Top 5 Benefits of Yoga for Children, from a newly qualified Yogakidz teacher!

News Flash: I’ve just received my certificate through the post meaning that I can now officially say that I’m a fully-qualified Yogakidz teacher. Yay!

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Now the hard work of training is complete, the fun (and learning) can begin! I’ll be incorporating yoga into options that I already offer, such as the Mind Masters day, as well as offering yoga and mindfulness workshops lasting on average 1.5 hours, delivered to a single class at a time.

Wondering what a typical children’s yoga and mindfulness session looks like? 

Lessons typically begin with a basic breathing exercise and a gentle warm up, followed by a quick routine of Sun Salutations to warm up the muscles further. Then comes the main part of the activity, which might take the form of alphabet/partner yoga; yoga games; and/or my favourite, a yoga story, whereby they follow along to a story practising poses at key points. Classes finish with a little more breathing and a mediation/relaxation activity, guaranteed to calm the mind and body into a state of rest and ‘wakefulness.’

I’m so excited about yoga and the plethora of benefits it can bring into children’s’ lives. As much as it’s just a fascinating subject for children to learn and enjoy, the crowning glory as far as I’m concerned is the way that it supports children’s physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual health.

Whether you’re a parent, educator or just an interested party, let me explain some of the numerous benefits of practising yoga to children: 

  1. Yoga can be a highly engaging activity for children of any and all ages, including those with special educational needs. As a form of active, hands-on learning, it can be particularly engaging for children who don’t seem particularly well-suited to learning within the traditional classroom environment. To many children, yoga represents a breath of fresh air in an overwhelmingly academic, writing-based curriculum.Thanks to activities such as stories, the yoga itself becomes a vehicle through which you can teach cross-curricular skills and knowledge. Yoga stories with links to Science, Nature or History, for example, offer children a fun game-like way of learning that often proves more memorable to children than lessons learned in class.
  2. Perhaps the most obvious benefits are in that it gets children up and moving. As we’re told that the UK is facing unprecedented numbers of severely obese children, the importance of this can’t be understated. Yoga lessons encourage children to move, stretch and strengthen their bodies in a safe way. And while certain postures can be challenging, the lesson is structured in a way that it doesn’t feel like exercise but more like fun and games! Children can see and feel for themselves how exercise and stretching have the potential to make you feel better, stronger and happier.
  3. As much as it supports physical health, yoga can be incredibly useful in the way it promotes overall emotional and mental health. As children focus on their breath and the movements, there is little other space in the mind for negative thoughts and emotions. In this way, yoga acts as an ‘active meditation’, which children often find a little easier than straight-forward meditation, where you’re asked to focus on one thing only. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to mix in breathing, mindfulness, meditation and relaxation activities, which complement the yoga itself and only add to the good feelings and relaxation.
  4. The life lessons, messages and techniques, which naturally flow into yoga lessons with children, can be a key part of developing a ‘growth mindset’ and emotional resilience. Maybe it’s in the way they’re taught to notice how other children can stretch further than they can, and be completely okay with that.  Perhaps it’s the way they might listen to their body, learning to hear the difference between pain and discomfort (which we feel when we’re challenging ourselves.) One child may simply notice that when they exhale, they can move far deeper into a stretch than they believed they could initially, shifting their mindset from “I can’t” to “I can’t yet.” Students can’t help but soak up the ethos that oozes out of yoga classes; the self-acceptance and awareness, lack of judgement and open-mindedness, love and gratitude, willingness to try and make mistakes. Who knows… this might just make all the difference in the kind of adult a child becomes.little-girl-yoga.jpg
  5. As well as soaking up the yogic philosophy, children learn practical techniques that they can repeat independently when they need them, off the mats. I’ve heard countless anecdotes now from children who rely on different breathing and mindfulness techniques in order to sleep, calm negative thoughts, inspire confidence or just because they like the way they feel when they do them. Even a child that attends just one lesson, can take away the idea of tuning into their breath, sensations or emotions, increasing inner-awareness along with inner-strength.

If you’re a teacher or school leader looking to arrange some yoga/mindfulness workshops for your students, contact us to discuss options!

** Look out for more yoga-themed blogs and projects coming soon! **

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What if we set goal systems instead of goals?

At this time of year, when talk always turns to New Year’s Resolutions and goals, I am reminded of a clip I watched on the YouTube channel ‘Big Think.’ Here, Adam Alter tells us that it’s much more useful to set goal systems than goals.

Think about it. On a personal level, this could mean that instead of telling yourself that your goal is to lose 2 stones in weight – and then spending 3 months in a state of perpetual failure – you might instead set a target of working out for 40 minutes a day. One day into this and you’re already a success!

There’s nothing to stop you having a goal in mind, but if you’re more invested in the goal system, then it’s your daily action that defines you.

Consider too – the implications for children in school. In this target-driven culture, how many children live in this state of perpetual failure, always feeling that they are behind target?

What about children with special educational needs in mainstream education – children for whom the system isn’t designed; children who aren’t even going to sit the exams that their peers will be judged by; children that are often fully aware of how completely unreachable their end goals are?

It’s no coincidence that as our teachers express distaste for the data-focused exam culture in UK schools, the media report on an ever-increasing myriad of mental health issues faced by our young people.

So what’s the answer? Even if we are powerless to change the focus on testing, we can ensure that the language we use around students is based on goal structures. We can praise use of full stops in a piece of work, rather than the reaching of a certain level. We can reinforce the notion that tests provide only a result of how you achieved in that hour, rather than how you perform in class each and every day. We can create our own targets, based on the individual needs to students; targets that are actually realistic and achievable.

Furthermore, what if we stopped the emotional battery of our teaching and support staff when our students ‘don’t make the grade?’ I doubt we’d be having the recruitment crisis that we’re currently facing.

Agree/disagree? Are you a teacher who has faced this issue themselves? Are you writing your New Years Resolutions and looking to try something new? Have you had success with goal structures in the past? All comments welcome:

QUICK READ: 5 Teaching strategies to benefit the shy and socially anxious

When I was at school, I was a massive ‘swot’. I wasn’t overly intelligent, but I worked incredibly hard. I’ve always loved to learn new things and I took a great deal of pride in producing work that reflected effort and creativity.

Yet, I hated school. I was just so unbearably shy – so socially anxious – that any area of the curriculum or school life that required confidence/social interaction/public speaking, caused dread, misery and upset. I saw everyone else as being super relaxed and confident – I was a pathetic freak because I couldn’t cope with normal life situations. As time went on, I was able to drop the ‘out-there’ subjects like Drama and PE and throw myself into academic subjects which tested my essay-writing skills, while allowing me to hide my inner-freak. I left school with awesome results, but my self-esteem was in the toilet. I’d had some fantastic teachers who had pushed me academically, but other than annual comments on my report that ‘she needs to put her hand up more,’ my lack of confidence was never tackled. Teaching ‘soft skills’ like confident public speaking, just wasn’t part of the educational dialogue at that time. Everyone was just expected to get on with it.

Nearly twenty years later with the roles reversed, I am driven by the need to make things better for the students I teach. More than anything, I want them to challenge themselves socially and grow their confidence and self-esteem, just as they would work towards targets in their academic subjects. It’s my hope that by opening up discussion of nerves and anxiety, we might just save our students from future years of avoidance, missed opportunities and feelings of worthlessness.

Here are 5 teaching strategies that I’ve found really effective in encouraging confident speaking and discussion: 

  1. Always give ‘thinking time’ in class discussion. When I ask a question in class, I usually ask three times, while wandering around the room. I change the expression in my voice, the emphasis and sometimes the pace of the question. I wait ten seconds or more before choosing someone to answer/taking hands up etc. All students, but particularly nervous speakers or low ability pupils, need time to prepare an answer.
  2. Allow them to prepare feedback in pairs. Whether you want them to consider a question, respond to some stimulus or solve a problem, ask them to discuss this in pairs before answering in front of the class. For younger children, you can make this really structured by giving them set amounts of time each to speak, asking them to speak in turns or giving them speaking sentence openers. For SEND students that struggle to remember what they’ve discussed, they can write notes on a mini-whiteboard to help them answer. I tell my class that as I’m giving them time to prepare, I expect everyone to be ready to answer – then I’ll choose a name, use a name generator or pick out a lollipop stick with a pupils’ name on.
  3. Open up dialogue about nerves, anxiety, social anxiety, fear of public speaking. I found it particularly useful to spend ten minutes going over the physical symptoms of ‘fight, flight or freeze’ and why our bodies react this way. We talked about everything from dry mouth and palpitations to the need to have a nervous wee! We also delved into why the body is designed this way – how it expels fluids so that you can run away more quickly; why your heart beats faster to ensure blood is circulating to your major organs; that when you feel like time has stopped, it’s because your senses are heightening, ready to act. Not only did this allow students to realise that these reactions were normal, but also put a positive spin on them.
  4. Before a presentation, ask your students to write a ‘recipe for success’ and a ‘recipe for disaster.’ I love this task so much! It really pushes students to think about what they need to do to perform an effective, confident and calm presentation, and contrast how they would prepare if they wanted to do a terrible job and let nerves take over. When I was really struggling with public speaking myself, I found it incredibly useful (and amusing) to write my recipe for disaster. It was a big turning point for me, because I realised that I’d spent my entire life up to that point following the wrong recipe!
  5. Notice – listen – understand – but still challenge. When I come across a child who is too afraid to speak in class, I set them a challenge of putting their hand up once a half-term/fortnight/week/lesson. I usually tell them to get this out of the way at the beginning of the lesson, so they’re not worrying about it. This doesn’t work for everyone, but I’ve found this really successful with some students. You can see the mixture of relief and pride cross their face once they’ve ‘done the deed’, and wonder what they were so worried about. Even better, once this becomes a regular pattern, you can see them build up positive momentum. After a while you can’t shut them up!

 

Have I missed anything? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Slow writing? Quick progress for weak writers.

When I arrived at secondary school, I’m ashamed to say that I’d never heard of ‘slow writing.’ In fact, I only heard about it through a chance encounter with one of the English teachers in the work room. I was grumbling away about the lack of progress in my special needs English group and at the point where I felt like nothing I’d tried was working, when she suggested that I try ‘slow writing.’

Basically, the idea is that students are told what each sentence must include. For example, sentence one must start with an ‘ing ly’ opener; sentence two must include a connective and so on.

It’s true that this is very prescriptive, but it has worked wonders with my SEND writing group.

Previously, these students just couldn’t generate the ideas needed for a lengthy piece of writing, even with planning frames and speaking prep time. Many also were incredibly frustrated because they had the ideas, but just didn’t have the ability to get these onto paper. Then there were the students at the upper end of the group, who can spell and write, but tend to write huge streams of unconscious waffle.

Did they like this style of writing? Not at first, no. The group did complain a lot about having to write what they were told. I also had issues in that this approach relied on them understanding at least basic grammatical words and terms. Even with examples and explanations, I found I would have to recap individually what a simile was, or what a sentence with a subordinate clause would look like. Really though, as I find with any new approach, the key is training students up over time and patience.

We’ve just completed our fourth structured ‘slow write’ this term and the complaints have dropped. The work that my group is producing is of much higher quality and they’re all very proud of themselves. They’ve also built up their SPaG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) knowledge as a positive side effect of this.

I’ve attached a slow writing sheet – Mr. Bean at the dentist – slow writing task and example – that I used with my SEND group at the end of a unit of work based on Mr. Bean. We watched a video clip of Mr. Bean getting up late for the dentist and I showed students examples of slow writing to match this. Their task was then to complete slow writing for the second half of the clip, following the set structure. While this isn’t really my kind of humour, I find that Mr. Bean is a MASSIVE hit with KS2 and SEND KS3 students so the fact that they’re happy and engaged certainly helps! Here’s the clip in full:

Slow writing really is such a simple idea, but it has made a huge difference to the progress, skill, understanding and confidence of some very weak writers. I will certainly be using this again.

 

QUICK READ: Top 5 tips to build resilience in the classroom

  1. Teach it! So many of us mope into the Staff room and complain about how easily our students give up/quit/don’t even try (my past-self included) without stopping to ask if anyone has ever spoken to them about what resilience is and why we need it, especially when it concerns children who lack positive role models at home. Many Primary Schools and some Secondary School leaders are beginning see the value of a ‘Growth Mind-set’ approach and with this, the need to explicitly teach resilience through models such as ‘the learning pit.’ Whatever age you teach and however you discuss this, it’s important to remind students that fear, difficultly and struggle go hand-in-hand with challenge and growth, and that ‘the only way out is through.’
  2. Give kids an ‘out’ so that they can make a mistake. If, for example, you are drawing posters and you’re faced with a child who repeatedly rips up their work because they ‘don’t think it’s good enough’, I tell them that they can do this only once and then they must use the mistake and make it part of their work.
  3. Instil an ethos of Independent Learning. I like to have the 5 Bs posters on the wall which represent a series of things that students need to do before shouting, “Miss!” These are: Brain, Book, Board, Buddy, and Boss. “Ask three before me,” is something that we say a lot too and the children at KS2/3-age respond really well to this. Often, students will tell me that they ‘don’t get it’ before they’ve even read the task sheet, or because they didn’t listen to the instructions. Instead, direct them to their classmates – this saves you from repeating yourself and it benefits the child who is explaining as they have to break this down into simple terms.
  4. Sometimes you need to refuse help. Harsh as this sounds, some children (especially SEN or low-ability pupils) have been allowed to become totally dependent on adults – they’ve come to understand that if they ask for it, someone else will tell them what to do and even do it for them. This approach only ensures that they’ll never learn to think for themselves or believe that they are capable of anything on their own; that’s simply not good enough. If I think it’s a moment of ‘learned helplessness,’ I might say, “I’m afraid I can’t help you with this one because I know you can do this…” Depending on the student/day/topic/your relationship, you may use a firm tone to reinforce this, ensuring that the student knows what the exact consequences of non-compliance will be; or you might adopt a more humorous, playful tone. Sadly, this is often something that you might only learn after the student has flipped a table over. This is where your resilience comes into play!
  5. Reward resilience. Whether it is stamps in planners, an email to their form tutor or even a quick call or postcard home, praise students who persevere through problems and don’t give in. It doesn’t matter whether the actual work/team project/presentation looks like a dog’s dinner; you’re specifically praising their effort and resilience, rather than their ability, reinforcing their self-image as someone who doesn’t give in when things are tough and achieves good results through hard work.

 

Role model: Nick Vujicic

If you’re looking to inspire students with a positive role model – someone who showcases a can-do attitude and resilience through times of hardship; someone that makes other people’s lives better just by being there; someone who inspires others to be the best possible version of themselves – you’d be hard pressed to find better than Nick Vujicic.

I’ve come across Nick’s story a few times and it never loses its impact. Born with a rare condition called Phocomelia syndrome, he is a man without arms or legs, earning a living as a motivational speaker.

He is the human equivalent to Ghandi’s quote, “My life is my message.”

He travels the globe, selling his message of hope and faith in times of hopelessness, ‘changing obstacles into opportunities’ and using words to build rather than break others down. What I really like about Nick is that he often speaks in schools, reminding angst-ridden adolescents that they ought to be kinder to each other and themselves; that they’re not worthless and nor do they need completing or improving in some way; and that any negative situation, no matter how dire it seems, can be turned around with the right attitude.

I’ve shown the clip above to various classes across year groups. I follow this up with a few key questions: ‘Why do you think I’ve chosen to show you Nick’s story? Is there anything that you found interesting about this? If you were in that situation, do you think you would feel the same way? Would things work out differently for you…why? What can we learn from this man?’  

When I have students in detention – specifically those who make endless excuses for their poor work/effort/behaviour – I like to set them off on the ipad or PC, researching Nick’s story and answering questions, under the guise of completing a comprehension task.

Many kids who struggle to behave in school have home lives that are the opposite of what a supportive, steady and nurturing home life should be, and it’s easy to understand why they make excuses for themselves. They feel ‘hard done by’ – and many truly are.

But in order for their negative home environment not to become ‘their story’ for life, we need to expose them to inspirational people like Nick Vujicic, who remind us all that anything is possible.

From their perspective, they see someone who is ‘worse off’ than them, but somehow still perseveres, achieves, inspires and conquers.    

You can follow Nick on Twitter @nickvujicic or visit https://www.attitudeisaltitude.com/ for more information. I’ve included a link at the top of the page to a 4 minute highlight clip from YouTube – this is just the right length to throw into lessons and prompt discussion – but there are a range of lengthier clips to choose from if you feel like delving deeper.