Back to School: Easing the Transition

Back to School graphic

It’s hard to think about ‘Back To School’ when we are in the middle of sunscreen, bathing suits, popsicles and cookouts. But before we know it, the fall will be upon us bringing a new school year. This is a big transition in the life of a child and we, as YogaKids teachers, need to be cognizant of this when preparing our lesson plans.

When classes begin in the fall, it is the perfect opportunity to set the tone for the whole year. Here are some tips to keep in mind when getting started with a new group of children.

  •       Start Your Class the Same Way Each Week (especially in the beginning!)

Routine helps children feel more comfortable and secure. In addition, by setting the stage for what to expect, a teacher can guide positive behavior and reduce power struggles.

  •       Use the YogaKids Pledge

The Pledge is a powerful tool. It explains in a fun, interactive way the benefits of yoga while also setting the ground rules for the class. The Pledge can always be used in reference when managing classroom behavioral issues. In addition, it is an easy and fun way to get children talking and moving right away. This will show them from the beginning that yoga is fun!

  •       Keep the Kids Engaged

Kids want to move in yoga. They have plenty of time in the day to sit during their other classes. Get them moving right away!  It’s great to incorporate breath work and discussions/shares, but be sure to get them up and down several times during the class. Keep them active and they will certainly stay engaged.

  •       Teach the Basics

Kids need time to get in the groove, learn routines, and get comfortable with yoga. Break down sequences you plan to use regularly in your classes. Take the time to teach a Sun Salutation pose by pose for kids, therefore establishing good habits. Teach songs you plan to use often slowly, so they feel pride and ownership in their classes. Take the time to explain why yoga is good, where it came from, and all the benefits they will see in their lives. Allow them an opportunity to be excited by yoga.

  •       Exude Enthusiasm!

The beginning of the school year can be a time of anxiety for children, but it is also fun and exciting! Be the vessel that shares the excitement and happiness of yoga. Show the kids from day one that yoga is a place of exploration, journeys, silly times, fun songs, and a perfect place to just lay down and relax.

To all the teachers out there…enjoy the last days of summer and I wish you an easy transition into fall!


Transform your teaching in the YogaKids Certification Program!

The Opposite of Mindfulness

Kids Sitting on Bench

When the Sandy Hook tragedy happened, I was more than a little distraught. At the time, my kids were 4 and 7 years old. My friend — having seen all my Facebook posts on the matter — called to ask if I really thought my kids were going to be in a school shooting. She wasn’t being cold-hearted, just realistic. I assured her that I knew the odds were slim.

Unfortunately, the odds seem a lot less astronomical now than they did then. Still pretty unlikely, but definitely in the realm of possibility. By the way, it was just the realm of possibility that had me so distraught in the first place. I mean… how could this happen? And how does it continue to happen?

I’d venture to say that events like Sandy Hook don’t just HAPPEN. Violence needs a breeding ground, one void of mindfulness. One actually nourished by what seems to be the opposite of mindfulness. Can that be a thing we talk about? In addition to gun control, individual rights, mental illness, violent media etc… can we talk about the opposite of mindfulness as a possible root cause?

What would that be called? This opposite? A quick search on antonyms brought up: apathy, carelessness, disregard, idleness, ignorance, indifference, negligence, thoughtlessness… to name a few. While we don’t have a single word, the opposite of mindfulness is most certainly a lot of unpleasantness. And I imagine — when mixed in with a few other ingredients (fear and shame) — the end results are aggression and violence.

So what can we do? Nothing is going to eradicate violence completely — but can we do something? Can we nourish the soil with something better? Empower children with the tools to live happy and healthy lives? After all, kids (and adults) that feel good about themselves — ones that are mindful of themselves, others and the larger world around them — are not even going to bully others…  much less pull a gun on them. Why? Because you can’t be centered and angry at the same time.


Learn more about the YogaKids program here.


Bringing Meditation into Education

Happy Child in Spring Field

“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” – Ram Dass

Preparing fertile ground for learning can often get overlooked due to time constraints in reaching curriculum standards. But this preparation is a vital part of the process that can make reaching those standards much easier for students and teachers alike. Fortunately, the world appears to be waking up to this idea — as meditation programs become more and more prevalent in schools across the land.

Young lives – like ALL our lives — are noisy, filled with instructions, expectations, and modern distractions. Never-ending voices (both external and internal) create a constant stream of input, like a broken faucet that just won’t shut off. Meditation is the valve that stops the gushing water – and by doing so, sets the stage for optimal learning.

The purpose of meditation is often described as “quieting your mind” – and this can be a simple, effective definition for explaining meditation practice to children: “We’re quieting your mind before learning.” Other analogies can be useful as well: it’s like setting the table before dinner, or stretching your leg muscles before a vigorous run, or de-cluttering your desk before doing homework. Whatever language you choose, the idea remains the same: meditation becomes a precursor for personal growth.

The Space Between Our Primal Needs and Self-Actualization

Childhood development theorist Abraham Maslow suggested that we all have a “hierarchy of needs” – and that we must first meet our basic physiological needs (safety, shelter, food) before we can even think about goals of self-actualization (i.e. thinking and learning).

According to Maslow, our physiological needs are not the only barriers to learning. Between the primal needs and the self-actualization goals exist even more needs that must be met prior to reaching our creative potential. These are defined as social needs (feelings of belonging) and esteem needs (feelings of worthiness). And this is where meditation comes in, providing a proven strategy for nurturing self-love and self-acceptance.

While Maslow’s theory has been criticized for establishing a definitive ranking of human needs (where one does not truly exist), his ideas nevertheless create a useful framework for understanding the relationships between our perception of reality and our abilities. In other words, a child with low self-esteem is still capable of learning challenging material. But a child with high self-esteem will have an easier time of it. After all, children learn best when they believe in their ability to actually do so.

The Science of Meditation

The benefits of meditation have been backed-up by science. Students who practice meditation experience increased focus and creativity, a reduction in stress and anxiety, greater self-esteem and self-love, and improved academic achievement and overall health. Setting the stage for learning with meditation practice allows children the space and freedom to know their inherent worth. And nothing breeds success quite like the expectation of success.

Learn more about the YogaKids program here.

YogaKids for Speech and Language

Two Boys Laughing

It all started with a wink…

During the  summer before  11th grade, over 30 years ago, I volunteered at a special needs summer camp. I worked with a non-verbal boy with Cerebral Palsy, with long, beautiful eyelashes.  By the end of the summer, I taught him to wink at me as a way of communicating. I felt such joy that he had a way of communicating his happiness.  This is the moment that I knew what I was meant to do.  

Since this experience, I’ve earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education and  a Masters in Speech-Language Pathology. And as a practicing Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist for over 20 years, I have treated a lot of children with speech delays and special needs.

It was also 20 years ago that I started practicing yoga. But it wasn’t until about 9 years ago that I considered combining the two passions. I woke up and realized that what I get from my practice of yoga is what I needed to bring to the children I treat. I started a Google search and, within minutes, there it was  – YOGAKIDS. I had to know more!  

I attended a Foundations Training and was amazed with the YogaKids curriculum. What impressed me most was how Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences were used to create the curriculum for YogaKids and that every child’s’ learning style is taken into consideration (something not always thought about in traditional education systems).  

Before my Foundations Training, I had not expected to sign up for the Full Certification (since I already had a career). But at the end of the event, I left in tears of joy — I had to become a Certified YogaKids Teacher! I spent the next several  months working towards this Certification  learning as much as I could and practicing what I was learning in my profession.

I saw such changes in the children I was treating! I love helping them move while doing animal poses and gaining oral-motor strength.  Kids love animals (as do I) and enjoy becoming the animals.  Seeing these kids practice their oral-motor movements (lip rounding-for moo in cow and lip spreading in meow for cat) gave me such joy and gave them another outlet to practice their movements rather than just drilling exercises.  I also introduced breathing techniques which help them stay calm and ready to work on their speech goals.  

The YogaKids program enhances my career every day and I’m so grateful to have found it!

Learn more about the YogaKids program here!

Re-Defining”Yoga” for Schools: The Rise of Mindfulness in Education

Students Meditating on Desks

At YogaKids, we speak to a lot of folks who teach children’s yoga. We also speak to lots of folks who WANT to teach children’s yoga. Some folks have self-doubt about their abilities to get up in front of a class. (To those beautiful people, we say that our program is guaranteed to bring out your best inner YogaKids Teacher.) Other folks — the ones who want to teach in schools — sometimes have trepidation about stepping on toes. We recently received a great inquiry about this…

“If I’m going to be teaching in schools, I want to be appropriate and in-line with standards [regarding religious teachings]. What is your stance on this?”

Such a thought-provoking question! From our perspective, yoga and religion are simply two different things. Nevertheless, we’ve been active in our community in addressing this topic. Mary Rountree, one of our YogaKids Teachers and Master Mentors, wrote a great article for our Press Room called “Is Yoga Religion?” As an educator in Alabama, she gets asked about this A LOT and has a number of great prepared answers.

“The Yoga Sutras, the most commonly cited text that forms the foundation for all forms of yoga, make no specific theological claims. The non-sectarian nature of this text has allowed it to remain solid for over 1500 years and allows freedom from religion, therefore making yoga a positive for anyone. The adaptability of modern yoga makes it diverse and flexible enough to be practiced with religion or with no religion. There are as many reasons why people do yoga as there are types of people that do yoga. They range from the secular, practical, body-oriented people to the most spiritual people and anything and everything in between. Yoga serves all these types because its teachings are universal.”

As you can see, it IS a great answer … if everyone is willing to listen and debate! But if that’s not the case, we also want to give a practical answer when asked about yoga and religion. Which is what we did with our new friend:

“Our program does include yoga philosophy but that is different than religion. Our recommendation? When you feel like the word ‘yoga’ is liable to spook someone – replace with ‘Mindfulness and Movement!'”

If you’ve been following trends in education, you know that Mindfulness is a big buzz word right now. It’s sweeping the nation and it’s kinda genius, really. Mindfulness can mean many things and, when combined with Movement — really does encompass so much of what yoga is… without the word “yoga.”

Now, does this undermine the word “yoga” and its depth of meaning? It’s a fair question. But our mission is so much bigger than words. Kids need our help, your help, the help of their communities. Words can sometimes get in the way.

What do you think?

Yoga in the Classroom: Simple Tips for Integration

Children in Classroom with Teacher at Board

Today’s children are more anxious and stressed at school than ever before due to more rigid testing requirements and higher academic and social expectations. The prevalence of behavior and emotional disorders is on the rise in elementary aged children. As a third grade teacher, I’ve witnessed the changes just in the last ten years. There are more children in my classroom each year that respond to my beginning-of-the-year survey stating that they think bad thoughts about themselves, they worry about making friends, and they already think that they are “bad” at reading or math.

Three years ago I tried to figure out a way to help these children by giving them the tools to calm themselves during anxious moments, quiet their little minds of the negative thinking, and feel good about themselves in general. I had recently become certified in teaching adult yoga and knew the benefits for adults. So I began introducing some breathing techniques, guided visualizations, and a few postures a few minutes each day. That year, many of my students began to ask for “yoga breaks” and, when interviewed at the end of the year, they said that they use yoga techniques to calm themselves down during anxious moments, as well as to help them go to sleep. That information was all that I needed to dig deeper into the research to find more information about incorporating yoga into my classroom. That’s when I discovered YogaKids International, and more specifically the “Tools for Schools” program.

As teachers, we all face the dilemma of not having enough time to teach with depth and it seems like we are always just scratching the surface. We are bombarded by paperwork, testing requirements, classroom management issues, and now core curriculum expectations. Most teachers would say, “How do you expect me to fit yoga into my already jam-packed schedule?” My answer, as a teacher who feels exactly the same way, is to simply make the time to do it. Incorporating yoga can be as simple as 10 minutes a day. Some examples are:

  • Yoga Breaks: Have students take a 5-10 minute yoga break during a transition time such as after lunch, before a test, or first thing in the morning. The yoga break could consist of a breathing exercise to calm, energize, or ignite both sides of the brain. The kids think it’s fun and, even though there will be some silliness at first, they will eventually participate fully without the giggles and funny gestures.
  • Use yoga lessons as part of your curriculum. Incorporate a story during reading, writing or science time and include some yoga poses or breathing techniques. A great story that I use early in the year is Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes.
  • Guided Visualization works wonderfully before creative writing time. There are several scripted books available online and through YogaKids, so all you have to do is read as the students have their heads on their desk and eyes closed. All they have to do is listen. his practice will help calm anxious students and get their creative juices flowing.

My personal journey with teaching yoga in the classroom began with these simple and easily integrated techniques. Most of the children love it and will even begin to expect it on a daily basis. The benefits for the children are decreased stress, more creativity, better behavior, and higher academic achievement. The benefits for the teacher are the same. If our students are receiving these benefits then it makes everything from classroom management, achievement, participation, and overall well-being for teachers better too.

Yoga in the Classroom: Promote Creativity, Comprehension, and Focus

Children Doing Partner Pose While Sitting

As teachers, how do we harness our students’ energy for productivity within the confines of the classroom environment?

Yoga breaks can really help those high-energy students by giving them the tools to calm themselves and focus while at the same time channeling that energy in more appropriate and functional ways  I’ve been using yoga in my classroom for several years now and the change in all my students is amazing.

Guided visualization fosters creativity and allows students to learn to visualize special places, people, and things that are important to them as well as use their vivid imaginations. Those children that are constantly complaining that “I can’t think of anything to write about” benefit by tapping into the creative side of their brain and, at last, have something to write about. This also helps in reading comprehension, as visualizing text is a strategy used to remember what they’ve been reading. Characters, stories, and setting come to life in the brains of all students.

I’ve found that my high-energy students are often some of the most creative thinkers of the bunch and benefit greatly from guided visualizations in many ways. Using their imaginations and writing and drawing about the experience keeps them focused and on task. The break from the normal often-boring routine of “typical schoolwork” allows them time to focus their energies on a different level.

Most students by third grade realize that they have little control over their impulses and un-channeled energy within the classroom — as they’ve already been told repeatedly by teachers to focus on their work, stop blurting out, and sit on their bottoms. For these students, it is virtually impossible. They certainly don’t want to be like this. Why would a child choose to be singled out for disruptive behavior?

Yoga breaks provide them an opportunity to exert some energy during the faster-paced movements. as well as focus during the movements that require balance and complete attention. Breathing exercises can help them to calm their bodies when they feel that their insides are moving so fast and their thoughts are like shooting fireworks in their brains.

After a few weeks of practice, these students use these tools without guidance and learn to self soothe at school as well as at home. Every year, students, upon being assigned to my classroom ask about yoga. They want it. Their parents want it for them — even in Alabama! Many parents do yoga and know the benefits that the focused postures, breathing and relaxation have to distress. Why wouldn’t they want that for their children?