Monday, February 20, 2012

Creativity on the Move:
Yoga Flash Cards for Kids

My father introduced me to yoga when I was a first grader.  Starting full day school was stressful for me and falling asleep on school nights did not come easily.  So my dad taught me some tried and true yoga poses and relaxation exercises that we practiced each evening.  I continued to do yoga and twenty years later I found yoga to be a tremendous help during my pregnancies.  Shiva Rea’s Prenatal Yoga DVD made its way onto our living room TV almost every day, right up until each of my boy’s births. 

Mommy takes a moment in this restful pose
while getting a, suprisingly nice, toy car massage

Now as a mom of two busy little boys I struggle to find time and space to practice yoga.  As a morning person, I would love to start my day with a salute to the sun as it peaks over the horizon.  Unfortunately, sleepless nights with a hungry newborn or teething toddler have prevented me from waking up before I absolutely have to.  On the rare occasion that I do wake up before the boys, our squeaky staircase nearly always gives me away, waking my guys up and keeping me from sneaking down to the living room to catch a half hour of uninterrupted quiet.  Evenings are tough too.  Between the boy’s bedtime routines, doing the dishes and catching up on anything else that I want to get done while the kids are asleep, I have used up the last scraps of the day.  A yoga teacher (and mother of four) suggested that I had to figure out a way to include the kids to fit my practice in.  Riiiiiight.  She must know what she’s talking about, she has two times as many children as I do, but including them seemed impossible!  If my youngest wasn’t driving toy cars and trucks along my spine while I was curled into child’s pose, my preschooler was literally burrowing under my mat or using my block as a drum set. 
Balancing in tree pose
Then I took a mommy and me yoga class, taught by a friend of mine.  The class incorporated an element of storytelling.  How creative and cool is that?!  After considering this concept I came up with a project idea for my kids and me that combined visual art, storytelling and movement.  We made a deck of flashcards with illustrations of animals, places, people, and miscellaneous things on one side and a written explanation and stick figure diagram on the opposite side.  Many yoga poses mimic things from the natural world and various exercises from other physical practices like aerobics and pilates can remind you of verbs and nouns that can be used in storytelling. 
Making the cards stretched my kid’s imaginations.  Drawing and coloring strengthens fine motor skills and muscles used for writing.  We labeled the pictures which gave my preschooler some practice writing.  Then we spread the finished cards out on the floor, pick out pictures and place them in a long line in the order we wanted the story to go.  During our time of storytelling we are building vocabulary and communication skills.  We exercise our bodies by acting out the story.  It may not be the yoga practice I used to have or one I was striving for, but it got us moving and stretching.
  The nature of the flashcards helps us to make up a new story each time we use them which keeps it fun and helps us to flex our imaginations to!  Try making your own set of yoga storytelling flashcards.  Get creative and get moving with your little ones!
·         Index Cards
·         Favorite Art Supplies: markers, crayons, letter stamps & ink pads, magazines, scissors, glue, pencils,
·         a rubber band or manila envelope (to hold the deck of flash cards all together)
1. Make the cards illustrating the poses and exercises. 
·         draw the picture and have your child color it in
·         search for free coloring pages online and print them to fit your index cards or print them on cardstock that can be cut to size and have your child color them in
·         cut out pictures from magazines and glue them on with a glue stick
2. Label the picture: if your child is able and in the mood, verbally tell him or her what letters to write. 
If not, try one of these alternative options:
·         write the word on a scrap paper or type them on a computer screen and have your child copy the letters
·         write the letters lightly in pencil and have your child trace them with brightly colored markers
·         write the letters with dashed lines to create a dot-to-dot type image that your child can connect with markers
·         type the labels in an easy to read font, print them out and have your child glue them to the card
·         use letter stamps and help your child find each letter and stamp it on the card (even though they aren’t practicing their writing skills this helps with letter recognition and strengthens their fine motor skills)
3. Draw the stick figure demonstrating the exercise on the opposite side of the card and write a brief description of what to do.
Here are a few examples of yoga poses and aerobic exercises you can use to get started:
1.       Tree pose: balance on one leg with the sole of your other foot resting at your knee
2.       Mountain pose: stand with your feet a comfortable distance apart (under your hips) put your palms together in front of your chest
3.       Volcano: start in mountain pose and move your hands upward and then as they stretch towards the ceiling open your arms, rotate your palms outward and sweep them down to your sides and then back to the starting position. All while making volcanic noises of course!
4.       Lion: start seated in a cross legged position lean forward onto hands and knees and roar while sticking out your tongue.
5.       Cow: Kneel on all fours with your knees under your hips and hands under your shoulders.  Start with your spine flat like a table top as you exhale relax your spine stretching your tummy towards the floor gently and say, “moo” for sure!
6.       Cat: Kneel on all fours with your knees under your hips and hands under shoulders.  Inhale and tip the hip bones towards the ceiling while drawing the shoulders back and down away from your ears. Exhale and tuck the chin while pulling your belly towards your spine. Round the back and feel a stretch down your spine.  And don’t forget to meow!
7.       Cobra: lie on your stomach, gently lift your head and upper body and hiss
8.       Surfer (aka: warrior): stand on a yoga mat or towel and with your feet spread out wide point one foot toward the front of the mat (pretend it’s your surf board) hold your arms out straight and try to keep balance while to pretend to ride the waves!
9.       Bicycle: lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent.  Bring your knees up so your thighs are perpendicular to the floor and peddle your feet like you are on a bicycle.
10.   Swimming: lie on your stomach with legs straight and together.  Keeping your shoulders away from your ears as you stretch your arms straight overhead. Pull your abs in so you feel your belly button pull up away from the floor and while looking at the floor so as not to crease your neck, extend your arms and legs so they lift off the floor alternate right arm/left leg, then left arm/right leg, pumping them up and down in small pulses as if you are swimming.
Make a few at a time so it doesn’t become overwhelming.  This is an ongoing project; you can always add more cards to the deck!  It’s more about the process than the product! 
If you choose to do collage and are cutting and pasting elements of your cards (like magazine pictures and or printed words) keep them together in a big manila envelope so you can keep track of all the pieces between crafting sessions. 
Older children might benefit from talking about different parts of a story.  Talk about setting, characters, plot, conflict and resolution if you like.  You can even color code your cards to remind children which ones are nouns and which ones are verbs.
Remember this is a time to teach your child about how yoga helps your body be strong and calm, you can blow off steam and energy but also breathe and relax.  It’s also about paying attention to your body and how it feels.  Skip anything that doesn’t feel good. 

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