There’s plenty to fill my “urgent and important” box these days. Wonder of Children has been put in the “important but not urgent” quadrant, which I wrestled with, but knew was temporarily necessary. As I watched a four-year-old on the playground recently, I realized I needed to shift gears. (It was also a convenient way to procrastinate last-minute studying for my yoga final exam!)
Throughout the year in preschool, we’ve worked proactively on social skills. Much of this is rooted in Responsive Classroom approach which focuses on children from kindergarten through sixth grade. For years, I’ve adapted much of this approach to meet the needs of the under-six crowd. As we worked with 18 preschoolers, most of whom came to school for the first time, it was critical that we focused proactively on social skills. Milestones resulting from RC practices this year include:
- sharing and asking germane questions by April (that’s a whole other post)
- three-year olds responding to peers with, “when you tagged me like dat, I didn’t like it…ya gotta member that it’s TWO fingas…”)
- a generally amazing transformation with self-help skills
While each of this will leave a lasting impression, and social skills will continue to develop in one form or another. The teaching breath work and relaxation strategies have made an indelible mark, too. Several weeks back, we set up our “Meditation Station” and I blogged about that in 6 Easy Things to Teach and Practice Focus. Since that post, nearly every day, there’s a line to sit there. Seriously. Three- and four-year old boys (and the few girls in our class) wait to take turns gazing into a mirror, holding an object and to just be. Breath work, or pranayama, has also become a common practice in our class. I’m sure our Admissions Director, visitors and most other adults who walk in were startled at first, but seeing my preschoolers breathing silently (or loudly doing “lion’s breath“) or in various asanas, but both have simply become part of our day.
LIke many of the Responsive Classroom practices, our breath work is proactive – as we settle into morning meeting or gather for a story. It’s grounding, calming, restorative, and fairly quick. The pay-offs are huge – children find their place on the carpet, channel or stir energy needed for brief group time, and learn (consciously and subconsciously) that they can control their bodies in positive ways. On the other side, we also use pranayama as a tool to help children react or respond when they are feeling out of control.
The “Meditation Station” is one of those vehicles used to help gain control. It’s a place to go to when you feel like you need some time alone. It’s a choice a child can make when they begin (or are fully) losing control. If it’s not available, the breath work we do as a group can be easily done on our own, no matter where you might be. And they do.
Last week, on one of our “small class” days, I took my children to the hall with pillows, so that I could show them “Legs Up Wall” or Viparita Karani. We managed to line up, heads on pillows and 18″ legs stretched upward. When I suggested hands on bellies to feel the air rising, one response was, “hey….just like we do with da duckies!” (Earlier in the year, we practiced deep breathing by trying to rise and lower rubber ducks on our bellies.)
As we sat on the floor and focused quietly (with giggles) on our breath, we talked about how this really calms our bodies and lets our legs and backs rest. A few adults walked by and chuckled, and we continued sitting with our legs against the wall as if it was perfectly normal.
Demands on my personal and professional life have been running high over the past several weeks. It’s been my own yoga practice and the gift of laughter and love of these preschoolers that has helped keep me focused and breathing deeply when I start to feel overwhelmed. I know much of what we do in the room is sticking. When I spotted that four-year-old walking around the playground, deliberately tapping each finger once to his thumb as he exhaled, “sa-ta-na-ma,” I smiled, witnessing one of our meditations in action. Last week, a parent shared a story about how her older child tends to bottle his frustration and then explode. The younger sib, a preschooler noted, “he needs to just do some breathing and he’ll feel better.” Wow.
So while teaching children how to identify feelings, express their needs and desires, make and sustain friendship and a whole host of other social skills are utterly necessary, we owe children a smidge more. In this age of 24/7 information, Tiger Parenting, multiple video and audio inputs, and over-scheduled calendars are the norm. Adults are in the unique and necessary position to teach children how to slow down; the barrage of information and demands for attention only increase with age, and we must help equip our children to manage these layers.
Modeling and practicing strategies to proactively and reactively develop greater self-awareness and self-regulation are easy to over look – especially when we are challenged to call upon these skills ourselves. Whether it’s showing them the beauty, wonder and quiet of the outdoors, how to breathe, or how to let go of the little things, they need us to do that, and we need to do that for ourselves.
Children need to see a range of emotions from adults and positive, healthy ways we manage the emotions, joys and stresses in life. I’m grateful to share each morning with my wee-ones, and even more grateful when I see them taking these tiny but hugely significant steps that help them navigate the challenges of the present moment and what lies ahead.