It’s back-to-school time for a lot of us, but this year is probably a bit out of the norm. Kids may be heading to newly structured schools and classrooms with fewer classmates. Maybe your child is participating in distance learning. Or perhaps you are a school teacher trying to navigate through this “new normal” we are all figuring out. I’m here to tell you to give yourself, and your children, a break! A YOGA break, that is!
A short break during work time has been shown to have real benefits for children (and adults) of all ages, like:
- Reduce anxiety
- Build self-confidence and self-esteem
- Improve motivation
- Foster positive mood
- Restore focus and calm
- Optimize attention and memory
Yoga breaks are activities that energize different networks of the brain. For children to learn most efficiently, their little brains need to be able to receive sensory signals (through vision, hearing, etc.), process them, and then send the information to memory storage. When those pathways are overloaded, fatigued, or otherwise stressed, then learning suffers. By participating in a yoga break, children are able to rest the overwhelmed neural pathways to restore their sense of calm and prepare them to focus on learning again. Try to plan a yoga break every 15 minutes or so for younger children and every 30 minutes for tweens and teens, ideally before fatigue and restlessness set in. Remember, kids need yoga breaks when doing homework, too!
Here are some of my favorite yoga breaks to do in a classroom, either in-person or virtually:
Clapping Concentration: Line up in a single file line. Starting at the front, the first child and second child turn to face each other with their arms bent at the elbows and palms facing in (like they are ready to clap). Kids look at each other in the eyes and each try to clap at exactly the same time as the other, making a single sound with the 2 individual claps. Then the second child turns to the third child in line, locks eyes, and they try to clap simultaneously. If doing this virtually, just announce which 2 children will try to clap at the same time and unmute them.
Transformation: Close your eyes and sit comfortably. Imagine you are an animal. Pay attention to your skin. Is it fur or feathers or scales? Feel how it holds in your animal bones and muscles. Now imagine your skin begins to change as you transform into a new animal. How does that feel? Are you smaller or bigger? Is your skin the same? Your skin begins to change again, this time becoming a third animal. Did your breath change? Now imagine that all the animals disappear and all you are left with is your breath. As you breathe, your skin reappears as your own again. Instead of transforming into animals, you could invite children to change into plants, or machines, etc.
Five Finger Starfish: While deeply breathing, make a starfish with one hand (fingers spread out wide). Using the pointer finger of your other hand, gently trace the outline of the starfish hand, slowly going up a finger as you inhale and slowly down each finger as you exhale. Let all of your attention focus on what you feel. Repeat on the opposite hand.
Six Poses: Assign a yoga posture to numbers 1 – 6. Children choose one of the postures and hold it as you roll a die. Anyone in the posture corresponding to the number rolled is out (or must perform a task, like 5 jumping jacks). Students then choose a different pose, hold it, and the die is rolled again.
Taking a yoga break from the hard business of learning and staying seated for long periods of time is an easy and fun way to keep children attentive, energized and ready to focus. By introducing several kinds of yoga breaks (movement, breathing, meditation and mindfulness) over time and inviting children to explore their own versions of yoga breaks, kids can learn to self-monitor when they’re getting frustrated or daydreaming. That’s like a learning super-power!
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