What do emotions look like? What do they feel like? How can the children express themselves, and how can they do it effectively? How do we help the children understand- where is my space and what is yours? How can we support them in realizing what their body needs, and how to support them in being self sufficient?
At Preschool of the Arts, we practice breathing techniques, mindfulness and yoga with children to help them learn social and emotional learning, emotion regulation, and pro-social skills. This comes in many types of experiences, depending on the age of the children and the needs of the classroom.
Last year, PSA partnered with an organization called Breathe for Change. Breathe for Change focuses on mindfulness and wellness, both for educators and students. In the classroom, Breathe for Change introduced the children to “buddy breathing”, where a stuffed animal goes for a ride on your tummy while you lay back taking deep breaths.
Another breathing exercise that is practiced in some classrooms is “friendship breath”. Students begin by sitting back-to-back and taking deep breaths together. Then, they take turns stretching on their partner’s back. When asked how that feels, the children responded “I like that” and “That feels good!”. This activity leads to a conversation about how our friends can support us in yoga, or when they want to share a toy or want to play. Together, all of the children stand up and hold hands, then reach their arms upward as they take a deep breath in, then lower their arms when they exhale.
Our pedagogista, Nati, also visits classrooms to lead mindfulness sessions. Her activities and techniques provide important tools to help self regulate, increase concentration and foster and healthy mind and body. She rings her singing bowl and asks the group to focus on the noise and listen for the chimes song to dissipate – quite a task for a busy group of two-year-olds. Listening is a skill that needs to be learned. In order to listen to others, children need to be practice how listening to themselves.
Another activity is using our breath to keep a feather suspended in the air. Simple breath exercises can help the children calm and focus. In the classrooms, the PSA teachers help children understand their emotions by first giving the feelings names and then encouraging them to talk about how they are feeling. By giving the child a label for her/his emotions, we enable children to develop a vocabulary for talking about feelings.
Teacher: “How do you think Yogi (stuffed animal) is feeling today?”
Teacher: “How can we help him?”
The student demonstrated “big breathing” and many friends followed.As a way of helping the children to stretch and slow their bodies, some teachers work with the children to do age-appropriate yoga. The children have been excited to begin learning guided yoga and meditation. Yoga is a powerful tool that has physical, and mental health benefits. Studies have suggested that yoga may even help strengthen social attachments, reduce stress and anxiety, and help to cure depressive disorders including insomnia. Our yoga practice at PSA is tailored for early child development; allowing the children to have fun discovering their body’s movement, and begin to bring awareness to the power of breath which is essential to focus, and finding calmness. When mid day rolls around it is common for most to feel a drop in energy and focus. After so many activities the children’s bodies and minds may feel overloaded and overwhelmed. One way to regain their strength and focus is to practice mindful yoga that links movement to breathing. A popular pose is “Cat and Cow” which syncs breath to abdominal stimulation; not to mention a great back stretch. When the students arch it’s time to Mooooo at neighbors. Then they bring their backs up high, tuck the chin, and hiss like an alley cat.
Yoga and guided meditation can help busy children transition from lunch to rest time, or re-energize after a rest. A couple of yoga poses followed by a guided short story about feeling joy inside you helps refocus the energy in the classroom.
One day, as two children were cleaning up their lunch they said to one another:
“Yay, now we get to do yoga!”
“Yeah, I’m so excited!”
Our capable children at PSA even use mindfulness when they are out in the community. On a field trip to the Capitol, some PSA students (and teachers) were surprised by LOTS of other schools, with big kids! The teachers certainly felt a little overwhelmed. However the students proved to us just how capable they are by being incredibly tolerant and even peaceful among it all. At one point, the entire class sat in a circle in the rotunda and did our kaleidoscope mindfulness activity. They sit in a circle, and move their bodies mirroring the way one person is moving. From above, it creates a “kaleidoscope” effect. Despite all the noise and distractions, the kids were connecting to just each other and it was beautiful.