As an occupational therapist and a yoga teacher working in schools, I have had the honor of helping children of ALL abilities find comfort within themselves and within the classroom. Both can be a great challenge for any child, let alone a child that has a diagnosis of autism, ADHD, Down’s syndrome, etc. Yoga has been an incredibly useful and effective tool when working with my students in therapy as well as helping them learn within the classroom.
The more I introduce breath, movement and mindfulness, the more I am shown that these aspects of yoga help children gain strength and awareness of Self, necessary components to learning. My greatest hurdle within the walls of many schools is finding ways to support my students beyond the therapy room and into the classroom. Over the years I have become very creative in peaking the teachers’ interest and awareness of the benefits of yoga as they pertain to education. I was extremely excited when Lisa Flynn of Yoga 4 Classrooms released her newly published yoga cards that she designed specifically for the classroom. Although these cards stand on their own as a great learning/teaching tool, I wanted to share a creative way that I help teachers integrate the cards into their own lessons.
Handwriting is a daily practice in every kindergarten and first grade classroom. That alone makes it a perfect fit to establish a routine for doing yoga in school. Traditional lessons for perfecting handwriting skills involve that tried and true method of practice, practice, and practice. Unfortunately, this method is ONLY effective if taught in a manner that is conducive to the students learning style. While some students remember how to form letters; their shape, size and direction of each line, by writing them over and over again, other students are more kinesthetic learners and need to move more of their body and feel the direction of the lines. This may involve moving large muscle groups rather than the small muscles of their hand. Other students respond better to remembering information when it is relevant to something in their life. For example, it is easier to remember how to form a “T” and the sound that “T” makes if you picture a pedestal table. There is a tall center structure and the flat top that sits across the center support, just like the letter. Many children (with and without a specified diagnosis), flourish in educational settings when they have the ability to connect information to their particular learning style.
The Yoga 4 Classroom cards offers the ability for teachers to integrate movement, breathe and visualization into their own lesson plans while reaching the students with a variety of learning styles. Here is an example of how I used them to teach other letters prior to ever picking up a pencil.
For the letter A, I used the RED Stand Strong cards of Star and Triangle. “A” is actually a tricky letter because it is composed of 2 diagonal lines. These are harder to draw than vertical and horizontal lines because they require crossing of the midline of your body. To use our body to make an “A”, I tell the students that we are an airplane and our arms are the wings. We start in STAR pose, stretch our arms wide and take in a big breath. On an exhale, our plane then goes to make a turn and leans to the side (coming into triangle pose). I tell them that our arms are now forming a diagonal line, just like in the letter. We inhale and come back to STAR, exhale and turn your airplane to the other side. Inhale back to STAR and this completes the horizontal line across the letter.
When teaching handwriting, we start with all of the straight lined capital letters first, so “E” is next
For the letter “E”, I used the MOUNTAIN pose. This letter starts with a long, up and down (vertical) line. Three horizontal lines meet the vertical line. These lines are made with the SITTING PIGEON pose. From their knee to the bottom of their foot forms this short horizontal line. Once in this pose, I have them draw along their leg with their hand 3 times. They do this with both legs. For an added brain balancing benefit, I have them use their right hand to draw across their left leg and their left hand to draw across their right leg.
For the letter “F”, I use SITTING RAG DOLL and simply FOLD our body forward.
For the letter “H”, POWER BREATH is perfect since you exhale forcefully with the “Ha” sound. Did this lesson right before the holidays, so we exhale with a hearty “HO.”
For the letter “I”, we became icicles. Standing in MOUNTAIN with arms reaching for the sky (in the shape of the letter), we breathe in deep and slowly melt into CHAIR.
The ideas of how to creatively use these cards are endless. The other feature of the cards that make it so easy to use within the school is that a teacher can simply read the directions in the back of the card to direct the students. They do not need years of yoga training to effectively offer movement, breath and mindfulness into their class. Simply put, these cards offer accessibility to the open hearted novice and facilitate creative options to the open minded. It is a win-win for teachers and students.