning the music on and off is intentional would be an exception.

Another way to incorporate music is to teach the yoga sequence first.  Make sure the children know it (they don’t need to know it 100%, just enough so that they don’t need to hear you). Then add the music along with the postures. This way, the children focus on one thing at a time before you combine them.

4. Visual cues & gestures

Put what you are saying into context using visual cues and gestures. By explaining the yoga pose with gestures before moving into it or demonstrating it yourself will help the children understand what to do. For example, if you want to ask children to rest the crown of their heads on the floor, touch the crown of your head as you explain this. Children will always follow what you are doing.

5. Sensory deprivation

Sensory deprivation is the intentional reduction or removal of stimuli for one or more of the five senses. While sensory deprivation can sometimes be beneficial, an overload of it can lead to increased anxiety. Closing your eyes during Savasana is an example of a beneficial sensory deprivation. However, this can create anxiety for those with hearing loss. They are already without the hearing sensation, so closing the eyes creates an overload of sensory deprivation.

  • Reassure the children that they are safe: Use guided imagery with words such as “safe”, “comfortable”, and “relaxed”. To help the children feel more comfortable suggest they bring a teddy or blanket to yoga class.
  • Use guided imagery. The sound of your voice will let the children know that you are there with them, that someone is “awake” and watching over them.
  • Never make the children close their eyes: When those of us with natural hearing close our eyes, our ears pick-up sounds around us and send signals to our brains, telling us what is going on. For instance, if you hear the fire alarm go off, that sound travels to your brain, telling you that something is wrong, and your body reacts (i.e. you wake up). This is not the case for those with hearing loss, even with the use of hearing aids and implants. Children with hearing loss have to visually check their surroundings. Encourage the children to try closing their eyes, reassuring them that you will be there the entire time. But if they are more comfortable keeping their eyes open, let them.

6. Listening fatigue

Hearing loss is exhausting because listening takes a lot of energy and effort, even with hearing aids and implants. However, there are things you can do help minimize listening fatigue:

  • Limit your instructions: Try to keep things simple and explain using as few words as possible. Once children become accustomed to practicing, it will be easier as the children will be familiar with the movements.
  • Shake out the sillies: I always get my children to “shake it off”, particularly when they are full of energy and not focusing on what we are doing. Shaking out the sillies will help children to redirect their energy and focus on what you are doing as a class.
  • Have longer Savasana: It is particularly helpful in reducing “brain noise” and promoting relaxation and restoration of the mind and body for children with hearing loss. It reduces listening fatigue and restores energy.

7. Give children options!

Savasana: I always tell my children that they can lay on their backs, bellies, or side for Savasana. For children with hearing loss, lying in certain positions will make it easier for them to visually check their surroundings if they become anxious or uncomfortable.

Removing hearing aids or implants during Savasana: Sometimes children will remove these on their own but usually they won’t. Give them the option to remove their hearing aids and implants IF THEY WISH. I encourage children to try removing their aids and implants just to see how they feel about it. It allows them to explore their options while also giving them autonomy over decision-making.