By Franziska Laskaris, Assistant Director of Elementary School
We hope everyone had a restful and joyful holiday break and new year! We are back in full swing in the elementary school. Since the start of the school year the Chapman and Whittier rooms have been participating in a daily yoga program called Get Ready to Learn Yoga developed by occupational therapist, Ann Buckley-Reen, OTR, RYT. The Chapman Room practices daily each morning, with an additional afternoon session once a week, while the Whittier Room, due to scheduling conflicts, modifies the frequency of sessions each week.
This exciting program was introduced to us by Alyssa Fagan, one of the elementary school occupational therapists. After receiving training over the summer, we felt it would an exceptional tool for our students and decided to pilot the program in both the Chapman and Whittier rooms. The program is designed to address four goals: improve attention, increase self-regulation, improve the ability to transition, and develop a student’s receptive and expressive language.
A consistent environment is created each morning by playing a prescribed soundtrack and turning off the lights, thus cuing both students and teachers stop talking and begin to transition. A sign is placed on the door to alert visitors not to disturb and please come back later. The students are asked to push aside the chairs, take off their shoes, and set up their yoga mat facing the Mimio board. A video is played with Ann Buckley-Reen demonstrating each pose and the sequence of poses. These physical movements help prepare muscles and students’ minds for activities. The exercises help with body awareness, coordination, and stamina while completing tasks. The students are able to watch Ann and listen to her narrating the sequence in a calm voice. Simultaneously, one teacher is at the front of the room mirroring Ann, while the other assists students as needed. The students are encouraged to follow along, stay on their mats, and do as much as they can. The teachers use nonverbal cues to guide the students to their mat, to stop, or to change positions. The final pose is deep relaxation which helps students release any stress and allows their brains to shift into a receptive state for new learning.
At the end of the sequence, students and teachers participate in a Circle of Song. This is a call-and-response led by the teachers using different curricular words in a rhythmic exchange of sounds and patterns. The Circle of Song is intended to encourage communication, regulate breathing, improve endurance, and develop a sense of community within the class. After which the prescribed soundtrack is played again which alerts the students to transition to the next activity. Quietly, the students roll up their yoga mats, return the desks to their correct places, and finally the lights are turned on.
The students in the Chapman and Whittier rooms seem to enjoy this daily or weekly practice and have demonstrated their ability to follow the routine. With each day, students are developing their ability to complete and sustain each pose for extended periods of time and manage more independently in the classroom.