My son and I have been taking advantage of the incredibly perfect weather in Utah lately by spending a ton of time at various nearby playgrounds. This inspired me to create a yoga class around the activity. I tested it out today at Dancing Moose Montessori, and it passed with flying colors!
To get the kids settled on their mats and focused, I started off with the “Are You Ready for Yoga?” song that I learned during my Next Generation Yoga teacher training. This is a much more successful way to start class than my previous method (“ok- everyone find a mat! Sit down quietly!” – ya, right.). After our song, I immediately pulled out the breathing ball (hoberman sphere) to keep the attention on me. In some of my larger classes, I chose a few kids who were well-behaved and invited them to take a turn leading our breath by opening and closing the ball to show us when to inhale and exhale. Even though one child was leading, I made sure the activity felt like a team effort as we were all breathing together as one. In other classes, I kept control of the ball myself. And in one class (one that had fewer kids), I let each child take a turn. All three options worked well, as I made my decision based on the unique needs of each class. Since we have used the breathing ball before, I didn’t go much into it’s explanation today, I just reminded the kids to breath in through their nose (pointed to my nose) and out through their ear (pointed to my mouth). This got a good laugh out of the kids as they quickly corrected my error.
Then I introduced the theme by telling them how much fun my son and I just had on the playground, and how I wished they had all been there. Let’s pretend to go to the playground together! How do you think we should get there? After everyone had a chance to share their thoughts, I told them that we were going to listen to a song to help us get to the playground. I used “Bicycle” by The Laurie Berkner Band – this is a nice, short song that works great as a warm-up tool. The actions are pretty self-explanatory and playing a song over the speakers has a magical way of grabbing any lost attention spans.
We made it to the playground! And lucky for us, it’s a beautiful, sunny day! Let’s stand up and say hello to the sun! (Mountain pose) Let’s reach down and touch the tickly grass (forward fold). I repeated these two postures three times, saying hello to the sun and the grass in different ways each time. Next we had an open conversation about some of our favorite things to play on at the playground. Each item had, of course, it’s own yoga posture or movement to follow. Here are some of the ones that came up most commonly:
Swings – prasarita (wide-legged forward fold) with our hand interlaced together to represent the swing. We swung forward and back, as well as side-to-side.
Slide – downward facing dog. We imagined tiny little friends sliding down our backs while saying “weeee!”.
Then we talked about how hot the slide can get if the sun is strong. Let’s check our slide to see if it’s hot! Hot! Hot! Hot! We tapped our bodies quickly to signify the temperature. Oh no! We can’t go down the slide if it’s hot! Good thing we have something that can cool it down. All eyes are on me as I bring out my spray bottle and spray it into the air. If you would like me to cool down your slide with a spray of water, sit up tall and stick out your tongue. If you do NOT want a spray, keep your tongue in your mouth. Why on earth would I spray the kids in the face? Three reasons – 1) behavior management. If the kids are crazy or losing interest, this is guaranteed to bring them back. 2) sensory experience. For many preschool kids, this is a new sensation. And a pretty hilarious one! 3) Empowerment. Allowing the kids to make a choice on whether or not they want this experience, and then honoring their choice, can be a big thing for our little ones. It can increase their self-esteem, and build trust between the two of you.
Zipline – Eagle pose. I guided the kids into this pose slowly, one step at a time, telling them they had to hold on tight with their arms and legs.
Teeter-Totter or Seesaw – boat pose with hands behind our knees, rock forward and back several times.
There were a few other playground elements that came up that required improvising – we just went with it! For the really bizarre ones, or the ones that I had no idea what they were talking about (there are some pretty crazy playgrounds out there these days!), I asked the child to show the class what it might look like.
As we started running out of ideas, or time, I told the kids that I was getting hungry and wanted to have a picnic. We turned our yoga mats into picnic blankets and took a seat. Next we made sandwiches, using our feet as the bread (baddha konasana), and pretended to eat them. Some of the kids found this hilarious others thought it was disgusting, but either way, they loved it! We ended class by laying on our picnic blankets and looking at the clouds in the sky. I guided them through a visual meditation of the different things they might see, hear, and smell from their picnic blanket. Before sending these little yogis back to their classroom, I asked them to join me in singing our song of “Om” sending peace and love to each other and finished by saying our super secret yoga code word together…Namaste.