Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Living, Moving Stories

There's a lot of literature and research that points to a correlation between an engaged mind and an active body.  On this last day of the year, I've condensed some of the best articles and books I've read on this topic into a pep talk & brainstorm post.  Please think about including movement, --whether it is yoga or imaginative play or something you create and name yourself -- into your time with kids in the coming year.

Need ideas?  Read on.

Breathing:  breathing in and out mindfully is a great way to start teaching body awareness and relaxation.  Think up a meaningful way to express the idea of breath awareness.  Belly Out/Belly Flat?  Balloon In/Balloon Up?  In voice lessons, I was taught that my lungs extended deep into my body, and that to fill them you are actually filling your torso.  Help a kid with this concept by having him lie down and put an object on his stomach.  Have him try to make the object rise and fall with his breath.  Yoginis may want to teach breath through the nose (feel the warm air coming out your nose, the cooler air coming in) but that's a pretty specialized skill for a toddler.

Sitting:  People are amazed that my 5-year-old meditates with me.  "How can he sit still?" is their primary question.  Honestly, meditation with my child does not last all morning, but I have gotten him to meditate by lots of practice and repetition.  If sitting still doesn't appeal to your little one, try doing cat/cow pose in a sitting position or incorporating arm movements into breath (anyone who's been to ballet class remembers the five positions: try using them, or windmilling your arms, in tune with your breath.)  My old voice teacher talked about the "invisible string" that pulled the sternum up in the air to increase lung capacity.  Meditation books ask you to position your spine straight, with head held high and shoulders down.  Create a version of this concept that works for you and your kid.  (My personal favorite is imagining to sit tall like a proud, strong deer- what animal might your little one respond to?)

Simple Movements from a Sitting Position:  Rock back and forth.  Or side to side.  Circles?  Sitting cross-legged, you can still maximize movement by moving or placing hands in one spot as your body is largely stationary.  Try moving hands behind your body to a semblance of "camel" pose or forward towards child's pose.

More Movement:  If you are a yogini, or have access to a book or website with yoga poses, there are many poses you can incorporate into stories or transition times.  Or, get crazy and have your children imagine how a ____ (fill in the blank with story character) moves his body when he's ____ (fill in emotions or actions from the story.  Now you're getting deep into comprehension strategies!)

Ladybug Crawls Past: In "Thread The Needle" pose, imagine ladybugs crawling past under your body, by your feet.  Allowing your fingers to "crawl" through the needle is the ultimate ladybug imagination game.

Frog Pose:  Froggy jumps up and down in place whenever something happy occurs.  Extend the imagination play beyond the simple yoga pose -- ask your child to make Froggy FLY or STAND in her jumps.  (PS: This is really great cardio for Mama or Papa, too!)  What does Froggy look like standing?  Do you add "ribbit" noises?  Have fun.

Tree Pose:  be a tree, or use your imagination!  Tree pose is obviously also a flamingo.  Or a sign post.  Or the beginning of a whole host of shape-induced yoga poses.  (Square- camel.  Circle?  Star?  Straight line?  Now squiggle and have some fun!)

Other Poses for Kids: Star, Warrior I and II, Bow even Pilates moves like the 100s or swimming on your belly are fun and do not take a lot of carpet space.  Even if you story time is FULL, you can incorporate moves into your story times!

Sweet Endings: If you've ever done this type of movement in a lesson, you know kids can get quite excited in the process.  So when story time is over, be sure to include a few cool-down poses.  Cobbler, Butterfly, Happy Baby and seated twist are usually safe and great for calming.  I've had a lot of luck with dead-man's pose (laying flat on the ground, breathing deeply with eyes closed) as a reconnect to the rest of the day.  Hey, it works for adults, so why wouldn't kids enjoy a brief rest to refresh?

Many of the ideas for this post are from an old Australian DVD called "Kinda-Yoga." It's a great series.  If you are interested in ingraining yoga stories into your library, you should buy them!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Imagination Games

Imagination has come up in serendipitous ways this week.  Part of our story time was about imaging hot and cold weather and our physical reaction to it (though that did not require much imagination with the peculiar Dallas weather we have this time of year.) Then, it came up in an article and on a television show my son was watching.

Imagination games are great ways to fill a couple minutes in story time.  You can use one as pre-reading to prepare kids and remind them of previous schema/knowledge, or after a story when you want to check for understanding.  Keeping the body busy enhances kinesthetic memory and engagement. Here are a couple ways I've been using imagination games this week:

The Imagination Dance Game (great for transition time)
Dance like a salt and pepper shaker.
Dance like a ball.
Dance like a flower.
Dance like a book!

Winter "Move your body" like...
You're in the snow with no coat!
You're sipping hot cocoa.
You're making snowballs with no gloves on!
You're warming your hands by the fire.

Imagination games relating to story
Take scenes from a book that have strong imagery and act them out, even if they're just a quick gesture.  In "Something Beautiful" by Sharon Wyeth, I had the children imagine how it felt for the heroine to erase the hateful messages on her apartment door and sweep the courtyard- acting out healing her home helps the kids focus on the message of creating beauty in things they can control.

Yoga poses, one of my favorite imagination games, don't require much space but allow good stretching opportunities.  Once children get into a pose, they can be encouraged to move and make sounds appropriate to the animal, object or person.  Inventing poses is a favorite activity of several of my students.

One of my son's favorite imagination games is "Playing Puppies."  I pretend to go to a pet store and "buy" him, but I have to guess what kind of animal he is by the way he moves and the answers he gives to my questions.  Then, he "comes home" with me and we interact, using the criteria he gave to identify himself.  It's silly and fun, and I have a hard time saying no when he wants to play.  One day. play like this will lead to theater impromptu games, and those are some of the most fun!

There are so many more ways to incorporate movement and imagination play.  Traditional toys and play items, like a jump rope, sheets and boxes are natural for at-home imagination play.  The big boxes in my living room are castles, garages, stores and cabins on various days.

What are some other great imagination games?