Backpacks and book bags are common things making their way to school with kids everyday. But it’s the things students carry with them that you can’t see - things like stress, anxiety and trauma - that are having the biggest impact on their ability to learn.
A group of teachers at Lake Elmo Elementary School are trying to change that. More than 30 teachers have volunteered to take part in a professional development opportunity called Yoga Calm. The training sessions, which are being supported by grants from the school’s PTA and the Lake Elmo Rotary and Jaycees, are providing teachers with strategies from the practice of yoga to help students focus on their learning.
“One of the most important takeaways from our work is how important it is to pay attention to the needs of our students' nervous systems and brains in order to help them learning at their best,” said Julie Mock, second grade teacher. “Some of the strategies that we learned, like using a breathing ball to support getting oxygen to our brains, will help our students gain skills in keeping themselves physically and emotionally regulated for learning.”
Physical movement has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety, stimulate brain growth and neural connectivity, and improve cognition and academic achievement. Giving students the opportunity to stretch and move throughout the day can get their brains engaged. Dimming the lights, playing relaxing music, and providing just two or three minutes for quiet reflection time can also have a profound impact on reducing distractions and helping kids focus on the learning the comes next.
Yoga Calm teaches educators how to incorporate breathing exercises, simple yoga-based movement and social/emotional skill-development activities into their work. The teachers are also working together to integrate the practices into the lessons they’re already teaching, so that they can be used right away in their classroom.
Special Education teachers across the Stillwater Area Public School District have also participated in Yoga Calm training, and have been successfully integrating yoga into classrooms to specifically help students with a variety of behavioral, physical and emotional needs. While designed to specifically help students under stress or affected by trauma, the simple activities have proven successful for all kids.