Yoga and literacy: Can You Make a SCARY FACE?

In one of my first preschool teaching jobs, we kept a zipped canvas tote bag in the circle area.  We called it “the surprise bag,” and we kept it stocked with books and symbols of songs and games (a frog for one song, a pinwheel for a favorite game) that were “sure things” with the kids in our room. On days when our lesson plans weren’t catching the kids’ attention or snack was late and we had a low-blood-sugar uprising on our hands, we’d take out the surprise bag and draw everyone back in to a more focused, happy place with a crowd-pleasing story or activity.

Can You...for blogI would definitely have put this book, Can You Make a Scary Face? by Jan Thomas, in the surprise bag. I tried it out with a few groups of kids this week, and it was a big hit across the board. The fact that it encourages kids to move in a silly way, do “face yoga,” and even includes some intentional breathing (kids pretend to blow out a pretend bug that has landed in their mouth, which is a great opportunity to remind them about deeeeep breaths in and loooooong breaths out!) makes it a perfect fit for a children’s yoga class.

In my opinion, the very best “sure thing” activities end with the kids in a quieter state than when they started.  So, my only disappointment is that the last page of the book, while funny, leaves the kids in a keyed-up state,  making silly, scary faces to chase away a bug and a giant frog.

(Also, some tender-hearted sweeties in one class wanted to tell the bug that they weren’t really scary and that it was okay to come back – awwww!)

One way to transition the kids into a quieter place is to immediately move into a round of “Yogi says” with the main postures used being: bug (bug on its back = happy baby pose), frog (prayer squat), savasana when the book ends. That helps kids focus back on the teacher’s words and siphons off some more energy. During one of the savasanas, you can quietly transition the kids to the next activity.

Have fun with this one!

Little kids, big breaths

Last month I helped a group of tween/teenage kids plan and teach a preschool yoga class.

After the preschoolers went home, one of the older kids said, “The little kids didn’t really understand my sense of humor.”

He was right.

Preschoolers can be super silly, but some concepts that a middle schooler, or even a second grader, might be able to play with and joke about are lost on 3, 4, and 5-year-olds.

When I ask a group of 8-year-olds “Are you breathing?” they laugh and groan, “Of course we’re breathing, otherwise we’d be DEAD!”

But when I ask the same question of a group of 4-year-olds? They stop to check, and solemnly respond, often “NO,” because in the process of quieting down enough to notice, they’ve actually frozen into statues and stopped breathing for a few seconds.

Breathing is automatic. And that’s a good thing.

Breathing can also be controlled. And that can be a very good thing too.

Breathing slowly, deeply, and through the nose calms physiology and increases brain real estate that’s available for learning and problem solving.

Breathing helps with slowing down at naptime, with mitigating fearful reactions to new situations, with heading off impending temper tantrums and too-tired meltdowns.  A few deep breaths can help a child prepare their brain to find calm words to retrieve a “borrowed” toy from a playmate or to make a choice about what they want for lunch.  A parent/child duo breathing deeply together can reconnect in powerful ways.

When I’m teaching a breathing exercises to the littlest kids, my goals are simple, but developmentally right-on.

**Can they “find” their breath, and feel themselves breathing?

**Can they distinguish between breathing in and breathing out?

**Can they breathe in and out through their nose and through their mouth?

**Can they slow their breath down?

Here’s the first of a series of blog posts with ideas about teaching young kids to notice and control their breathing. Enjoy!

(At first you might notice that, for some kids,  attention to breathing seems to do the opposite of relaxing children’s bodies; their faces can get squinched or wide-eyed  in concentration, eyebrows and shoulders might rise with tension. Don’t worry – – they’ll figure it out!)

Huff and Puff

Huff and Puff by Claudia Rueda is a fun book to read to preschoolers and young school age children to reinforce the breathing concepts of deep inhales and long, slow, strong exhales.

In this retelling of the 3 Little Pigs story, kids are encouraged to play the part of the wolf. Holes are strategically cut in certain pages so that the reader can huff and puff through them and try to blow the various pigs’ houses down.

huff&puff

The story has a happy ending, since the pigs make a birthday cake for the wolf, complete with candles to extinguish.

I usually read this one with the kids sitting in a circle, reading each page and then walking the book around the circle when we get to the blowing pages so that everyone gets a turn.

This is a good one to read just before any final slow breathing you do before savasana/final relaxation.