Using the Body and Yoga to Learn: Variations and Fun Activity Ideas
Using yoga as an augmentation to learning is simple and as easy as using it for a break or a quick stretch. It can also be used to bring the learning concept alive. For example, when learning shapes the students can make shapes out of their bodies. Here are some learning assimilation ideas:
Use movement to create a mnemonic through a set routine or through rhythmic motion. A mnemonic is a memory device, which relies on associations between easy-to-remember constructs that can relate back to more difficult or arbitrary data. Mnemonics employ spatial and kinesthetic learning to assist in recall. For example, use each position of Sun Salutation (S card) as a memory aid for a list of concepts that must be learned. Mountain pose (M card) for “concept A,” Kite pose (K card) for “concept B,” Forward Fold (F card) for “concept C,” and so on. The rhythmic movement of Ocean Breath or Rowboat poses allows for information, such as spelling to be imprinted on the brain in a more tangible fashion than other non-kinetic methods.
For math concepts such as counting and subtraction, use the numbers of children in a class, repetitions of a pose, or even body parts (fingers or toes). Butterfly (B card), Rowboat (R card) and Jumping Frog (J card) poses work well for addition and subtraction due to the intrinsic rhythmic movement in each pose. Have students make shapes with their bodies. For example, make a triangle in Down Dog pose (D card) or as a pair make a rectangle.
Design classes around themes! Themes work well because they provide a central organizing idea around which to build a class or lesson. Themes lend themselves to learning because they pair actions with words to convey meaning. For all these ideas you are not limited to the poses contained in the ABC Yoga Cards for Kids. You can integrate other yoga poses or make up your own. Keep it simple and fun.
Animals are a great theme to base a class around. Groups of animals can be found in a pet store, farm, zoo or in the ocean. Group animals together by location. Kids love animals and animals provide a springboard to numerous learning activities such as: Can they flex their descriptive ability and describe three characteristics of each animal? Can they state the correct name of the animal’s baby? Can they describe the environment in which each animal lives? There are literally hundreds of variations involving animal themes. Here are a few suggestions:
Down on the farm. Ask, “What animals do we find on farms?” (Cow, horse, chicken, dog, pig, etc.). “Why are these animals on a farm? What is their purpose?” Sing “Old MacDonald.” Pick a set of animals from the ABC Yoga Cards (e.g., cow, cat, dog, frog). With each refrain, act out the animal and its corresponding yoga pose, if applicable.
Let’s go to the pet store or humane society. “What types of animals do we keep as pets?” (Dog, cat, fish, bird, etc.) “What makes these animals good pets?” Distribute animal cards and have students act out the yoga poses on their own mats.
To the zoo! Ask students what animals they find at the zoo. (Elephant, lion, cat, frog, giraffe, etc.) Discuss an attribute about each animal (e.g., shape, size, color, origin). Let children perform animal poses from the ABC Yoga Cards. Or, each child gets to come to teach his or her pose to the rest of the class.
Make it a day at the beach. “What animals might you come across?” (Fish, crab, starfish, seagull, dolphin, etc.) Do Ocean Breath pose (O card).
Ignite students’ creativity. Have the students make up new poses. Pick several poses and have the students create a story. Model you expectations: Start the story off (Once upon a time there was a…), and incorporate a pose from the group selected. Demonstrate to the students how to do a pose to fit the story. Then pick a student. Have her continue the story and use a different pose. Continue until all students have had a turn.
Go through the alphabet in sequence. It will be necessary to break it down into more manageable parts. For example, just introduce five letters at a time. It might be necessary to repeat the same five letters over multiple classes. Gradually add more letters over time.
Introduce various body parts to the children through poses and fun games. For example, to identify your hands, use Kite pose (K card). Say to the students, “Reach your arms way up to the sky.” Now ask: Where are your hands?” “Let the wind take your hands; wave your hands back and forth (demonstrate) in the air.”
Have a pizza party! This is a real favorite. Sit everyone in a large circle, with legs fully extended in Pizza Pie pose (open in a large “V,” like a pizza slice). Tell students you are making a pizza together. Test sequencing skills by asking, “What do we need to do first?” (Make the dough) Kneed the imaginary dough with your hands. Ask what step comes next. All students make the motions of spreading sauce and sprinkling cheese. Go around the circle, letting each student pick a topping to “add” to the pizza. Everyone has to make the motions with their hands. If students have difficulty naming the steps to make a pizza, give them the various steps and have them choose what comes first, second, third etc. “To make a pizza, we need to add the toppings, kneed the dough and add the sauce. What should we do first?”
Spell words using poses: This can be done several ways. One straightforward method is to do each pose for the letter of a word. To spell “d-o-g,” do Down Dog-Ocean Breath-Gate pose. Another method is to work through the spelling of a word and let the movement of one posture work for you. For example, use the arm movement and breath of Ocean Breath to help spell g-i-r-l. Standing tall, inhale, arms up. Say “G” on the down motion of the arms, inhale up. Say “I” on the down motion. Inhale up. Say “R” on the down motion. Inhale up, Say “L” on the down motion.
Use repetitive poses such as Rowboat (or Windshield Wiper Legs) pose to help stimulate creativity and to provide pace. Pick a letter; for example, “R.” Have the class think of words that end with the letter “R.” Write words on the board or on a large piece of paper and for every word, do a rowing motion.
Rhyming is always fun. Select a word from one of the poses (e.g., Down Dog). Do the pose, and then pick words that rhyme with the selected word (e.g., log, fog, bog, etc.). Do the selected pose again for each rhyming word.
Vocabulary: Pick a letter, for example “D,” and have students think of words that start with that letter. Can they make poses for any of the words? For a more advanced idea, to reinforce and extend literature comprehension, teachers can read stories that contain new vocabulary words and have students act out the meanings of the words. For example, when defining the word under, instruct the students pair up, one student does Down Dog pose, the other student crawls under the other student.
Blend in science concepts like animals (elephant, cow, cat, dog, etc.), environments (animal homes and habitats) or meteorology (Kite pose for wind; Windshield Wiper Legs pose for rain) to link movement with learning.
A natural variation on animal themes is to discuss different environments: Include topography (mountains, streams, waterfalls), vegetation (trees, flowers, plants) and of course, native animals. You’ll have to be creative, and make up some new poses to cover all the topics you want. Or, better yet, have the students create their own poses interpreting the content.
The important point is not a perfect yoga pose, but to create movement associated with the content. Once all the poses are created, present the poses to the students, by performing and repeating all the poses. Create a game: Have the students guess the environment from the clues (performed postures). Or, name the environment and have the students label what belongs. Perform the poses that are correct. For example, desert: (cactus, mountain, snake). Other environments might include swamp, polar, jungle or forest. Be creative!