Three sequenced classes: Intro, Warriors, and Shoulders

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At the end of January, I started a new after-school yoga class for 3rd-5th graders.  I love all my students and classes, but I especially love when a group just comes together so smoothly and are really supportive of each other.  I have a great mix of girls and boys, beginners and more experienced yoginis - and all of them are excited to take risks and try new things.  Excellent!  

The first three classes focused on: 1) the fundamentals of various types of poses (twists, balancing, backbends, etc.); 2) Warriors; and 3) Shoulder Openers.  The latter two were requests from students.  One named Warriors as his favorite poses.  Shoulder Openers came from multiple requests to try Forearm Balance.  I have a few gymnasts in my class, and they have seen me do the pose, so they are eager to give it a go.  However, I am pretty adamant that they only try the pose with my support.  That said, every kid in my class was so excited to get upside down and feel successful in Forearm Balance even if they needed maximum support and got up just a small bit.  This class also provided a great opportunity to discuss the importance of warming up and preparing for more challenging poses before jumping into them.

I am excited this term too as I think I have finally figured out how to really set the kids up for success and also how to set MYSELF up for success.  At the beginning of each class I quickly go through the routine so it is very clear what is expected of the kids.  We spent some time during the Intro class talking about what Savasana looks like and practiced it, so now they get into it easily with minimal fuss.  We always open with a great connection activity - either connecting to ourselves (i.e. Mindful Listening) or to each other (i.e. building a Gratitude Web).  The kids really seemed to like the Gratitude Web and asked for it again the next week, and also have spontaneously asked to share things they are grateful for before we get into the physical practice.  They know that we always open with Sun Breaths and we always close with LovingKindness.  Just by simply setting up the routine and clearly explaining the expectations has greatly reduced any management challenges I have had in the past.  This little bit of organisation has changed how I plan, as well as how much more I can focus on the FUN of the class and not as much on class management.  Who knew...? :)

Risk-taking

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Last week my after-school class of 3rd-5th graders got really brave and took a ton of risks with tricky poses.  We talked at the beginning about why we take risks, the rewards we feel after taking a risk, and shared some times when we were proud of a risk we took.  We started out slow with working on Wild Thing pose and flipping your body over during Sun Salutations (chant modified from Sarah Herrington/Om Schooled), and then moved right into crow, side crow, headstand, handstand, and forearm balance.  The kids partnered up on the latter three after I modeled how to support each. This was still hard for some of them and at times I found that the kids were pulling their partner up rather than the person in the pose doing the bulk of the work and the partner just supporting their legs.  It was a good lesson/reminder for me at how exciting (read: chaotic) partner yoga with kids can be at times.  I ended up stopping kids and re-modeling how to support many times.  But I still felt like it was a great learning experience for them and we will continue it next week with our final class dedicated to group and partner yoga.  We didn't get to the game in this week's lesson so we will incorporate it into the next as it fit perfectly with partner yoga and communication.  I also really loved ending with lovingkindness and have been trying to incorporate that more and more into all of my yoga classes lately.

Warriors/Music

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I haven't had much time to get online and post lately, so here come a bunch of them in a row! I teach an after-school class for 3rd-5th graders and a few weeks ago we focused on the Warriors and really honed in on stability, concentration and sequencing.  The kids learned alternate nostril breathing for focus, stability with leg strength and knee alignment in the Warriors, and sequencing with a flow set to MC Yogi's Give Love.  The latter led into another music-based activity with a Freeze yoga game, and the we relaxed in a lovely savasana set to Grow Tall by Jonsi.  The class required a lot of the kids and they were moving a ton.  They definitely earned and fell into the savasana.  All in all a great and successful class!

Focusing on Values: Fun

For our final 4th grade yoga class this year, Marcey and I chose our school value of Fun.  I love that Fun is one of our values. The expectation that school will be a joyful, funny experience is a beautiful concept and one I embrace whole-heartedly.  And it lends itself so perfectly to kids (and adult) yoga!

We focused on the idea of flow in this class, sequencing poses together in a vinyasa flow style. As a surprise, knowing that the kids love partner poses, I also added Double Dog pose to the roster.  And we ended the asanas with a lovely relaxing twist that they could do all summer long during lazy, sunny days at the beach.  The message with the twist was that when life throws an unexpected situation your way, you need to consider approaching it with a smile and a sense of fun.

We also played Yogi Says, which was a blast and recapped the year by highlighting many of the poses we had learned and practiced. Before the class, the kids wrote down some favorite poses and many of these were incorporated into the game.  The class ended with a savasana to the song Why Not by Jonsi, which I absolutely love.  I spoke over the music with a short meditation focusing on finding joy and fun, and holding it in your heart.

All in all, this year with the 4th graders was an incredible experience.  Their openness and enthusiasm was contagious, and helped me fine-tune both my teaching and my own practice.  I found myself taking more risks and just being open to trying new (maybe slightly scary) things in my own yoga classes, and I was able to then bring those learnings into my kids class.  It was a beautiful cycle, and one I hope to continue next year! 

Focusing on Values: Compassion/Gratitude

In mid-April my dad passed away after many years of heart problems.  It was a heart-breaking time for my family as my dad was an amazing, funny, generous man, and his resilience through 17 years of illness was role-model worthy.  The world is at a loss without him in it.

That said, in between the tears and sadness, I was also able to discover gratitude to the universe for allowing my dad to live almost twice as long as doctors predicted with very little suffering, and allowing him to go so peacefully in my mom's arms knowing how loved he was to all of us.   Short of immortality or never having gotten sick in the first place, I can't imagine him going in a better way. I also had so much gratitude to my friends all over the world who poured out their support to me with hugs, notes, regular check-ins, flowers, thoughtful gifts, and Reiki energy. Their compassion for me and my family was overwhelming.

Because of that, upon my return to school I chose to focus on our school's value of compassion with Marcey's 4th grade class, along with my own personal value of gratitude.  By far, this was my most favorite class of the year with them.   Everything just fit together perfectly, from the morning message to the mandala sun salutation to the book A Sick Day for Amos McGee to the internal reflections. I chose challenging poses to allow the kids to practice having compassion for themselves during difficult times. Even the song at the end, LovingKindness by Charity and the JAMBand, tied in seamlessly to the class.

The kids took it all very seriously while still having fun.  Even the kids who tend to give up pretty easily on more challenging poses kept at it until they felt successful.  Sometimes during internal reflections the kids are done pretty quickly, but with the two in this class I noticed how long they say quietly with their eyes closes and head bowed.   

I love these kids as they have taught me so much as a yoga teacher this year.  But this class took that love to a different level.  I could see how much they had all become true yogis and how changed they were from the beginning of the year.  I was so proud of them! 

Focusing on values: Balance

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I work at a great school that has, in the past few years, redefined its dreams, mission, and values to better reflect our changing society. I am especially drawn to our values throughout my day as they are clear reflections of what we expect from our students: perseverance, responsibility, respect, integrity, compassion, balance, and fun.  The latter two especially resonate as defining these terms and their importance to student learning may sometimes be overlooked. 

Recently I was looking over the values and realized how inline they are with yoga, especially the first four (of eight) limbs of yoga: the yamas (our attitudes toward ourselves and others), niyamas (our personal habits), asanas (poses), and pranayama (breathing). It occurred to me that yoga is the perfect way to teach our students about our values.  As always, Marcey was on board to try a new approach to yoga with her 4th grade class.  For the remaining 5-6 sessions of the year, we will pick 1-2 values and create a class around them.

The first class was about balance.  This seemed like a perfect place to begin as we have been working on balancing poses throughout the year and the concept of balance comes with many visual aspects that are easy to demonstrate.  We started by having a class discussion about balance and how we use it both physically and mentally.  I shared that when we get our bodies, minds, and breath in balance we often start to find balance in other parts of our lives. Then we can better notice when things are out of balance. Then we moved into a slow warm-up using three Mindful Movements  to help the kids really get a feel for how to match their breath to movement, and to slow down their bodies. 

Then we moved into balance.  Marcey read aloud The Man Who Walked Between The Towers, which is probably my most used and loved picture book (next the Where the Wild Things Are :)).   If you don't know it, this book is gorgeous, appeals to all ages, and ties in perfectly to wide range of movement activities, language activities, and math activities.  The kids were fascinated with the story, especially because its true! After the read aloud and discussion, we moved into a series of seated balancing poses and standing balancing poses.  The kids were encouraged to maintain each pose for at least three breaths, and if they fell, to come right back up and try again.  And while these poses were really difficult for some, I was floored at how all of the students took on the challenge.  Without knowing it, they easily put two other values into play: perseverance and fun.  It is an absolute blast to watch the kids all laugh and try and support each other, and to watch them do it all again with the next pose.

In the end, rather than a traditional savasana, I led the kids through a One Minute Meditation focusing on calming the body/mind and finding balance with the body, mind and breathe.   The goal was for them to walk away with a quick way to find peace in the moments when life starts to feel out of balance or overwhelming.  I liked this a lot and the kids really responded to it, so I think I will continue this in future lessons.

Next up...compassion (read: heart openers!) 

PS.  We did not get to the game Night At The Museum in the lesson plan due to timing, but I have played it in other classes focusing on balance and it is very fun! I highly recommend it.  Basically you close your eyes or turn around (or turn off the lights) and let the kids go crazy on their mats.  But when you turn around or open your eyes, they have to freeze in a balancing pose (or other pose) like a statue.  I play non-competitively with the little kids, but with older kids you could have them sit down if they are caught moving and have a winner at the end.

 

5th Grade: Partner Yoga Class

My friend Becca started a lovely new tradition.  A reading club.  Not a book club, but just a time for a few of us to gather and read whatever happens to suit us that afternoon.  Inevitably the first 30 minutes or so though is spent chatting.  It was during this time that Becca, who is a 5th grade teacher at my school, and I decided that a partner yoga class with her kids would tie in perfectly with their newly formed book clubs.  Partner yoga would be a great way to get them thinking about trust and communication as they started to work more independently in their groups.

We set up the class to start with two connection activities: the first was more reflective and quiet, and the second much more active and fun.  After the kids had settled in  and gotten warmed up, we moved on to the partner poses.  Before starting into the actual modeling and trying, Becca and I talked to the kids about the importance of communication for each pose.  The kids were tasked with checking in with their partner in each step of the pose to make sure they were on the same page.

We started out simple with an easy partner heart opener, and then moved on to Lizard on a Rock.  Interestingly enough, I always thought the bottom position in this pose was the hardest because you don't have much freedom of movement (although it is such a lovely stretch for your back).  Its also hard to talk in this pose and let your partner know if you need them to come up (hence the constant reminders for the kids to check in with their partners).  But the kids saw it differently. Most of them thought the top position was the toughest because you couldn't see behind you as you were leaning back - you had to trust that the person on the bottom would support you.  it was also quite scary for many of them to go backwards without looking.    

The final pose we did was Double Dog. Becca and I actually were applauded when we modeled this pose!  The kids were really excited to try this pose, but it was definitely very difficult for them.  Communication was really key as was establishing the trust that the bottom position would support the top, and that the top wouldn't put too much pressure on the bottom. Kids in the top position were definitely tentative to put their legs up and figuring out positioning of hands and feet was tricky.  In the end there was a lot of falling and half Double Dogs (one leg up, one leg down) - but also a ton of laughter and talking.  When I asked which pose the kids liked the best, the resounding answer was Double Dog.  The kids said that it was so fun because it was so challenging and new.  A good reminder for me - kids really do love a challenge, especially when they can do it as a team.

The final part of the yoga class was a savasana with a color meditation. This time I asked the kids to imagine the color blue, which is the color associated with communication.  I proceeded with the color meditation as normal, but I ended up with the color centering around their throat - the center for communication in our bodies.  I had them imagine the blue color turning into a light and shining out from their throats leaving them with a feeling of peacefulness, honesty, and the ability to talk openly with each other.

After the class, Becca asked the kids to reflect on how this yoga class tied into their book clubs and into their persuasive writing unit:

  • It teaches us that we won't always be friends [with those in our group]. We also learn[ed] to stay quiet so the rest [of the groups] can also be heard.
  • I think it helps build trust...I think it helps us remember that we need to stay serious sometimes...I think that it helped build trust with people that we don't know very much.
  • You need a lot of different strategies and ways to communicate with somebody...like signs, signals, empathy, listening, understanding.
  • This experience helped us think about our persuasive writing because we are trying to [show] the person that they can trust [us] to see what happens.
  • This experience helped me [with] being calm and concentrat[ing], and focus.
  • It helped me of trusting others and respecting.  It helped me...to trust [my] partner.

As a next step, Becca and I talked about doing a follow-up partner class but this time giving the kids time to plan and problem solve before they got into the poses.  It will be interesting to see if the second attempts at Lizard on a Rock and Double Dog result in different outcomes.  Stay tuned...