Thursday, June 23, 2011

Yoga for Kids: Discipline and play

How enthusiastically my students have always taken up Yoga! I started bringing the original YogaKids video to school quite a few years ago to find that the children actively engaged themselves in mirroring the poses of the young children they saw in the video. Amidst the usual silliness of fours there was a focus centered on doing the poses that I hadn't seen before. My co-teacher and I would walk around and gently correct the children who were willing, giving kind words of encouragement. Soon I had a large book of Yoga poses in the reading corner, and children could be seen laying it on the floor and trying pose after pose, talking to each other about how they were supposed to be done.

The day after our first session parents came in asking for the information on how to obtain YogaKids. The children had enthused about it at home and their excitement was infectious! Soon, parents and children were doing the video together.

Since then the Yoga for Kids movement has grown enormously! There are many resources out there for teachers and parents. I want to offer some of them here. Movement integrates the brain and energizes clear thinking. It enables children to use all of their resources for life in the "fast" lane. It also gives them a sense of what it means to be centered and focused. I myself have done Yoga for years and last year, after a year of practice, was finally able to do a headstand unaided. The accomplishment made me hungry for more Yoga and the self-confidence it generates. Imagine what it will do for your children and students! This is a blog entry about Yoga for kids, as well as other physical activities.  This is the Amazon link to Yoga Pretzels, a deck of Yoga pose cards for kids and grown-ups that was lovingly photocopied and laminated for me by a teacher friend. :)  Here is a lovely reflection on Yoga with your own children by a mom who knows.  A Yoga blog by a Yoga teacher for children!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Music and Movement: Inextricably Intertwined

How amazing it is to put music on during centers, put out a tote full of scarves, and watch children swarm the bag for the colorful banners of movement they would like to wield! If you are lucky and very sneaky you will be able to catch one of them in the act of finding their center and expressing the feelings evoked by the music, as I did in the photo. I have taught college students from several excellent texts that each emphasize a different aspect of what we call "Music and Movement", but these two concepts have no separate meanings to young children. They are inextricably intertwined. In Rae Pica's book, Experiences in Movement, she demonstrates the connection between music skills and movement skills. If the music is pizzacato--plucked strings suggesting light, quick movement, like in Benjamin Britten's Simple Symphony, Playful Pizzacato Movement--children can use movement skills like hopping or jumping. The creative movement becomes perfect for integrating science curriculum concepts about grasshoppers or fireflies blinking on and off! If the music is legato, or smooth and connected--like in Mozart's Rondo in A minor, K 511--children can use movement skills like sliding and swaying. These movements show the smooth movements of fish in water, or birds in the sky. 
Once I played this last lovely piece for my fours so they could move smoothly and freely. One little boy sighed and said, "I love this song...". How glorious to bring together the beauty and power of great music for young bodies to give expression to their innermost feelings through movement. 


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Should children be guided in their art?

On the left is a photograph of a painting, done in silk stick (soft crayon), and liquid water color by a four year old. This work was done in three half-hour sessions in an art studio with an art teacher who had read Through Georgia's Eyes to the class before the sessions began.

The guidance consisted of this: A choice of silk flowers were offered to the children as models for their work. Then the children were encouraged to draw what they saw in pencil. If the children's drawings were not accurate, the teacher asked them questions that highlighted the difference between the flower and the marks on paper. At no time were the children made to feel "wrong". All instruction was geared towards greater perceptual awareness and visual discrimination, an important skill in later reading instruction. Once the flowers were drawn, the children traced their pencil marks in Sharpie pens. They were then provided with silk sticks for color. Again, the teacher made suggestions about contrasting and complimenting color combinations, but she respected each child's ultimate choice. The finishing touch was a watercolor wash, with different colors over each section. The children chose purple over yellow, for example, or blue over green. The effects were striking. In a later school art show these pieces, "in the style of Georgia O'Keefe", were dazzling. And the children glowed with pride.
I have taught Art, Music and Movement at Northern Virginia Community College for years, and our emphasis, consistent with early education practice in the arts, is to value process over product. This is a good thing! We want to get away from cookie-cutter crafts that have been and continue to be rampant in preschools across the country. But I now believe that a loose interpretation of "process" art denies children the opportunity to grow in their creative, aesthetic and cognitive abilities. A little expert guidance seems to bring more out of a child that is there in the first place. What do you think?