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.