Many adults perform yoga to unwind and de-stress, but children have stresses of their own, initiated by a change in their routine from home life to school life. Our Early Learning children are literally bending over backward with a new yoga program added to the curriculum.
As Head of the Early Learning Centre it is important that we provide opportunities and time for our ELC children to develop resilience and a healthy wellbeing. It is critically important that each child will develop this at their own pace. Yoga is one effective way to encourage children to relax, while also giving them an activity that is mentally and physically stimulating.
Throughout Term 3, all Toorak College Early Learning children are participating in playful, age-appropriate yoga sessions, which take place in the classrooms and taught by a professional yoga instructor. Children’s yoga is very different from regular yoga with sessions including breathing exercises, a blend of accessible and challenging postures, active sequences, meditation songs, stories and simple sensory based meditation. It is also more bouncy and dance-based than regular yoga is, and may include musical statues, pretending to be animals, and dancing to upbeat music. Children then unwind with a massage train, where they imagine rain is falling on their backs as each child massages the other child’s shoulders.
Why is meditation in the early years is important and why have we introduced it to our curriculum?
Stimulates sensory learning
Yoga can be linked to developing strong sensory awareness because of the high level of imagination associated with creating poses. The poses, like the warrior, downward dog, cobra, crow, for example, are all associated with animals or personas,which children love to pretend to imitate in a playful setting. If the yoga class combines sensory activities with music, the child is receiving a holistic sensory experience because they can hear the words and melody while seeing the image in their head of what they are pretending to be.
Relaxes and unwinds the students
Yoga is a highly meditative experience that allows the mind to relax and refuel. When the eyes close and the focus is on the breath, the child’s stress and thoughts can dissipate fairly quickly. The idea of yoga is that for however brief a moment, the child can let go of all the breath they may be holding in, and relax any muscular tensions they may be carrying in their face or body.
Increases coordination, flexibility, and control
A misconception of yoga is that it improves flexibility and ignores strength building. In fact, yoga improves flexibility and core strength simultaneously by performing poses that are three dimensional, meaning using multiple muscles from the whole body. For example, downward facing dog is the triangle pose, which utilises the triceps, biceps, and shoulders to keep the upper body off the ground while the core is engaged and the calves are lengthened. Children can develop elements of core strength and flexibility by performing these movements in a sensory way. A teacher might instruct the students to make shapes with their bodies, be an animal rolling around in the mud, or pretend to be an object all so the child can reach the pose but through more creative pathways.
Part of a non-competitive, all-inclusive program
Yoga is completely inclusive because it focuses on personal development and achievement. There is no such thing as making a mistake in yoga; the importance is on the idea of having fun, developing a sense of bodily awareness and working in a harmonious environment with others. Unlike other forms of sport or performance-based activities, yoga does not focus on the end goal, rather it is all about the journey and living in the moment. Yoga is designed to reverse all the stressful thinking that is associated with performance targets and rather be content with what is in front of us at the present time. With this sense of contentment brings a positive atmosphere of inclusion and support.
Pat Barbieri is the Head of Early Learning at Toorak College.