Children ages 3-8 receive approximately 15-25 minutes to move during their 6-8 hour school day. Imagine for a moment that you have to sit at your work desk for 6-8 hours without leaving your seat except for 20 minutes to move around (often times in an empty gymnasium) and about 30 minutes to eat your lunch. At the end of the day you’d be breaking down, exhausted, on the verge of tears and increasingly unmotivated to return the next day. Your job performance would suffer and I’m sure your coworkers would bear the brunt of your misery.
Now imagine that you are not equipped with the analytical capacity and emotional regulation of an adult. Instead, you are a child who is still going through a massive emotional and intellectual developmental growth and who’s physical body does not possess the muscle mass to support your core during this 6 hour work time. Welcome to most children’s school experience upon entering the traditional school system.
How do we fit in another recess?
After working as a preschool teacher for several years, I realize just how difficult it is to find structured movement time when the day’s schedule demands not just punctuality but also progress. With so many benchmarks to work towards while still making time for things like extracurriculars, snack, lunch, potty breaks, a sip of coffee, parent meetings, emails, diaper changes (depending on your classroom), nap times, prep work and so much more, often times this important task of movement gets pushed aside. This can be especially prevalent when movement often looks like barely controlled chaos (can I get an amen).
Luckily, for a child to benefit from movement, there doesn’t need to be a playground, climbing equipment, soccer ball or even a massive amount of space. Beneficial movement can be worked into 1-5 minute time spans that not only become classroom management skills for the teacher but also regulatory techniques for the children to carry with them. Preschool classrooms, elementary, middle and even highschool students benefit from groove breaks and breathing exercises that get their blood pumping, their minds focused and their wiggles… well… wiggled 🙂
Groove breaks are an awesome way to wake up students and teachers alike. Here I’ve listed our first way to break the physical stagnation that occurs in the classroom. Chair Yoga will help students wake up, focus, maintain stress free attitudes and reset their sympathetic nervous systems to release the fight or flight response that occurs during physical discomfort and stress.
For students spending their day at a desk or table setting, their core becomes weakened from improper posture and support. These stiff muscles can not only become a painful distraction but also restrict blood flow to the brain and extremities as well as prevent functional breathing.
Chair yoga is simple, effective and can be accomplished in less than 4 minutes.
- Seated Staff – have students come to the edge of their seats with their feet planted firmly on the ground. Their knees should be over their ankles. To cue proper poster, ask students to tie an imaginary string to the top of their head and pull it up up up until they are as tall as can be. On an inhale, students raise their arms straight overhead. To avoid crunching, ask students to take their shoulders down away from their ears. On the exhale, students slowly lower their arms while maintaining that upright posture. Repeat at least 2x.
- Seated Ragdoll – While I don’t have the time to explain the myriad of health benefits of getting upside down, I will summarize it by saying that it is sooooo good for you! Getting upside down helps flush out old blood while bringing fresh oxygenated blood to the brain. Super important for people of ANY age! If students are at a desk, have them turn to face the aisle. If they are at a table, have them scoot their chair back. First, have the students tie on their imaginary string and pull themselves up tall. Cue them to inhale slowly through the nose as they straighten. On the exhale, have the students fold their body across their lap so their torso touches their thighs and their heads hang down past their knees. Allow the students at least 30 seconds of just hanging. On the inhale, students rise back up to sitting and exhale when they reach the top. *If you have a student who is not proportioned for this pose, have them widen their knees so the space is created for their head to drop down.*
- Seated Pigeon – Again, turn students or scoot them back so they have space in front of them. Have students place their right ankle onto their left knee. Once their, have students sit tall and inhale. On the exhale, have students gently push their right knee down and away from them. For some students this will be simple as they have very mobile hip joints. For others, their knee will stay quite high in the air. Do NOT adjust any child to further their stretch. Trust that they know their own bodies. After doing at least 10 seconds on the right leg, advise children not to drop their foot to the floor when switching. Instead, have them lower it gently. Perhaps tell them you want to see if they can make no sound at all. This provides better muscle control around the joint. At this point, switch sides following the same steps.
- Seated Fish Pose – While dropping toward is super important, so is bending backwards. This opens the lungs and metatarsals between the ribs and allows for better lung capacity. It also stimulates the vagus nerve. Have children scoot forward on their seat and plant their feet firmly on the floor. Cue this by telling them to push the Earth down with the bottom of their whole foot. Before sitting tall, have children reach down and hold onto the edge of their chair just behind their bottoms. On the inhale, advise children to reach their chest (not their belly or neck) forward as if your puffing out like a blowfish. Their head may naturally fall backwards. For safety, tell children to point their nose at the ceiling rather than letting them hang it backwards. On the exhale allow the students to relax their posture while still holding on to their chair. Repeat at least 3x.
- Seated Cat Cow – This is a great follow up to seated fish pose as it continues to stretch the rib cage and spine. Have children sit tall with feet firmly planted. By now, this practice of making themselves taller should become routine for them. They can position their hands on their thighs, waist or hips. Slowly on an inhale, have students curl their back as if they were a black cat on Halloween. Their chins should drop to their chest and their torso should create a “C” shape. On the exhale, have them make the opposite motion. Their chest will stretch forwards as their tailbones press back. As with the fish pose, prompt them to point their nose to the ceiling. These breaths can be as long or as short as you need. Be sure to do at least 2 rounds.
Breathing in the Classroom
Breathing is extremely under utilized in the modern day. The health benefits, both physical and mental, are too numerous to count. An excellent tool to help children understand the way their breath works is a Hoberman Sphere. This classic toy mimics the human lungs on a wonderful level. The design makes it pleasing to the eye and promotes engagement from students. These can be picked up at a local Walmart, toy store, Target or online at any sites like Amazon.
Before beginning, explain to your students that we are pretending that this Hoberman Sphere is our lungs. We are going to fill and empty them just like the sphere expands and contracts. (Gets big and small for a younger crowd) Holding the sphere out in front of you, prompt the students to empty their lungs by blowing out. You can compare this to blowing out birthday candles. Then, on counts of 4, expand the sphere to full size while inhaling. When fill capacity is reached, shrink the sphere with an exhale and counting of 4. Try doing this at least five times.
“Can I Try?”
These exercises are super simple and offer a great opportunity for children to take on leadership roles. Once the class understands the routine, try choosing a helper to guide the classroom through their five minute groove break. More than one child can lead the routine at a time as well.
I would caution against using these breaks as a reward. Chances are, if students are rowdy or unsettled, they NEED a break. Kiddos need the opportunity to learn techniques that promote strong mental health and physical well being. They need to know that their bodies are meant to move and taking a moment to do so can get them back on track to success.