Can Early Childhood students participate in Mindful Movement? Absolutely.
People are often surprised when I tell them that I teach breathing, mindfulness and movement to children as young as one year old on a weekly basis. Even Early Educators have a hard time imagining how these techniques translate into Pre-K environments. My experience has been that these practices really resonate with young children and that the nature of body work is quite easy for them to master due to limited need for language and explanation.
Here are some tips and tricks that help when teaching breathing, mindfulness and movement with children five and under.
Routine, Routine, Routine:
No matter what age group we are teaching, routine and structure always create a feeling of safety and competency. Start with a breathing technique. Try Belly Breathing with the hoberman sphere as a great place to start. Also try Smell the Flower, Blow out the Candle. This is done by breathing in through nose while pretending to smell a flower, breathing out through mouth pretending to blow out a candle.
Incorporate a mindfulness activity, like ringing the chime for everyone to listen to or just asking children to sit for a moment to listen for all the sounds that they hear. Then pick the movement or two from the Move Mindfully® Card Deck. Finally, end with some more breathing and a brief story to tie it all together.
Less is More:
We all have a tendency to want to teach a wide variety of practices and poses. The variety comes from what we are emphasizing in the poses. We might practice Tree Pose almost every time we work with a toddler group. But some days we focus on keeping our Trees strong and tall. On other days, we try to find stillness in Tree. Sometimes we hold hands to feel what it is like to give and receive support to our friends. Just like keeping a routine, using the same poses day to day help children feel competent and confident. Typically, when starting out, we want a lesson for Early Ed to be no longer than 15-20 minutes in duration.
Embrace and Adapt:
We might come into a group of preschoolers with a well-laid out lesson plan focused on balance poses (Tree, Eagle) but are welcomed by a group of high energy, busy bodies. Our job is to meet children where they are at on any given day. We might have to start with more movement and then ease our way into more focused activities. It’s not always best to start with calming breaths. Sometimes we need to start with Arm Swings or a releasing breath before we can move into breathing with the hoberman sphere. Sometimes the best lessons we teach are the ones we are led to by the children.
Be OK with Behavior:
No matter what age we are teaching, behaviors like being unable to sit still, talking or giggling, or even not participating at all, can be indicators that children are uncomfortable with quiet and stillness. This oftentimes is not bad behavior, but actually a defense mechanism for self-protection. The more we allow children to have space to stay in the lesson (as long as they are not disrupting others) the more we allow children to move from uncomfortableness into a new way of being. A child might come in and out of participation over and over again until they finally stay engaged for the duration. Just like in our adult practices, the student knows better than the teacher about what works for them. Honoring children’s ability to show up to the best of their ability on any given day should always be our goal. If a child is being disruptive to others, having a teacher sit with them and offer encouragement can help them stay in the lesson. Other times, we may simply offer for them to sit on their mat or rest in Child’s Pose until they are ready to participate.
Compliment the Good:
We all know how great it feels to be told we are doing a good job. Call out all good behavior – especially for the children that are having a more challenging time. Encourage children to compliment each other by using student leaders and asking for peer compliments each time they lead. Not only will this build class community but more importantly it reinforces positive self-concept and self-talk.
The best part of teaching this age group is that it is FUN! Be playful, laugh and listen – some of the best teaching and insights will come from the children.
One final note on this age group – always end with a final relaxation. Even if it is only 2-3 minutes long, get the children lying down and place a beanie baby on their belly. They can breathe deeply into their belly and watch their animal rise and fall with their breath. You can also try using a puppet to demonstrate deep, relaxing breathing. Read or tell a story that fits with the lesson from that day. This time for reflection at the end of the lesson will become the children’s favorite part of your time together. Children are constantly asking “When is final story?’ because it feels so good to take that time for rest.
Check out this video to see a lesson in action!
We hope you enjoy bringing these practices to our littlest friends! Please share a comment about what you are doing in your Early Ed environments with this work – we’d love to hear from you!