At the Fayetteville Free Library (FFL) we offer a yoga storytime, every other week, for toddlers and preschoolers as a way to promote playful, active learning and healthy lifestyles. For libraries following the “Ready, Set, Read” summer reading theme, this program is a perfect addition to your summer lineup, and it’s easier to plan than you might think.
Our yoga storytimes begin with a welcome, warm up stretches, and breathing exercises, before we read our first book. Then we typically choose a favorite picture book that can be modified to include yoga poses. You’ll want to choose poses that you can clearly relate somehow to either what’s happening in the story or what’s illustrated on the page. For example, we recently read Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson and some of the poses and breathing exercises we tried were modeled after a bear, snowflakes, a mouse, blowing wind, hibernating, and dancing. Often times you can simply rename a pose to fit your story. Star Pose becomes Snowflake Pose, or Child’s Pose is used to represent a tiny mouse. We usually choose to have the children act out the poses as we read each page, because we find the experience is more fluid and the movement keeps wandering minds and bodies engaged during the story.
Practicing poses while reading stories is a great learning tool for children at this age because it makes the reading experience more engaging, and playful. Allowing children to move around and act out stories immerses them in the experience and actually helps keep their attention. This is especially beneficial for active children – or those who have trouble sitting still and paying attention – and helps to focus and redirect their energy and still maintain involvement in the session. It’s also a great way to start discussions about the stories or illustrations. So, in our Bear Snores On example, we spent a minute or two trying out a bear pose, but we also used that time to ask the children what sound a bear makes, what bears do during the winter, what other types of animals might hibernate, and so on.
After our first book, we include some of the same rhymes, songs, or games you might find in any storytime (just with yoga poses incorporated), or we use some Yoga-themed songs. Kira Willey’s song “Dance for the Sun” features the sun salutation sequence, and is very popular amongst our young participants. Using this CD in programs is great because it incorporates music, singing, dancing, and yoga poses all at once.
If you’re intrigued by the idea of an early childhood yoga program, but hesitant to dive right into a series, try offering a one time session. We recommend starting with books that already have yoga poses incorporated into them, which should make your planning a little easier. Some great titles include: I Am Yoga by Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds; Good Morning Yoga and Good Night Yoga by Mariam Gates and Sarah Jane Hinder; You Are a Lion by by Tae-Eun Yoo and Little Yoga by Rebecca Whitford. All of these books illustrate the poses, which is helpful for young practitioners, and most of them have written instructions for how to arrange your body.
One of the things you want to be mindful of though, is keeping the experience fun and simple for children. It’s ok if you need to modify the poses to be a little more kid-friendly. Really let children have fun with the poses – let them bark like a dog while in downward dog pose, or hiss like a snake in cobra pose. Our focus is not on perfecting yoga poses, but rather on the experience of reading and being active and playful together. Physical activity like yoga is great for young children because it teaches them about their bodies and increases balance, coordination, and flexibility. On the other hand, the calming elements are great for teaching children about mindfulness and their emotions. Certain poses, breathing exercises, and positive affirmations can help reduce stress and anxiety, increase focus and attention span, and teach children to be more mindful and less reactive. We always end each session with the same calming savasana pose – which is simply lying on your back with your eyes closed and focusing on breathing. This is a great way to calm and re-center children before leaving, and you might be surprised at how long children will stay in the pose, enjoying the silence and calm.
We know some librarians express reservations about to teaching yoga to children, but an important point to remember is that we’re really not offering a traditional yoga class – and our patrons understand this. What we’re really offering is a storytime that focuses on early literacy and learning, but also incorporates physical activity through yoga-like poses and movement. Have you tried a yoga storytime at your library? What are your favorite books and resources?
Today’s post was co-written on behalf of the Early Childhood Programs and Services Committee by Stephanie C. Prato and Kristen Hanmer.
Stephanie C. Prato is the Director of Play to Learn Services at the Fayetteville Free Library (FFL), NY. With experience in youth services, community outreach, leadership, instruction, and technology, she has developed innovative programs for babies, toddlers, preachoolers, and school-aged children. She is an active member of the American Library Association and serves as a member of the Early Childhood Programs and Services Committee of the Association for Library Service to Children.
Kristen Hanmer is the Catalog and Processing Manager at the Fayetteville Free Library (FFL) and an MSLIS student at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies. She has a special interest in working with children and their families and has helped design and implement sign language and yoga storytimes at the FFL.