classroom community · classroom management · fitness · K-2 · yoga

How to Use Yoga to Manage Emotions in your Classroom

Greetings, teachers!  So glad you made your way to my corner of the interwebs today. Today, we’re talking about two things near and dear to my heart–classroom community, and classroom management.  Often, they go hand in hand. I could go on and on about how essential community is to teaching, but I’m hoping you already know this and you’re already on board.  Kids can't learn from someone they don't like.
If you haven’t seen Rita Pierson’s TED talk on building relationships with kids, I’d encourage you to take 7 minutes and watch it now. The crux of her talk–relationships are essential to teaching–hits at the core of my teacher heart.  You don’t have to like them all, she says, but you can’t let them know that.  #truth

When I was teaching, I was in an urban district–kids were often coming from single parent families, potentially with a parent or family member incarcerated; sometimes older siblings were way too responsible for younger siblings.  Or there wasn’t enough food to go around at home.  Or there wasn’t enough money for the electric bill, so there were no lights on at night.  Lots of challenges outside of school that made coming to school and learning hard.  But despite the challenges, kids wanted to come to school, and they wanted to meet the expectations–academic and behavioral.  I noticed, though, in my first year that when I would talk to kids about their feelings//behavior we talked about the same feelings over and over again–happy, sad, mad, bad.  There was no nuance–they never said frustrated, disappointed, excited, jealous, ambivalent.  So I was looking for a way to increase their emotional vocabulary AND teach them how to manage their emotions in less explosive ways.  As I was googling and reflecting, I thought “Huh, I always feel pretty mellow, chill, and in control when I do yoga.  I wonder if I could teach my kids yoga.” The short answer is yes.  At the time, I had a super supportive principal who would let us try almost anything that would benefit students.  So, I set up my first Donors Choose project and ordered 25 yoga mats.  (Not essential, but I wanted to them have something physical that made yoga different from other time in our classroom.) We were funded somewhat quickly.  The mats arrived, and I was ready to get down to business.  Although before we did any yoga, we obviously had to have a lesson on how to use and care for our yoga mats.

Once we knew how to use and care for our mats, we hit the ground running.  Most of my kids are coming from a place where they know nothing about yoga, so I set some basic ground rules for when we did yoga as a class:  you do exactly what I do (so if I’m quiet, you’re quiet; if I stand on one leg, you stand on one leg, etc.); you stay on your own mat; you do your best.  We always turned off our lights for yoga to create a calm atmosphere, and we mostly rocked animal yoga poses.  You can search Google or Pinterest for “yoga for kids” and find some really good resources.  I found these to both be helpful:  yoga for better behavior, and the ABCs of yoga. Generally, when we did yoga as a class, I would guide them through some poses with animal//nature names–dog, flamingo, mountain, airplane. We always talked about how we felt before we started yoga and took a minute or so of personal reflection, and then we compared that to how we felt at the end of yoga. Almost always, they feel more calm, more relaxed, more available for learning.

Can I tell you that this was a magic bullet, and no one ever misbehaved in my class again?  No, of course not.  But I can tell you that it slowly and steadily increase their emotional vocabulary, and their ability to self-regulate. They were better at identifying their emotions, and calming down when they got worked up. It doesn’t take a ton of time, we didn’t do it every day, but it was worth the investment.  I encourage you to give it a shot in your class–even if you only start with a small group.

Until next time, may your coffee be strong!
xoxo, Rachel

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