Jumping All Day Long

It’s been a loooooooong, snowy winter here in New England. Early April, and yards and playgrounds are still covered in mud and snow, so kids are coming to class with plenty of energy.

I have Jumping All Day Long by Jennifer Gasoi on my playlist for those moments in class when it’s clearly time to amp up the activity level for a minute or two. gasoi2

The lyrics suggest body movements, and the actions change frequently enough that kids stay interested. During the instrumental sections, we either do “free dancing” (kids choose their own movements) or we try holding a pose (warrior I provides a powerful-feeling “resting place,” and two instrumental sections means you can do both sides).

With some groups, we do the whole song “feet on mats,” but in the right space, with kids who can handle it, kids are free to move wild and free! Woo hoo!

Preschoolers love this song, but school-age kids also happily boing around the room, and some of my goofier (totally a compliment!) middle schoolers even have fun with it.

You might get a request to “Do it again!!!” especially from younger kids, but eventually kids will happily collapse onto their mats. This is a great time to notice breathing, heart rate, sensations in big muscle groups, and to transition kids into a calmer, more focused activity.

 

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!

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!

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!)