Listening and allowing

The first day I met one of my yoga kids, she told me that she is part wild animal. Her friends, wide-eyed and earnest, corroborated, “Yes, it’s true, she really is!” I probably said something like, “Great, wild animals are cool! Let’s do some yoga!”

She’s an enthusiastic and cooperative participant for most of class, but this student never lays on her mat during savasana. While the other kids find some kind of comfy way to be prone and relaxed under dimmed lights, she is on all fours or squatting, or curled up, legs folded underneath her. She’s still for a minute or so, and then moves to a new position. She is quiet, and even moving, she is mostly calm, with a dash of vigilance in her beautiful brown eyes.

Not one of the other 11 kids in class ever says, “No fair! Why doesn’t she have to lay down?” I find this amazing.

We’ve been meeting for a few weeks now. Today, as the other kids rested on their mats, this particular girl did a slow series of bends and bows, similar to a sun salutation. Her face was calm but serious.

At the end of class, she came up to me and said, “Did you see the movements I was doing?

“In wild animal language, those were bows of respect. I was honoring you for being the teacher. I didn’t want you to think I wasn’t listening, because you were asking us to be still. But when I’m in my animal side, I CAN’T be still.”

“I know just what you mean,” I told her.

There are times when letting one kid “do her thing” can devolve into chaos and make it very hard to teach (or is it just control?) an entire group. There are contexts in which I might need to tell this child that her “human child” side needs to come to class, no wild animals allowed in the room.

But when it’s possible to avoid forcing conformity on child, when I can allow them to express something that seems so important to them, it always feels like a victory to me.

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!

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!

Popcorn!

Post by post, I seem to be writing a guide called 101 Fun Yoga Games to Play with Pom Poms.

Idea #72: Pom Pom Popcorn Scramble! This is a great energy-dispersing, good-feeling-generating physical challenge for all ages.

Here’s what you need:

photo-1

1 pot, preferably with a lid

A whole bunch of pom poms

Popcorn by the Barenaked Ladies (silly name, yes, and this song is from their excellent, quirky children’s album Lunchtime) cued up on the sound system.

Here’s how we play:

•  Fill a pan with popcorn pom poms.

•  Remind the kids about any rules during the game.

I usually have three rules:

1) Once the music starts, sit as still as possible in easy pose until you hear the singer say the word POP three times. Then get up and get ready to move!

2) Each time we play, we have one fun rule about retrieving popcorn, such as: only one or two kernels at a time; you have to hop or skip or tiptoe to the pom poms and crawl back to the pot; you have to balance pom poms on your head to bring them back to the pot; you can only retrieve pom poms with your toes, etc.

3) When the music stops, everyone returns to their mats and sits in easy pose.

•  Start the music! Hold the pot out over a pretend stove, and dramatically act out turning up the heat. When the singer starts to say POP, remove the lid, and throw the “popcorn” all over the room!!! (Little kids especially love this part – a grown-up, making a big mess and throwing stuff? Awesome!) Kids retrieve all the popcorn, according to whatever “rule” has been imposed.

•  Do it again! This is one of those games that always ends in “Do it again!”  And, like the Water Balloon game, it leaves you with happy, laughing kids who have just expended some silly energy and who end the game in easy pose, breathing deeply and ready to transition into the next activity.

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!