As Madison Elementary students gather on a grass field at Welcome Home Ranch in Gilbert, laughter fills the air. The kids, who are in Kate Copeland’s autism class, are enjoying goat yoga.
Copeland, who incorporates yoga in her classroom to enhance her students’ educational and social experiences, reached out to the owners of Goat Yoga Arizona about bringing her students for a special field trip. They happily waived their fees so the students could take part in the class. As participants practice yoga poses, the trained goats join in the fun.
April Gould and Sarah Williams are the masterminds behind the wellness craze. Gould is known as a “goat whisperer,” who trains the animals to interact with participants. Williams has taught yoga for more than 20 years.
“My children attended Mesa Public Schools,” Williams said. “We wanted to give back to our community, and we saw a lot of smiles today.”
Students with autism may experience sensory integration difficulties caused by environmental noise and light. Daily activity breaks help reduce anxiety. Copeland provides classroom movement time and tools such as breathing exercises and CosmicKidsYoga.
“Breathing strategies and yoga help my students manage anxiety, and influence their moods and behavior in a positive way,” Copeland shared. “Students can use these tools to self-regulate and cope with stressful situations.”
The human-animal bond and its positive influences on health and well-being are widely documented. Their goat yoga experience helped students with autism improve communication and social skills.
“When I learned about Goat Yoga Arizona, it made perfect sense to bring the two worlds together for my students,” Copeland said.
As the session began, one student was wary of the baby goats. By the end of the class, she conquered her fears and became fast friends with the animals.
“Watching the reactions of my students was my favorite part of this experience,” Copeland shared.
“My students do not usually get to participate in these types of activities. They have been to the zoo, but to be able to enjoy something hands-on is a game changer.”
After class, second-grader Rocco Attanaso proudly recited the names of various yoga poses, while his classmate demonstrated a perfectly executed tree position.