Jennifer's Tips for a Yoga Recess Program

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Jennifer, a Yoga Foster educator and special education instructor, received a full grant from Yoga Foster to build a mindful recess program. Her work was featured as a case study for her school district and even in the local news! We interviewed Jennifer on how her practice is growing, and any insights she has for educators looking to make the same impact.

What has surprised you most about your recess program so far?

I am most surprised by the passion I have seen in students!  I have about 10-15 students who come every. single. day.  They never miss it!  I have another 15 kids who come about 3 days a week and a whole gaggle who come in here and there. Some of them come for the actual yoga (don't be surprised if you see some of these kids as yoga teachers in 20 years!), but I think most just come for the community! The overall culture of our yoga group is beyond anything I would have expected. These kids respect each other, laugh together, and help each other even though they are all different grades and ability levels.

Another surprise was how many of these students are English Language Learners.  I never considered how significant of an impact yoga would have on creating a sense of belonging for EL students! Speaking English is not essential for these students to feel success and camaraderie in our group.  

What's your students favorite pose / breathing technique to practice during class?

You know, it's really hard for me to pick their favorite pose! It cracks me up when I say what pose to do next and I hear an occasional 'yesss' under someone's breath. Most kiddos love Warrior 2 because we like to visually find a buddy across from us to make eye contact with and show how strong we are while posing.  It gets strangely intense and powerful during that pose and you can feel the energy in the room! They also love Tree Pose because they really feel the freedom to express their emotions through their arms (hands at heart, arms out like branches, arms together above their head, link arm with a neighbor). Many kiddos will whisper their reasoning for their hand placement and it is so precious to hear their surprisingly insightful reflections. My students also beg to do Hot Cocoa Breathing every day.  They love it when I talk about what is added to our hot chocolate to make it extra tasty that day (marshmallows, cinnamon sprinkle, etc). 

How do you structure the class? How much time do you have?

I am a special education teacher so I do not have the opportunity to offer yoga to a traditional class during the school day.  I offer it during afternoon recess every day to all students at the school. Recess only lasts 15 minutes.  I make sure I have my playlist and lesson plan prepped before recess starts so we can jump right in! I was initially intimidated to incorporate mats and deal with shoes coming on and off since I have such a limited time with the kiddos. I worked up the courage to try them one day and the students were so excited about using the mats, we continued to use them everyday after. It takes my students no time at all to get ready or cleaned up now. If we have new kiddos joining us for a day, the "regulars" take over and explain the rules and coach their peers through our routine. We don't clean up until the bell rings. Usually it takes the students less time to roll up their mat/put on their shoes than it takes for their peers to walk back to their classroom from outdoor recess.

Using the framework from the Yoga Bursts (Center, Stretch, Reflect), I incorporate poses from the full-length lessons that use the mats to match our short time limit.  During Reflect, we normally end with 2 minutes of "Relaxation Time." This is when they get into Child's Pose or Do Nothing Pose, I turn out the lights, and turn on calming music. Sometimes I coach them through relaxing their bodies during this time. Sometimes I talk to them about listening or breathing.  Sometimes I do nothing. I just recently started using content from Headspace during this time as well. My students really love this time and take it very seriously!

What are you looking to learn next?

Since my kiddos do this everyday, they are expert yogis now! I wouldn't mind exploring some new poses for them to try.   I also want to learn more about how I can incorporate Headspace. 

A few weeks ago, I started a student leader group where kiddos can volunteer to come in during their lunch recess to create their own "lesson plan" following the framework I described above.  I created visuals of their plans and have them all in a binder. I also gave each student a copy of their lesson plan to take home and practice if they wanted to. When I am absent, I assign a student to lead the group with their personally-created lesson plan. (I can just picture my poor sub panicking when they see 'Teach Yoga' on their plans!) We just tried it last week when I was gone for a conference all week and the kids were given mountains of compliments! The sub could not believe how knowledgeable and confident the student leaders were (some were first graders!!)  and how respectful the other students were to their leader.  It inspired me to think about other ways to get some leadership skills incorporated into our yoga practice.