Have you ever considered yoga for the kids in your setting? Well, it might be just the activity you’re looking for.
In the latest in our series on physical activity and SEN, we’re going to dive even deeper into the benefits of yoga for kids. Why yoga? Well, not only is it a great way to encourage play in children across a range of special needs, it can also be hugely beneficial to their early development.
Even better, it’s an activity that children of all abilities can enjoy together. Let’s take a look at why.
It all comes back to play
Play is one of the most powerful motivators in early years, encouraging children to be creative and to develop their ideas, understanding and language. Through play, children can explore, apply and test out what they know, what they can do, and start to understand the world they live in.
However, when you have SEN children in your care, who may struggle with communication, interaction and socialisation, ‘play’ can be far from a natural process.
So why Yoga?
At first glance, yoga and the early years might seem like a strange pairing.
Yoga is an activity often associated with stillness and absolute calm – a couple of attributes that might seem a world away from a busy nursery. But with yoga for kids, it doesn’t always work that way. According to Helen Garabedian, Author of Itsy Bitsy Yoga for Toddlers and Preschoolers, ‘many poses are active and playful, which helps children cope with their emotions’.
Yoga is not only a fun activity but one that could have a real impact on child development. For SEN children in particular, being at nursery can sometimes be highly stressful and so teaching them to relax is really important. Even though it ’s a physical activity, yoga’s non-competitive nature can really calm children with SEN. Yoga for kids doesn’t have to be the sort of physical postures and movements we’ve mentioned before either – it could simply be a set of useful breathing exercises that the children can turn to when they need.
With more and more research supporting the inclusion of children with SEN into mainstream settings, it is important that those children do get the extra support when they need it. That’s the beauty of yoga. It can be done as a one-on-one calming activity, or as an inclusive whole class exercise.
Yoga and the experts
So who is leading the charge when it comes to yoga for kids with SEN?
Sonia Sumar is one of the huge drivers behind the movement and her book, Yoga for the Special Child is one of the leading resources on the approach. An expert yoga teacher, Sumar delves deep into the variety of ways in which yoga can affect children with SEN.
Christina Enneking, another huge advocate of yoga for kids and the founder of Heart Happy Yoga, believes practising yoga introduces children to cornerstone values. Some of these values include truthfulness, moderation, gratitude, and self-discipline.
There’s scientific evidence behind the cause too. A study from the US has revealed that a daily yoga program reduced aggressive behavior, social withdrawal, and hyperactivity in autistic children, when compared to a control group of autistic children who did not practice yoga.
For young children with SEN, yoga also can help them to accept their own limitations, whatever they may be. This self-acceptance is a base that yoga then helps to develop and learning to rise above these limitations means that real and lasting progress is possible for these children. But that’s not all that yoga can lead to…
1. Muscle strength, balance, and motor functions
Yoga for kids can help to promote their physical strength as they learn to use their muscles in new ways. Different poses challenge different muscle groups and help each child to become aware of their body and the way it functions.
2. Focus and concentration
By practising different poses, your children will be encouraged to clear their mind and focus on the movement or technique in practice. Working on a single focus will develop their concentration, which can have positive repercussions in other areas of their development too.
3. Flexibility, suppleness and correct postural alignment
Achieving balance is very important in yoga. Even for SEN children that find balancing hard, in a calm environment they will gain mental and physical stability from being patient. Working with that child to remain calm whilst they wobble over will help them with their stability. With regular practice, their physical balance will improve, and the child will get a hugely important sense of accomplishment.
4. Self-awareness and calm, organised mental states
By exercising the physical body and calming the mind, your children will develop a sound mind-body connection. Yoga teaches children to persevere, be patient, and work towards achieving more. As we mentioned earlier, mastering a pose can offer a huge boost to both their confidence and self-esteem as well.
You can always put soothing music on whilst practising yoga to help calm the children – there are plenty of playlists on YouTube. Although yoga is classed as physical exercise, it mustn’t be overlooked as an exercise for the brain too. It can bring calm to a very active mind, so it’s not only a great stress reliever for your children, but for your staff too!
Convinced? Time to get started. Begin by deciding on a simple routine, like some of the animal poses we mentioned last time and a staff member that is happy to instruct the children. The only requirements you need are proper instruction and regular practice. You should repeat the same yoga postures over several weeks allowing the children to become at ease with them, letting their skills and confidence improve.
It is not a costly activity – buying yoga mats and props are only optional. You can have a great yoga session on the floor, or even out in the fresh air if the weather doesn’t have other plans.
Some ideas if you do want to invest a little money:
- Mats – Brightly coloured or patterned yoga mats may make the session even more fun!
- A bell – Chiming a bell when it is time to start yoga signals to the children that it is time to start and/or finish. They will associate this noise with bringing their focus and concentration to yoga.
- Hoberman sphere – This is a great visual tool for breathing exercises in yoga. You can show the sphere expanding as you breathe in and then shrinking when you exhale, representing your lungs. It’s a great visual aid for the children to copy and will help them to control their breathing.
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