Hello! I hope everyone is having a fabulous summer! With fall on the horizon many of our children are headed back to school soon (or have already gone back for those of us on year-round tracks.) Many welcome the return of the structure of a school routine, both as students with special needs and parents. And as we begin to look at the year ahead, we teachers, therapists and parents ask ourselves- how we can best support the academic success of our students? The answers to that question are infinite, but personally, my answer is YOGA. Here’s why…
1. Focus – focus is a critical skill all yogis develop in order to master breathing techniques and yoga poses. You may be familiar with tree pose- the one where you balance on one leg (“like the tree trunk”) and bend the other (“like a bent branch,” I tell the kids), placing the sole of your foot on your inner calf or thigh. In order to not topple over, you need to develop focus (“drishti” in yoga talk) on one point and maintain that focus point. How does this relate to academics you ask? Ever tried to do a simple math problem with a child, let’s say ‘5 balls + 3 balls = __ balls,’ and somewhere between 3 and 5 their eyes wander away from the task and the addition turns into rote counting “6,7,8,9,10…”?? A simple addition problem becomes quite a difficult task for our easily distracted little ones, and understandably frustrating for the parent/teacher. Yoga to the rescue!–Get a little yogic focus training under their belt and watch as their attention to academic tasks gradually increases, and viola! math and reading skills improve.
2. Self-Regulation – welcome back to school may mean an onslaught of new sights, smells and sounds; i.e., new people, new classrooms, new routines, new rules and expectations… all this can be daunting for those of our children who struggle with change or who have sensory challenges. While it may take some time to adjust, teachers and parents do their best to manage meltdowns and other reactionary behaviors. Instead of just managing these behaviors, yoga teaches children ways to regulate their emotions before they get to “the red zone.” The very foundation of yoga is breath, and breath control is absolutely vital to maintaining composure in chaos. Your child will learn a number of breathing techniques that can be used discretely or with support to keep calm and cool when they begin to feel agitated. I will also help your child identify which poses/breathing techniques amp him/her up and which calm him/her down. Simply doing these poses right before school or maybe during a break can help preset your child for a successful day at school.
3. Following Directions – from basic commands (e.g., “arms up”) to complex verbal directions (e.g., “step your right leg forward, bend at the knee, keep your left leg straight behind you with your foot at a 45 degree angle…”) yoga is a wonderful way to learn position concepts that will help your child follow directions at school. They won’t be confused when they are told to sit between two other children or to move to the front of the line. Sequential concepts are also emphasized as we learn to move through sequences of poses, (e.g., “first warrior 1, then warrior 2, last humble warrior.”)
4. Social Skills – it is important to remember that academics is not just math and reading; social skills play a huge role in a child’s success at school. Positive peer relations can make or break a child’s school experience, just as positive interactions with teachers, staff and principals can set your child up to have positive working relationships in the future. In our small yoga groups we greet each other, learn appropriate social space, take turns, and offer encouragement and support. We practice partner yoga poses and often repeat our mantra, “As yogis, we are always kind to ourselves and others.”
5. Confidence – academics and social relationships can be really challenging to many of our students. The desire to be liked, to be right, to be first… these desires are common among children and adults alike. When that doesn’t come easily to a child, the school years can feel like a long grueling road with many obstacles. How do we keep their spirits up? We start at a place where the child feels safe and successful on the yoga mat. Beginning with poses related to things they are interested in and then gradually expand their limits. This may mean adding a new student with different interests to the yoga group or trying a new challenging pose. We give lots of praise for their efforts and repeat affirmations, “I am peace… I am joy… I am strong… I am a good friend…” You can see the joy in a child’s eyes when s/he achieves a new pose and is cheered by yoga friends! This confidence and “I can!” attitude lends itself to all facets of the child’s life.
If you’d like to learn more about how yoga can specifically support your child’s academic success feel free to contact me!
Best wishes for a happy and healthy school year!