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!

Who sings that song? Fall preschool edition!

Wondering about some of the music played in Friendly Yoga classes this fall?

I’ve listed a few favorites from the preschool classes below so that you can listen to them with your children at home. Play the yoga games we learn in class, lay down and relax for a song or too, or just sing your hearts out!

I’m full of gratitude for these wonderful artists whose music adds so much to Friendly Yoga classes.

Please support them by downloading favorite songs, and remember that most of them have CDs that make fantastic, meaningful, and beloved birthday and holiday gifts. And check out their websites to find out about touring dates so you can dance to their music live and in person!

You are my little birdMost of the music playing as you’ve arrived for class this fall is by Elizabeth Mitchell. Little Wing and If You Listen are from her album You Are My Little Bird, and Arm in Arm, I Wish You Well, and Circle of the Sun are on Blue Clouds (which was nominated for a Grammy).  You can find her duet with Alastair Moock (also a Grammy nominee), Take a Little Walk with Me, on Singing Our Way Through: Songs for the World’s Bravest Kids.

We’ve warmed up with Sometimes by Frances England (see this blog post from earlier this year) and played with Popcorn by  Barenaked Ladies (another post from this blog).

Dancing Bear by Bari Koral is from her album The Apple Tree and the Honey Bee. (Keep an eye out for Bari’s new kids’ show, Yogapalooza on Z Living this fall.)

I don’t think Laurie Berkner knew, when she wrote The Goldfish, that she had just penned the perfect beginning-yoga song. Kids of all ages love it (again! again! again!), and it’s a heart-pumping workout, with plenty of child’s pose resting in between bursts of activity. Laurie Berkner

And finally, the sweet song where your kids do yoga poses and then run over to give you a big hug at the end? That’s If I Were by Sammie Haynes and Lisa Flynn (of Childlight Yoga), and it’s from the album I Grow With Yoga.

We gear up for another session of Friendly Yoga in a few weeks, and I’m already gathering more good music to share during class, so stay tuned!

 

 

Yoga and literacy: popcorn 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.)

What a treat to find this fun new book, Bob & Rob & Corn on the Cob by Todd McQueen!

In the tradition of Green Eggs and Ham, a cast of animals and and a silly robot try new foods. The rhyming text is jaunty, and the illustrations are original and lots of fun. I won’t spoil the ending for you, except to tell you that popcorn is involved. Hence the theme!
photo-8

Literacy Ideas:

Revisit familiar vocabulary: squirrel, rabbit, chicken, dog, duck,pig.

Explain new vocabulary: tofu, fondue, kabob. Print out photos from the internet to illustrate, since not all of these are illustrated in the book.

Connect with children’s prior experience: Ask who has had corn on the cob. Where? Did they like it? Do they put butter or salt on it or nothing? What does it sound like when you eat corn on the cob?

The title and text of the book provide plenty of fodder for emphasizing and playing with rhyming words.

Yoga/Movement Ideas:

Pop and stop: In this game, kids jump like popcorn and then try to do a balancing pose.

I like to give them a specific number of jumps. We might start with 6, and then get into our balancing pose. You could do something as easy as lifting one foot off the ground, or do a tree pose. Or, try “balancing Bob & Rob pose!” Pretend to hold corn on the cob up to your mouth, reach one leg (squirrel tail!)  behind you, bend forward, balancing on one leg in a modified airplane pose. See if you can balance there for 6 seconds to match the 6 jumps. Stretch those “squirrel tails” out behind you.  Work your way up to 10 jumps and 10 seconds.

CORN ON THE COB!!!: This game renames savasana or resting pose “corn on the cob” pose. We talk about how corn on the cob is long and straight and just lies there on the plate. I have cards that either say “front,” “back” or have a picture of corn on the cob printed on them.  The front/back cards also have a picture of a kid standing at the front or back of their mat, so that the kids can “read” them.  I flash the cards, and the kids go to the right places on their mats, quietly.  When corn on the cob picture comes up, they get to say (loudly!), “CORN ON THE COB!” and then quickly lay down on their mats, being as still as possible.  I wiggle the toes of the stillest corn cobs, and they stand back up. Do it again!

This fun popcorn game is always a crowd pleaser.

Happy popping!

Sometimes I feel like jumping for joy!

A gentle roller coaster of rising and falling energy. That’s the image I keep in mind when planning a yoga class for young children.

ImageThe peak of each upswing gives kids a chance to expend energy, to find themselves in their bodies, to express themselves and laugh and play and move.

And then we coast into a quieter activity that challenges the kids to slow down, relax, notice, and focus, externally and internally.

Friendly Yoga classes usually begin with a greeting song, and then a chance for each child to ring our chime or answer a question. For the youngest kids, that’s quite enough sitting still, thank you very much!

Time for an exuberant warm-up to get our muscles pumping, our faces smiling.

One song I love to begin with is Sometimes by Frances England. Sometimes is the first song on her first CD, Fascinating Creatures.

Intermission!! Three fun things to know about Frances England.

ONE: Her children’s music  – – melodies, lyrics, her voice  – –  is sweet, folky, intelligent, playful, and original. I play a lot of Frances England songs in my classes.

TWO: (I especially love this one) She recorded her first CD as a fundraiser for her son’s school, not expecting that a wider audience would ever hear it.

THREE: She also has a beautiful album of music especially for grown-ups.

Intermission over!! Back to fun yoga class planning!

Here you can find the lyrics to Sometimes, along with some drawings suggesting “moves” you might do with the kids during each part of the song.

Before we begin, I tell the kids that it’s a listening and doing song and that we’re going to listen to what the singer says about her feelings, and act it out with our bodies. The first time or two that we listen to it, I repeat or paraphrase each lyric to the group, as if I’m hearing it for the first time.

The major warm-up action comes during the chorus:

high, high diddy high hee hee

low, low diddy low hoo hoo

When she sings “high,high…” we reach up as high as we can, up on tiptoe, fingers wiggling to the ceiling.

When she sings “low, low…” we quickly flatten ourselves as low as we can onto the ground, like the beginning of a cobra pose. The kids love the challenge of moving quickly from up to down and back up again.

During the verse that begins, “The highs, they soar…” we’re already on the ground, so we stay on our bellies, and when she sings about the highs, we raise our arms and legs, in a flying “superman” pose.  When she sings about the lows, we rest our limbs back down onto the ground.

You’ll be surprised how out of breath you are by the end of this one! It ends with everyone deliciously tuckered out and on their bellies, and I usually say something like “Now rest on your bellies and turn your head to one side, with your ear on the ground. Can you feel your heart beating or your belly pushing into the ground when you breathe? Turn your head to look the other way, and take two more deep breaths, in and out.  In and out.” I then use a very quiet voice to transition them into a story, meditation, or quiet noticing activity.

Planning tip: It’s especially helpful if warm-up activities like this end with the kids in a physical/attentional position in which they are “with you” and ready to follow you down into a more relaxed, focused state.  This song/activity sets you up perfectly for that transition.

As always, enjoy, and feel free to share!

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!

 

 

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.