By Sydney Solis
Hey, Diddle Diddle, the cat and the fiddle. The cow jumped over the moon. The little dog laughed to see such a sight, and the dish ran away with the spoon.
Perhaps you remember this little nursery rhyme from when you were a child. Notice how your imagination creates the imagery. That internal imagery that is created within the realm of your own body is what you can use to educate your child at home using oral storytelling and yoga for a lifetime of learning and health.
Children who have a parent speak or read to them as a young child have a better vocabulary and learning ability than kids whose parents don’t. This tends to be a socio-economic indicator, as wealthier parents have the time and resources to stay home with their child to educate them. Studies prove that oral language and vocabulary are connected to reading comprehension. New research by Stanford Psychologist Anne Fernald, which was published in Developmental Science this year, showed that at 18 months children from wealthier homes could identify pictures of simple words they knew — “dog” or “ball” — much faster than children from low-income families. They also had 30-million more words spoken to them by age 3.
Even if you can’t stay home, even if you are illiterate, as a parent you can still tell stories and give kids that rhyme, rhythm and repetition that kids love and need to learn!
Add yoga to your stories and you have what I call Storytime Yoga® for Kids, a body-centered education program I started more than 10 years ago when my kids were young and I wanted to educate them myself at home.
Additionally, dissatisfied with the schools in my home town of Boulder, Colorado, I took the leap and traveled to Buenos Aires more than three years ago for a mythic journey abroad with my two kids, aged 9 and 12. I wanted to at least try to home school them and infuse them with yoga philosophy.
I focused on everyday practical life skills, such as cooking from scratch, knitting to build concentration, and Spanish. We also had a regular yoga class for health and wellness, introducing basic yoga philosophy such as self awareness, breath work to anchor us in the present moment, and meditation to watch the mind’s wandering.
Our yoga sessions always included an oral story. From there I developed lesson plans of writing, art and geography around them. I never had any formal training in educational theory. I just did it intuitively as a mother and reading books on home schooling confirmed my ideas and bolstered my confidence that I could teach my kids myself and that education was really not that complicated.
In educating your kids, they should hear many stories and facts reinforced by writing and independent reading according to age. Then get out and go to museums, libraries, art fairs and historical places as much as possible for experiential education. History is also an excellent way to teach kids reading, just as Thomas Jefferson desired. Yoga is not confined to only asana either. It is available at any moment. We practiced mindful walking on the streets of Buenos Aires, worked with discomfort and upset on the hot crowded subways with mindful breathing, learned about ayurveda from the foods we cooked.
Benefits of Stories and Yoga
Connection to the inner world of the imagination is important for original and critical thinking, and literacy and education. Oral is primary, and oral storytelling creates original imagery in kids’ heads and body. Oral storytelling is a physical act in the voice and body, and the images, too, are looked at within the realm of the body, leaving the external world behind (pratyahara) Gaining a rich imagination at an early age is imperative for kids to learn.
For images are symbols, and through stories kids learn to master the relationship between words and images, enabling them to continue on and learn other symbolic languages, such as reading, writing, math, music, art and computers. Furthermore, it is the ability to think in metaphor that gives kids the ability to articulate feelings and ideas from within and convey important information and spiritual truths.
After a period of focus and attention (dharana) from the deep listening required when hearing a story, kids learn story-structure through the ritual of the reenactment of the story with yoga or other movement. “Who is the main character? “A teacher asks the child in a class. “What happens next? How does the story end?”
Listening, creating original images in their heads, responding to questions and acting out yoga with their bodies require kids to participate rather than merely mimic a teacher and consume instruction. This participatory consciousness and work with the story through yoga and asana enables kids to speak about the story and ideas. This leads to writing ideas down and creating a hunger and excitement for reading more stories sought out in the library.
It is imperative that we connect words and images to the body to create body awareness and health. Using yoga we reintroduce kids to ritual - the reenactment of the myth (story). And if anything we needs myths, stories, fairy tales now more than any time in history to reconnect us to the body, to the now and to link us to the inner realm forgotten by a consumeristic, alienated and externally focused world. Bodies in the western world are getting more and more obese, as kids are disconnected from nature and mindfully consume improper foods that lack proper nutrition. Stories and yoga connect us to the body and environment with awareness, as the breath brings us to focus on the now of bodily sensations and functions.
The energetics of yoga bring balance and muscular skeletal alignment to the body and calm the nervous system. Physical activity of yoga gives kids the energetic and joyful feelings of movement, calm and delight of moving in the world. All of this, the story connecting the mind to the body with yoga asana, the body and mind then connecting to the environment, is where the yoga happens - union. What’s more is that an oral story told suspends time and space, and a listening child thus enters the zone of eternity where this transcendental experience is yoga in itself.
How to Find and Tell a Story with Yoga
- Find a story that you really like and want to tell to your child. Go to your library. I love to read, so I find stories in books. Ask your librarian for more good stories, and attend storytelling festivals. Ask your friends parents and others for good stories they may know. For toddlers, stick with nursery rhymes, songs and finger games. For preschoolers and lower elementary kids, use folk tales and fairy tales for grades 2 and up. Myths are excellent for ages third grade and up. Look at all the myths from the Hindu tradition and yoga, such as the Mahabharata too. Look for a good beginning, middle and end and with lively characters. For younger kids, ge sure the story is not to long.
- Memorize the beginning and ending sentences of the story. That way you are sure of where to begin and where to end!
- For the body of your story, think in images. Images are what we convey to our kids, and images are what help kids internalize and learn. Imagine the images are stepping stones across a river, connecting the beginning of your story on one side of the river, and the end of your story on the other side of the river. Tell the story while recalling each image as the story unfolds. For instance, if you used the Hey Diddle Diddle rhyme, do a cat pose, and half moon pose. (See the Nursery Rhyme Body Jam for an example of a class.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NduE-0xQ3-k and a sample with the rhyme http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAA3AMvhJ84.)
• Create a family yoga and storytelling hour to strengthen your family ties. Remember the stories you heard as a kid? I remember the Gingerbread Man, Nursery Rhymes and Stories of my ancestors. What favorites do you remember? Tell those!
- After telling the whole story, retell it with yoga postures. Ask your child, “Who is the story about?” Answer for the child if he can not. There is no right or wrong of which yoga posture to use to illustrate the story. You can use anything or any type of movement or dramatic play with the body. I use warrior poses for main and supporting characters. “What happens in the story?” Continue guiding the child in the story and take a yoga pose for each segment of the story, finally saying, “How does the story end?”
- Sing to your child!
- Poetry! Memorizing poetry is a great concentration technique. Rhyming is excellent for cadence and syntax. I used to read Shakespeare to my toddler son in the bathtub. years later I noticed his writing was superb, calling upon similar motifs in stories I told him that showed up in his original stories.
- Talk about family stories and personal stories. What country of origin are your ancestors from? What special foods did they cook to celebrate special occasions? Do you remember your first job or pet? Tell kids about funny experiences you remember of them as a child. It fosters connection and communication and nurtures your family.
- Find a photo of your child or a grandparent. Tell a story from that photo. What were they doing? Why?
- Make up your own stories! It may feel strange at first, but once you have heard enough stories, the motifs and story structure start to stick with you.
- Do follow up activities, such as having kids draw a picture of their favorite part of the story and then telling about it by pointing to parts of the picture. Have kids do their favorite yoga pose to act it out!
Finally, and most importantly, your own yoga and meditation practice is essential to model for your child the yoga you wish to see them practice and learn as well. And in teaching your young child or in considering home schooling, you must gain the confidence needed that you can educate your child. Find others to support you and join parenting or home schooling groups. The experience is so rewarding, even if you only do it for a short time, such as I did for five months in Buenos Aires and a month in St. Croix U.S. Virgin Islands before they entered a private school. We are now back in the United States and my 10th grade son easily fit into doing homeschool again with Florida Virtual School and my daughter is enrolled in public middle school.
Rich, Motoko, Language-Gap Study Bolsters a Push for Pre-K, The New York Times. October 21, 2013
Resources for Yoga Home Education
- Storytime Yoga®: Teaching Yoga to Children Through Story
- Storytime Yoga®: The Peddler’s Dream – Yoga DVD for Children
Favorite Kids Yoga Books and DVDs for Home Schooling
Storytime Yoga for Kids website favorite books.
Favorite kids books and yoga home school resources on Pinterest
My Favorite Yoga Home School Books
• Six Storytime Yoga® for Kids Yoga Story Kits! Developed while I homeschooled my kids!
• Boatload more books for educating kids with yoga and story for home school that I have used and loved!
Other Great Kids Yoga Books to Use for Yoga Home School
• Sophia’s Jungle Adventure: A Fun and Educational Kids Yoga Story by Giselle Shardlow
• Once Upon a Pose: A Guide to Yoga Adventure Stories for Children by