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YogaKids Tools for Schools
By Darlene E. Paris
When I taught second grade five years ago, my colleagues called me the New Age teacher because I used the tools I had learned during my 10 years of practicing meditation in my classroom.
I kept meditation bells in my room and would clang them together whenever my students got too noisy. I burned lavender essential oils and urged them to utter the word shanti (Sanskrit for peace) just before a test. And if they seemed a bit high-strung after lunch, I’d take them out to the playground and encourage them to scream for about five minutes, and then come back into classroom and sit for another five minutes in complete silence.
I wished that I could do more with my students, but I wasn’t sure how I could pass along the gems I had learned during the time I spent living in a meditation community and teach all the subjects that I needed to teach in a day.
After meeting YogaKids founder Marsha Wenig last month, I discovered ways to teach children yoga and meditation and, at the same time, give them lessons in reading, writing and arithmetic.
Wenig, who has been a yoga teacher for more than 20 years, has designed a program especially for children called Tools for Schools. This program aims to solve major problems found in many schools, including low scores on standardized tests, budget cuts that have nixed physical education programs, and challenges presented by students with short attention spans.
“Tools for Schools is something that has been in my consciousness for a long time,” said Wenig, of Michigan City, Ind., who visited Chicago-area schools recently to demonstrate the program to teachers. “Whenever I thought about yoga for children, I knew that it would not necessarily be yoga classes, but tools that would give professionals, from teachers to pediatricians, from dietitians to daycare workers, different ways to work with kids.”
Tools for Schools is based on Harvard University Professor Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, which explains eight ways in which people process information. Wenig’s program uses yoga as a pathway for learning. It emphasizes the body/kinesthetic intelligence — or the intelligence that processes information through movement. It can be used in preschool through the 5th grade, she said.
The program provides teachers with a 106-page manual with lesson plans that focus on different poses and how to use these poses to teach various subjects, such as math and language arts.
The program also includes a deck of cards illustrating 50 yoga poses. Teachers attend a six-hour training program with a certified YogaKids facilitator.
It also includes a home component called Om@Home which are essentially letters to parents informing them of poses learned by their children and when and how to do them.
What happens sometimes is that the children end up teaching their parents yoga. Especially in small cities like Michigan City.
“When I started this program back in the ’80s … the children would learn yoga in class and they went back home to their parents and started teaching them. Then their parents started coming to our yoga classes,” says Wenig, who along with her husband, Don, owns a yoga studio called Dancing Feet.
Wenig, who began teaching yoga to children more than 15 years ago when her daughter Dakota attended a Montessori pre-school, said teaching yoga to children is very different from teaching adults.
“When you’re teaching adults, you use a certain kind of script. You give directives. You say, for example, ‘Stand in mountain pose and extend your right hand over your head.’ But with yoga for kids, it’s not that way. As soon as you do a pose, the kids are ready to do the pose with you. They don’t wait for instructions. They’re right there in the moment.”
Wenig makes the poses more appealing to children by renaming them. One of the most famous poses is downward facing dog, but Wenig calls it Down Diggety Doggy Down — in honor of her son Kiva, now 15, who created the title when he was 3 years old.
And, unlike adult yoga classes, students are not asked to hold poses for a period of time and make noises. When they do Down Diggety Doggy Down, for example, they bark. When they do lion pose, they roar.
Wenig also advises teachers to use yoga to make subjects more interesting. For example, the Down Diggety Doggy Down pose can be used to teach math by having students analyze the pose to find geometric patterns such as a triangle, parallel lines and even right, obtuse, or acute angles.
Or in a language arts class the pose can launch a discussion about dogs being a man’s best friend, followed by the students writing an essay about what qualities make a good friend.
Wenig says she’s not trying to turn classroom teachers into yoga instructors. She just wants to inspire teachers to use yoga to get their lessons across to students who are enamored with things like computer games, MP3s, DVDs and such.
“Yoga sets the foundation for a healthy lifestyle, builds focus and concentration, provides techniques that help students relax and wakes up sluggish minds,” she says. “It’s also non-competitive, which fosters a can-do attitude and creates positive social interaction.”
She added that although Tools for Schools is designed for students, it’s also beneficial for teachers. “Nowadays, teachers are stressed. They’re in the classroom for eight hours a day with students who have different learning styles. Some of them even have 35 students to manage at a time. When these teachers teach their students yoga, it will help reduce their stress by giving them a more manageable class, and, at the same time, keep their own mind, body and spirit calm.
For additional information about Tools for Schools, visit YogaKids.com.
Darlene E. Paris is a Chicago-area writer and regular practitioner of yoga.