Yoga and literacy: dog theme

(I teach a weekly yoga and literacy class for preschoolers at a local library, and plan each 45-minute class around a specific book and related yoga/movement activities.)

Screen shot 2014-10-13 at 11.22.20 AMSometimes a new preschool student will run into one of my yoga classes and announce, “I already know how to yoga!”

They then launch their little body into one of three poses.

Tree or…

Some kind of crazy-but-awesome, un-named, rubber-boned contortion or…

Downward facing dog.

Down dog is such a great pose to work on with children.  It ‘s fun to pretend to be dogs. It’s challenging to be halfway upside down and figure out where all your body parts should be.

And downward facing dog feels great, through the backs of the legs and the hips and the shoulders.

When planning a dog-themed class, I was so happy to find STICK! by Andy Pritchett.

Literacy Ideas:

Focus on the big, red letters on the cover. We might talk about which ones are curvy and which are straight, like sticks.

There is an exciting exclamation point to be noticed and played with! We practice saying “stick” in a calm way and “STICK!” with lots of enthusiasm. (Later in the book there is also a question mark to play with.)

The word “stick” is repeated MANY times in this book. I have the kids “read” it for me when they see it on the page. We might stop and explore what our mouth is doing when it says the word, hissing like a snake at the beginning, and making a the /K/ sound in the back of our throats at the end.

This is a great book for exploring vocabulary related to feelings. At different times the dog is confused, happy, playful, hopeful, sad, very sad, and curious.

 Yoga/Movement Ideas:

The little dog in this book has a very expressive face and body. Challenge the kids to imitate what he does with their own faces and bodies.

Bring in pictures of real dogs doing upward and downward facing dog. I like to print out large versions of these and laminate them so they can handle some wear and tear from class to class.  Have the kids try these poses, and add in some movement, puppy tail-wagging, and maybe even a three-legged dog (the kids think it’s hilarious to pretend to pee!).

Play FETCH!

After teaching the kids up and down dog,  add “stretching dog pose.” (I have a photo from a dog yoga calendar of a dog doing tabletop with one arm stretched out in front and the opposite leg stretching out in back. This is a challenging, fun pose for the kids to do!)

Bring out  sticks, dowels cut short, and “hide” them around the room while the kids watch. Kids 5 and under seem perfectly happy to have sticks “hidden” out in the open.

Explain that there is one stick per dog (reminders often required – in the fun of the game, some kids just start grabbing any sticks they can find!), and that once kids find theirs, they should crawl back to their mats, put their sticks down, and take a dog nap (child’s pose).

Sing this song, doing up, down, and stretching dog poses. (I usually sing it quite slow to give kids time to really get into each new pose). When you say FETCH!, it’s time to fetch those sticks!

Up dog, down dog

Up dog, down dog

Give a little stretch

Up dog, down dog

Up dog, down dog

Now…. it’s time to FETCH!

This one is a good workout and requires a lot of physical focus and concentration.  Enjoy!

Constellation meditation – who do you love?

Last summer I went to a yoga workshop with Jay Fields of Grace and Grit Yoga. For one exercise, Jay had us begin in mountain pose, standing with our eyes closed.

Once we had done the usual (easy to parody, but truly important and powerful) “feeling our way into our feet, sensing ourselves grounded on our mats,” we were given a suggestion I had never heard before.

“Think about the people you love the most. Where are they in relation to your body right now? Can you feel the connection between you and those people, the shape that’s made by your bodies in space?”

I thought about my husband, at home 30 miles away from my left cheek. My kids, who were with my mother-in-law, 20 miles southeast of my right shoulder.

I thought about them and remembered my husband’s smile, my son’s laugh, my other son’s eyes wide in amazement, as they often are, and I felt myself in the midst of a constellation, triangular, with two dancing twinkles at the point where my boys were likely in their usual constant motion. And I instantly felt anchored. Held. Vividly aware of my un-aloneness. Safer in a room full of strangers with a teacher I’d never met before because of the loving relationships I carry with me.Image

I added a few friends to the starmap, some nearby in New England, one down in Texas, like the far edge of the big dipper’s handle. And the constellation grew more complex and bright.

I brought this meditation home with me, into my own practice and into classes with kids.  What I especially like about it is that it wakes up the knowledge that we always carry with us, but that we can forget: we exist in a web of relationships, and the love that we send and receive is palpable and powerful.

Here is a script you can use to lead children through a version of this meditation.

The script starts with feeling a connection with just one other person. If you do this with a group of children, I can almost guarantee that someone will ask if they can think of 2 (or more) special people, and someone will ask if they can choose an animal. Why not? Adjust and season as needed. Maybe start with one connection the first time you try it, and then build up until the kids feel themselves sitting right in the middle of their own love constellation.

Enjoy, and please feel free to share!

 

 

Water balloon warm-up

This time of year, kids come into yoga classes with energy to spare.

A warm-up game played to the song Water Balloon by the Okee Dokee Brothers is a great way to burn off extra wiggles while encouraging kids to notice how their bodies are moving, turn on their self-control, and explore the concepts tense and relaxed.

Here’s how we play:

•  First, we pretend to hold water balloons in our hands and talk about how they move and jiggle in a loose, floppy way. We stand up and practice moving our bodies that way, letting arms hang loose and allowing the torso and head plenty of give and sway.

•   I tell the kids that as long as they hear the Water Balloon song playing they can run around the room (of course, be sure the running they do is safe and appropriate for the space you’re in), letting the top part of their body move like a water balloon, muscles as relaxed as possible.

•   When the music stops kids run back to their mats and stand sideways, in Star Pose.Yoga Bunny star pose (tense) imageThey make every part of their body as tense as possible. I say something like: “Tense your feet and grab your mat with your toes! Tighten your leg muscles! Suck in your belly muscles!  Arm muscles tight, tight, tight! Tight fists! And squinch up your face like you just ate 300 lemons!  Hold tight for 3…2…1…”

•  When the music comes back on, kids continue running around with super relaxed “water balloon bodies.”

•  At the end of the song, we all return to our mats and “splat” belly down like a burst water balloon.

•  Because this is a very short song, I make the running-around bursts fairly short, and we usually do the song twice in a row.

•  The water balloon warm-up will leave you with happy kids laying on their bellies, breathing deeply, and usually more focused and relaxed than when you began.  You’re ready to transition into a quieter, more focused game or activity.

Have fun, and prepare for many requests for this song!