Monday, April 17, 2017

The Benefits of Yoga for Children

Many thanks to our guest contributor, Amy Williams, for another great article!


by Amy Williams 

Being a child today is not the same as growing up when we were kids. Our children are faced with many more stressors at a much earlier age than any previous generation.  They engage in ‘school’ and social groups before they can walk and talk, begin playing sports earlier and with higher performance expectations, talk about college prep and SAT scores prior to hitting puberty, face temptation from every direction with unlimited access available at their fingertips, and every bit of their angst and typical preteen awkwardness is captured on social media for the world to witness. This doesn’t even include the historical difficulties children have always had to face.

In other words, being a kid today is tough. Fortunately, there are some simple remedies to help combat all the negative stressors in their young lives. One of the best is getting them involved in yoga. It is pretty commonly known that yoga builds muscle, improves posture, reduces stress, enhances mood, and increases focus in adults. These benefits are being found to be even more meaningful for children when taught correctly and practiced regularly. Yoga has been shown to help children mentally, physically, behaviorally, and socially.  It teaches skills that support them at home, in the classroom, on the playing field, and in their relationships. In turn, these are skills they will be able to carry into their adult lives.

One of the primary aspects of yoga is teaching mindfulness. This influences children by cultivating a peaceful mindset, enhancing concentration and focus, teaching tools for stress management, reducing anxiety, and encouraging kindness.  For example, yoga teaches children to utilize deep breathing, to clear their minds of negative thoughts, and to have patience with their poses. It teaches them to accept where their body will currently let them go, as well as how to cooperate with other children in the class who may be at different levels. It teaches acceptance and positivity without competitiveness.

Additionally, yoga is an excellent way to increase self-esteem and body awareness as young children learn what their bodies are capable of doing. By maintaining and increasing flexibility and strength as they grow, they become more confident and self-assured while also learning self-discipline.  Posture and muscular development improves, as well as their overall physical and mental health. Adding even more benefit, there are child specific yoga classes that encourage creativity as they are guided to imagine different settings and create their own poses.

The benefits of yoga for children are bountiful and very easy to implement. Whether you find a yoga class for your child or do it with them at home, start with the simplest poses such as cobra, mountain, tree, and downward dog.  Child’s pose is also appropriate, as the name itself proposes. These are easy for children to master and are packed with benefits. As your child becomes more involved and their skills increase, you can add more poses and create your own routines together. Ultimately, they will be able to continue with an independent yoga practice as they journey through the teenage years into adulthood, reaping the benefits along the way.

Amy Williams is a free-lance journalist based in Southern California and mother of two. As a parent, she enjoys spreading the word on positive parenting techniques in the digital age and raising awareness on issues like cyberbullying and online safety. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Developing Motor Skills with Outdoor Spring Activities


By Amy Williams

Spring is in the air and that means green grass, fresh flowers, and sunny days are here at last. As the remnants of winter finally melt away, the warmer spring weather is a welcome reprieve from those long unending days of being cooped up inside. This change of seasons provides you with the perfect opportunity to get outside and explore fun activities to develop your children’s motor skills in a supportive and natural environment. 

Motor skills are broken into two main categories – gross and fine motor skills – each focusing on different muscle groups and movements. Gross motor skills focus on movements that are large in nature and require the larger body muscles to move. Running, jumping, skipping, and throwing are good examples of these skills. While these are important skills to develop balance and stability, fine motor skills are also needed. This skill set uses smaller muscle movements often found in the wrists and hands. Fine motions help kids write, tie their shoes, open doors, and zip their coats. 

Our child’s happiness and well-being makes it important for us to include plenty of opportunities to develop gross and fine motor skills by building them into their routines. It is recommended that we work on developing motor skills at least 3 times a week. Thankfully, Mother Nature has given us the perfect spring backdrop to make this a reality.

Here are some fun ideas for building motor skills:

Play a game of shadow tag. Use the sunlight to play a fun running game of tag. Take turns being “it” and try catching each other by stepping on the other person’s shadows. This is a fun way to spend a sunny afternoon and learn about shadows in the process.

Visit the park. Take advantage of the local playground and use these neighborhood gathering spots as a resource this spring. Encourage kids to learn how to swing, climb equipment, or run around the play areas to provide opportunities to use gross motor skills.

Hop to it! Encourage motor skills with a game of hopscotch. This game combines both groups of motor skills in a fun and entertaining game. Have children draw the classic ladder of boxes on the sidewalk with chalk to practice writing and controlling the smaller muscles in their hands. Then, take advantage of the throwing and hopping to strengthen gross motor skills. The beauty of this game is its adaptability for all levels and varieties of fine motor skills.

Have a ball. Today’s children might love their technology, but they still enjoy playing with balls. Play a game of catch or kick the ball back and forth. For more fun, branch out and teach the kids how to bounce or dribble the ball.

Blow up some fun. Nothing says spring like bubbles! Allow kids to blow, chase, or pop the soapy orbs to develop hand-eye coordination while encouraging the use of large muscles needed for running.

Create a backyard training course. Take direction from the popular American Ninja Warrior show and design a course for the kids. Most children love the challenge obstacle courses provide and they won’t even be aware of the fact that you are helping them work on gross motor skills. 

Fly a kite. Spring gusts can provide the perfect afternoon entertainment, and kite flying requires a combination of gross and fine motor skills. 

Grow something green. Grab some seeds and head outside to plant some veggies or flowers. You don’t need to commit to an entire garden.  A container of herbs or pot of flowers for the kids will suffice. Digging in the dirt, hauling water, planting, and pruning are wonderful ways to work small and large muscle groups.

Get artsy. Bring out the sidewalk chalk or paints to let children color the neighborhood. Unending sidewalks allow for unlimited creativity and provide chances to develop fine motor skills as they draw.

Play in the sand. Sand play is a wonderful way to encourage both sets of motor skills. Kids can dig and carry buckets to build strength, while manipulating sand helps develop finger dexterity.

How do you develop motor skills in your children?

Amy Williams is a free-lance journalist based in Southern California and mother of two. As a parent, she enjoys spreading the word on positive parenting techniques in the digital age and raising awareness on issues like cyberbullying and online safety.