IMG_1393As an educator, I am always learning. Each school year I work to implement research based strategies and teaching methods in my efforts to meet the diverse needs of the learners in my classroom. Over my fifteen years of teaching in a public school, I have developed a strong understanding that, although we are expected to (and, of course strive to) teach every child, our students do not always come into the classroom ready to learn. Unfortunately, many children have issues related to self-regulation that can lead to academic and behavioral issues at school. Many factors contribute to this reality, including but not limited to:
  • Increasing academic demands that contributes to an element of stress in the classroom.
  • Many children (and their parents) overuse technology. This increased amount of screen-time combined with a decrease in the amount of unstructured play experiences has left less time for the development of interpersonal skills in children.
  • In our chaotic culture where multitasking is predominant, both children and adults often experience sensory overload that can be hard for our minds and bodies to process.
  • A significant amount of children and families have challenging life/home circumstances and/or have experienced traumatic events that add to personal and family stress levels.
Many of these circumstances are beyond the control of a classroom teacher, but can have a direct effect on a student's learning and on the learning of others in the classroom.

Is there a solution? First and foremost, we as parents need to be reflective and intentional with our parenting practices. We need to be involved, present and chose model healthy lifestyle choices for our own wellbeing and for the wellbeing of our children. We also need to support each other, being compassionate to different family situations and needs. It is quite conclusive that schools need to provide more than academic instruction to support children. Our children deserve a whole child approach to their education, one that addresses their academic, social and emotional learning (SEL). For this to happen, school systems and educators need to be supported by national, state and community stakeholders along with individual families.

Changes in our educational system and how we service our children is a work in progress. Organizations such as ASCD and CASEL actively support a whole-child approach to education along with some states, many individual districts and schools. Continued research, awareness and support of social emotional learning make it easier for schools to find and implement evidence based SEL programming that are both effective and easy to integrate into the school curriculum.

Seeking Tools to Support the Social and Emotional Needs of My Students As a mother and kindergarten teacher my teaching philosophy is grounded with whole child education ideals. Throughout my career I have implemented a variety of different strategies and methods in my classroom to help my students grow as individuals beyond the scope of their academic skills. I too have sought out strategies and tools as an individual to help me stay grounded and manage my own stress in a healthy way. Some of my personal experiences using yoga and mindfulness strategies for my own well-being lead me to the Yoga 4 Classrooms® program. Yoga 4 Classrooms® is a classroom based yoga and mindfulness program for schools that "empowers students and educators to create positive, peaceful, productive classrooms that support school goals by promoting movement, social and emotional skills, and learning readiness." I was able to attend a training opportunity and started I started implementing the program in my classroom with notable results.

Using Yoga and Mindfulness in the classroom I really like the Yoga 4 Classrooms® program because it includes a mix of yoga postures, brain boosting movements, breath exercises, visualizations, mindfulness activities, creative movement and community-building activities. There are also wellness and character-building discussion points that address the whole child - physical, social and emotional. Activities in the Yoga 4 Classrooms® program fall into six categories:
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Let's Breathe: helps calm and center, or empower and energize.

At Your Desk: provides physical relief from long periods of sitting, improves focus, and keeps body systems functioning efficiently.

Stand Strong: provides simple, structured opportunities to stand up, stretch, balance and strengthen.

Loosen Up: dispels stress through energetic release or introspection and focus.

Imagination Vacation: offers child-friendly approaches to meditation through guided visualization, helping students bring their awareness to the present moment, which is the necessary state for learning.

Be Well: offers a framework for child-friendly discussions on topics supporting health and wellness. Implementing yoga and mindfulness practices in my classroom is not only beneficial to my students, but also for me as a teacher.

Sometimes all it can just take is a deep breath, an intentional movement or a mindful discussion to help bring peace and productivity to a classroom.

 
Author's Note: Special thanks to Lisa Flynn, founder and CEO of Yoga 4 Classrooms and ChildLight Yoga for providing supporting content for this article.

Photo Credit: Yoga 4 Classrooms