Autumn Metal Element activities for children – by Karin Kalbantner-Wernicke and Bettye Jo Wray-Fears

Welcome back to the monthly series of stimulating Five Element activities that can support development of children in all ages!   If this is your first time reading our blog, you can go back to our first entry in May to view the WOOD Element activities.  All of the blogs can be downloaded in a pdf format by clicking on the link at the end of this article so that you can enjoy making your own notebook of Five Element exercises for each month and season of the year. 

November - metal imageThe transformation of the autumn leaves from their brilliant colors blowing in the wind to withered, crunchy piles on the ground shows us the natural capacity of our planet to let go of what is no longer   needed in life.  Autumn is the time of the Metal Element, where the cycle of life from beginning to end is most apparent as nature prepares for the hibernation of winter.  Fall marks the approaching end of the year and can bring a natural sense of reflection for us as we recognize how time passes season after season.

The Metal Element and the season of autumn are symbolic for many aspects of our lives.  It has clear demarcation of irreversible change representing the need to let go and create boundaries in order for balance and the cycle of life to continue.  It is the Metal Element that gives us the capacity to reflect on what has past, to keep what is most precious, and to cut loose what we no longer need so we can make room for what comes next.   When in balance, this function is as natural as breathing in, and breathing out, and one might even find oneself doing exactly that with the crispness of the autumn air.

For children, the Metal Element expressions are most visible in their sense of boundaries in their environment, bodies, space and time.  The young child that cries out, “No! That’s my toy!” is expressing a boundary of self and depending on the age is an appropriate and needed expression to come in touch with oneself.  Just as the 6 year old child that shows difficulty respecting the space of other children and their objects, likewise may be expressing an undeveloped Metal Element aspect.  Space, time, order, capacity to let go of one craft to start another, or just an ability to know when the time for stopping an activity, are all developmental pieces of the Metal Element that can be observed in children and adults.

The following exercises are games and activities that can be used to stimulate the Metal Element energy.  They can be used with a family, classroom, or a group of children to experience some fun qualities of Metal Element.

Do I Know My Size?

This activity is for a family or small group. Every member of the family/group gets a long rope (longer than what it would take to draw the outline of the body).  The rope can be inexpensive twine that is used to wrap packages.  Everyone uses their rope to try to create the outline of their body (in whatever shape they want) on the ground.  They cannot lay on the ground to measure; they have to try to do this from their idea of their own size and shape.  When everybody is done, all members of the group look and decide if they think the drawings are the correct size of each other or not.

After all the opinions have been shared,  each person will take a turn laying in their own shape while the other group members use different colours of wool or cotton balls to surround the actual shape of the person laying down.  Then they help the person surrounded by cotton or wool to stand up very carefully.  Now this group member can see how different the shape they made was to the real shape on the ground.

Having Fun with Boundaries!

2 people are sitting face to face at a table. The table should not be too big.  A cotton ball is placed in the center of the table.  Now, without using hands or any other objects, both people try to blow the cotton ball off the opposite side of the table in the direction where the other person is sitting. Of course it becomes harder and harder to succeed as the each person tries to keep the cotton ball from falling off the table on their side!Kalbantner-Wern_Children-at-The_978-1-84819-118-1_colourjpg-web

Click this link to download this article.

For more information about the Five Elements and the way they can support child development read Children at Their Best: Understanding and Using the Five Elements to Develop Children’s Full Potential for Parents, Teachers, and Therapists.

NEXT: Winter Water Element activities – snow fall down the Bladder Meridian!

Play the Frog’s Breathtaking Speech Game

Bring the benefits of yoga and yogic breathing techniques into the classroom and the home with this game from Frog’s Breathtaking Speech author Michael Chissick. Based on the book, the game is a fun way to help children to recognise negative emotions and lean how to turn these into positive ones.

Simply download the game boardcard set and instructions from these links and with some simple steps you’ll be ready to roar the house down with Lion, shake the walls with the Woodchopper Breath and more.

The game is at its most effective if used with the book, Frog’s Breathtaking Speech – find out more about the book here.

 Michael Chissick has been teaching yoga to children in primary mainstream and special needs schools as part of the integrated school day since 1999. He is a primary school teacher as well as a qualified yoga instructor. He is also a specialist in teaching yoga to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Michael trains and mentors students who want to teach yoga to children.

© 2013 Singing Dragon blog. All Rights Reserved

Teaching Yoga to Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders? A Piece of Cake!

By Michael Chissick, qualified yoga instructor, primary school teacher and specialist in teaching yoga to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, and author of Frog’s Breathtaking Speech.


Exciting New Training Project

An exciting new initiative which delivers the benefits of yoga to hundreds of children with autism will be the cherry on the cake. The project will be in action at a Special Needs Academy in Lincolnshire, UK, after Easter with more to follow.

Over the past thirteen years I have developed a model of how to teach yoga to children with autism. The model can be used by class teachers and teaching assistants with no previous experience of yoga. The structures, activities and postures are easy to learn and are safe to teach. The model is suitable for children across all key stages.

Special schools that have a high proportion of children on the autistic spectrum will use the model. The advantages are that teaching and training are geared to the specific needs of their pupils, and staff can be trained economically without time away from school; and the icing on the cake is that staff can use the model immediately.

How did we reach this point?

I have been teaching Yoga to KS1, 2 & 3 pupils as part of the integrated day at Special Needs School for thirteen years. Many of the children I teach have autism and sensory processing disorders. During each thirty minute session I work with the whole class, class teacher and teaching assistants. Time restraints make it impossible for me to teach all classes in my schools, so I tend to alternate classes every half term.

I had noticed that when I returned to a class to continue after a 5/6 week break there was a need to start over again, which can be frustrating. For many years I simply regarded it as part of the job of teaching pupils with ASD.

However over the last couple of years I have noticed that some classes had retained what I had taught them and were as enthusiastic as ever for their yoga. So what distinguishes the ‘ready-for-more-class’ from the ‘let’s-start-again-class? The answer is that the class teachers and teaching assistants have been teaching their pupils yoga without me… and doing a brilliant job at it too!

Why does it work?

The answer also lies in the fundamentals of my highly structured approach. For example, the children are seated on chairs in a circle. I use a visual timetable and posture cards to keep my verbal input to the minimum. Within the structure I target several layers or elements simultaneously; it’s like a multi-tiered cake. These layers are easily recognised by colleagues who are already experts at working with children with ASD and are using similar models in other curriculum areas.

 

The Layers

  1. Engagement tactics are, for example, encouraging children to choose from posture cards hanging from an umbrella; or children throwing tiny bean bags into the holes on a colourful board as a means of choosing a posture.
  2. Fun is key! Children eagerly get out of their chairs and into the posture because it’s fun; if it continues to be fun then they will want to stay in the posture.
  3. Repetition of postures over the weeks is a crucial; as children become more at ease with the posture leading to improved skills and greater confidence.
  4. Every child Achieves in the lesson.
  5. Social Skills like waiting, listening, speaking, helping each other, taking turns and following rules are targeted.
  6. Fitness Flexibility and improved co-ordination are the layers that tend to hit the news.
  7. Sensory is the sweetest layer. The vestibular system ‘tells us if we are moving or still, while our proprioceptive system is the unconscious awareness of our body position’ (Yack et al 2002). A combination of both systems gives us vital information about movement and where we are in relation to, for example, the floor. I teach many children whose vestibular and proprioceptive systems are dysfunctional. Using yoga postures I help to regulate those dysfunctions.

Feedback

Feedback from the Academy in Lincolnshire was wonderfully positive describing the day as excellent and staff commented that the model:

‘…does away with many pre-conceptions and prejudices – it helps make different types of movement accessible to all.’

It is early days in Lincolnshire, but soon the children and staff will be enjoying their yoga while I’ll be teaching 175 miles away. Seems like I’ll be having my cake and eating it.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

Yoga breathing techniques to help children deal with anger and stress and build self-esteem – An Interview with Michael Chissick

Michael Chissick has been teaching yoga to children in primary mainstream and special needs schools as part of the integrated school day since 1999. He is a primary school teacher as well as a qualified yoga instructor. He is also a specialist in teaching yoga to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Michael trains and mentors students who want to teach yoga to children.

Michael is the author of the forthcoming children’s book, Frog’s Breathtaking Speech, which teaches four yoga breathing techniques in a fun and interactive way and shows how they can be used to deal with anger, anxiety and tension.

In this interview, he shares the story of how this beautiful book came to be and the rewarding experiences he’s had teaching yoga to children; why he believes children nowadays need tools to cope with life’s stresses more than ever before; and how the breathing techniques in the book can be used with all children, including those with special needs.


Tell us a bit about you – how did you get into yoga, teaching yoga and teaching yoga to children?

I first came to yoga in 1974, and although I practised regularly it was not till 1990 that I consciously stepped up my practice and interest.

In 1990, following the death of my wife Jill, I decided to give up my business and look after my children. I made up my mind that Jill’s death would not be wasted and that I would do something meaningful with my life. I signed up to an Access Course, which got me back into studying and prepared me for University. As a mature student I simply thrived on the course and it unleashed a creative side of me that I had never known before. I went on to take a four year degree course in Education, (BEd Hons) and eventually took up my first post as a primary school teacher in Old Harlow, Essex, UK at the age of forty-six.

It was during my four year degree course that I established my deep interest in children’s self-esteem – specifically how it can be damaged and how it can be improved. Of all the areas that I studied this was for me the most important and I determined to make enhancing children’s self-esteem the core of my approach to teaching.

In the nineties yoga was such an essential part of my life that soon I had completed my yoga teacher training with the British Wheel of Yoga, and was able to begin my new career teaching yoga to adults. It was an obvious next step to merge my skills and experience as a primary teacher and qualified yoga teacher, and thus I become a children’s yoga teacher. I set up an after school club but found the work frustrating primarily because of my realisation that yoga needed to be taught as part of the school day for children to benefit most.

Nevertheless word of my work had spread and one day I was asked to teach yoga to children in a Special Needs School in East London. That day was a turning point in my life. Despite all my experience I stood there not knowing what to do while this group of children were going absolutely crazy, at one time cussing at me and throwing shoes around – it was chaos. I tried various activities, all to no avail. Then, amazingly, with one specific activity (it was Sun Sequence), they were suddenly hooked… and I even got them to do a relaxation. The transformation was astounding. I came out of there that day, sat in the car and cried tears of joy that I could make such a difference. That was a Tuesday Morning in 1999 and I have taught there every Tuesday ever since. Over time the school has become a beacon school for teaching children with autism. This means that for more than a decade I have been developing teaching approaches for teaching yoga to children with autism. I am now regarded as a specialist in teaching yoga to autistic children. I am very proud of that.

In the last few years I have been fortunate to have taught continuously in the same nucleus of schools. This means that I am there on a specific day every week, every term, every year. It also means that I have had to be creative and develop fun and interesting activities or risk the children’s boredom. I have taught yoga in schools as part of the integrated school day for more than a decade now and have developed many approaches and activities that the children love.

One of those activities has now been turned into a book called Frog’s Breathtaking Speech. Now my enthusiasm for writing knows no bounds and I am busy with three new books that will enable me pass on my considerable expertise to others. Frog’s Breathtaking Speech – and incidentally The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Gruffalo, and Going on a Bear Hunt – all make terrific stories to embed yoga postures in.

What inspired you to write this wonderful book?

I have been using Frog’s Breathtaking Speech in children’s yoga lessons for many years. The story grew out of the need to increase children’s awareness of their breath and, more importantly, how to apply it in stressful situations. Situations such as dealing with exams, spelling and table tests, being bullied, tension, headaches and anger, and of course performing or presenting to their peers and parents in assembly.

Although, as an adult, I had experienced the benefits of yoga breathing techniques I had honestly found them dry and unexciting. If I was to grab the children’s attention I needed to teach breathing techniques in a way that was fun and relevant. My strategy was to use the story in a yoga/drama format and it was an immediate success.

I would set out the yoga mats in a circle in the hall. As many children as possible would be given the opportunity to be Frog. I would ask for sad faces and then ask for less sad faces as the story unfolds. The other characters, Crocodile, Lion, Humming Bee and Mr Gumble the Woodchopper, would be played by the whole class. To keep the “chorus” in unison I would hold up placards in pantomime style saying, “Why so sad Frog?” and “I know an interesting way to breathe”. We have also performed Frog on stage to great applause.

I think there are several reasons why this approach worked well, including:

  • there was sufficient repetition for everyone to be able to join in;
  • it was obviously great fun;
  • the children were learning the techniques in a fun and relevant context;
  • children found the characters interesting.

Looking back I think that one of the main factors that inspired me to turn the yoga play into a book was the feedback from the children. I have lost count of the amount of times that children would tell me how they had used the techniques to deal with incidents in their lives. Problems ranging from being angry at siblings who stole their sweets or broke their toys, to being the calming influence in big family arguments. My two favourites will always be: the nine-year old boy who was terrified of the dentist and who quietly sat in the waiting room, and ultimately the dentist’s chair, practising his Crocodile Breath to calm himself; and the ten year old girl, who was angry with her parents, who would go to her room and practice Woodchopper Breath every day for three weeks, who eventually came and told the class teacher and me that that she had Haaaa’d out her anger.

The other main factor that inspired me to turn the play into a book was, simply, to get it out there. If this story helped the children that I taught it would help all children.

Can you tell us about your collaboration with the illustrator,
Sarah Peacock?

I have worked with Sarah Peacock in her Hertfordshire Primary School for five years. Sarah would come into in the yoga lesson with her class and over the years had been involved with Frog’s Breathtaking Speech on many occasions. She knew the story very well and how much the children liked it.

Examples of Sarah’s amazing illustrations were displayed around school. Often over lunch she had talked about her dream of being an illustrator. When I finally wrote the story as a book, I asked her to illustrate and she came up with the wonderfully timeless and charming illustrations that make the book so readable.

Where did the character of Frog come from?

Frog came about for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, children can stay in Frog Posture easily for longish periods without too much discomfort (and it’s great for their knees and hips). Secondly, I like Frog characters – they make me laugh; and thirdly, there is a long history of Frogs (and Toads) in children’s literature – for example, The Frog Prince and The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher.

I saw Frog as a character that boys and girls could relate to because he was honest about his fears. I think they could also relate to his courage in taking action, facing his fears and achieving a victory.

I suppose he is based on many of the children that I have taught and if I am being honest there’s a lot of me in Frog. (Well, even grownups need to calm themselves and get angry sometimes.)

Can you describe scenarios in which the different breathing techniques would be especially useful?

I think that being a child nowadays is stressful. I have already mentioned my two favourite examples of how techniques from the story have helped. However as educationalists we are constantly aware that the children in our care are travelling through a minefield of emotional problems in different areas of their lives.

For example children are dealing with major blows within the Family like divorce; separation from parents; death of a family member or friend or pet; worries about family’s financial situation; worries about a family member’s health; or perhaps a new baby brother or sister has arrived.

At school children are often anxious about their lack of specific skills, being bullied, tests, SATs, how to deal with an overload of activities, a belief that they do not have enough friends, lack of self-esteem, fear of failure, and even fear of success.

On the social side, children can be anxious because they may see themselves not “in” with the right crowd, too fat, too thin, too tall, too small, too ugly and so on.

I believe the social pressures on children – in or out of school – are immense today and we need to teach them all manner of strategies to help them deal with the pressure. Yoga and breathing techniques being at the top of the list.

The four strategies that are taught in Frog are:

  • Crocodile Breath. Situations where children could apply the technique are: tests, exams, sports day, making speeches to peers and parents, going to the dentist, finding courage.
  • Humming Bee Breath. Situations could include: headaches, feeling tense, panicky in the middle of a busy shopping centre at Christmas.
  • Woodchopper Breath. Situations could include: venting anger or frustration.
  • Lion Breath. Situations could include: strengthening voice or loosing tension.

How can this book be used with children with special needs?

Frog can be used with all children and that includes many children with special needs.

Used purely as a story, Frog is highly engaging, the illustrations compelling, and there is sufficient repetition to help reinforce readers and invite anticipation. There are also ample opportunities to compare the Frog’s experiences to the children’s if the children are at a suitable level.

On a higher level, if you are reading the book to children and encouraging them to practice the postures there is a lot to be gained. Firstly, the children will benefit from increased flexibility and better muscle tone. The big reward, however, is that yoga postures can help children with Sensory Processing Disorders.

Many children with autism, for example, have Sensory Processing Disorders which affects their Vestibular, Proprioceptive and Tactile systems. This is a vast subject that I will deal with elsewhere. Suffice to say that yoga can go a long way to identify any extremes in a child’s sensory behaviour and provide strategies to help regulate their nervous systems away from those extremes.

Using the story in a yoga/drama format also creates opportunities to work on speaking and listening skills and other communication skills like, for example, projecting the voice. Also social skills such as taking turns, waiting or applauding another child will come up when you use this story.

One massive benefit of using the story with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), for example, is the opportunity to be acting out different emotions. Frog becomes less sad as the story progresses. In fact, emotions range from sad to happy, scared to brave, beaten to successful. A great excuse to give those face muscles a good workout.

Finally, if you are using the story in a yoga/drama format and including the breathing techniques then you are encouraging the children to be “in the moment” – a well hackneyed yoga term, I know, but totally appropriate for children on both extremes of the hyperactivity scale who need to find “that middle ground of alert interest where they are not overwhelmed or underwhelmed” (Sher, B. 2009 p. 22).

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.

Teaching Tai Chi and Qigong in Schools – An Interview with Singing Dragon author Betty Sutherland

Betty Sutherland is the founder and director of UK Tai Chi and ‘Chi for Children’, a leading provider of Tai Chi based initiatives in schools across the UK. She has studied Tai Chi Chuan since 1994 and is a senior instructor at the Five Winds School of Tai Chi Chuan. She is also a member and listed as an ‘A’ grade instructor with the Tai Chi Union for Great Britain and a member of the British Council for Chinese Martial Arts.

Here, she answers some questions about her new book and DVD, Chi for Children: A Practical Guide to Teaching Tai Chi and Qigong in Schools and the Community.

How did you get in to Tai Chi Chuan, and what do you love about it?

I was originally directed to Tai Chi to help me during a very stressful time in my life. I was actually being ‘bullied’ in work by a boss and this was taking a serious toll on my health and mental wellbeing. A neighbour saw me with a dreadful migraine (I was having regular debilitating migraines) and she said “Take up Tai Chi – you need grounding”. She said this regularly for 2 years until I did indeed ‘take up Tai Chi’. It helped me work out my situation and deal with the daily mental punishment in the work situation, and other people began to notice that I was dealing with things a lot better. I will always thank my neighbour for her insight. (Incidentally years later the ‘boss’ took up Tai Chi!)

To this day Tai Chi is still my solitude and when things go wrong, my head says “Do Tai Chi” and I am compelled to go and do some form – it’s weird but it works.

What was the impetus for establishing UK Tai Chi? How have you found running Tai Chi and Qigong classes in schools?

I was asked to go into a school for their International Day and do a little bit on China. When the teachers saw how calm the students became while doing Tai Chi, they asked me to do more and show them how to help their students by teaching them Tai Chi. Hence the programme of Educational Tai Chi and Qigong called ‘Chi for Children’ was born, and train-the-trainer (the foundation for this resource) established in schools. In 2002 my programme was supported by school sports management and rolled out across Yorkshire (and now beyond).

Most teachers have embraced Tai Chi and the Chinese approach to life, so much so, that I now have several teachers in my traditional Wudang Tai Chi Chuan evening classes. On the whole the educational ‘establishment’ see the benefits to students, especially for the calmness that Tai Chi brings to the classroom. They also recognise the benefits of teaching students how to ‘manage the mind’ and improve their ability to focus and in the long term improve discipline. Mostly students (mainly 6-11 years old) love it and as they calm their energies and come alive to the movements they report mainly good feelings about themselves, of feeling calm but happy and often pleasantly surprised that they can feel Chi (energy) in their bodies. Often teachers attending these sessions will comment on how calm the class becomes during and after Tai Chi.

I have lots of letters and drawings from kids who have enjoyed the Tai Chi sessions, but the one I remember most was a little girl who had obvious learning difficulties. At the end of the session she came up to me and said “Miss, I didn’t think I would be able to do this, but I can”, with a big beaming smile on her face. This to me was the best reward that I could have asked for.

I also have a teenager who was withdrawn and a loner because of family difficulties. This student has since competed in Tai Chi at local and national level. However to me the best thing that has happened to him is that he has stepped forward to mentor and nurture some of the younger pupils and was recently pictured with his arms round them laughing and smiling. Like myself these students have embraced Tai Chi and are reaping the benefits.

How did the book and DVD come about, and what is the idea behind it?

In the early days teachers who wanted to sustain Tai Chi in schools asked me for a teaching resource; they stressed that it would be easier for them if it was in a visual format. I sat down and worked out how I was delivering the sessions and wrote it all down. This was the foundation of the DVD and book. It is for anyone who wants to learn the basics to teach to the younger age group.

How does Tai Chi support children’s physical, mental, emotional and academic development?

In Traditional Chinese Medicine the emotions and physical health work hand-in-hand, one balancing the other. When we follow these principles and teach them to the younger generation they benefit from an early age. Recognising that stress, fear and adrenalin inhibits learning, we teach students how to manage the mind, reduce negative emotions and improve and enhance a positive attitude. This in turn can benefit their emotional and academic development, and also helps going forward in life (interviews, driving exams etc.).

On a physical level, I have found that children are not as fit as they could be for their age. Tai Chi is not ‘an easy option’ – it just looks easy. Tai Chi is a ‘weight bearing’ exercise and holding postures develops muscles and bone density. In Tai Chi we ensure that don’t over-stretch or ‘hyper extend’ in the way that some other exercise systems can. A session last between 45 – 60 minutes and the students are standing for that period of time. Most comment that ‘it’s hard work’.

What advice would you give to someone looking to introduce Tai Chi into school and community settings?

I would recommend that teachers attend a Tai Chi class, however my resource Chi for Children will lead the teacher through the basic forms and postures that they need to help them get started. Each and every action is shown in the easy to follow DVD and explained in the book – a teacher could start to teach some of the simpler posture from day one. I know this because I have taught several hundred teachers/activity and community leaders backed by my resource.

Tai Chi is an excellent way to start the day and calm the classroom environment. I would recommend that teachers take learning slowly and as I say in the book – “Encourage your students to help you as you are also ‘new to the subject’. Empowering others always gets lots of enthusiasm.”

Praise for ‘Chi for Children’ from the Barlby Sports Partnership:

“The ‘Chi for Children’ program, delivered by UK Tai Chi has made a huge impact within the Barlby School Sport Partnership.

After a comprehensive review of the partnerships activities, it became apparent that, young people wanted more from their current physical education program. There was also a real need to target those children that took little or no interest in the traditional team activities that were currently being offered.

Alongside this the School Sport Partnership wanted to run an initiative that not only captured the imagination of all the young people involved but offered primary teaching staff the opportunity to gain a qualification in delivery archived through a excellent personalised mentoring scheme offered by UK Tai Chi.

The impact to date has been huge, 20 primary schools (45% of all schools) have been involved with the Chi for Children initiative, with over 20 teachers attending the train the trainer module 1. Over 200 pupils now regularly participate in Tai Chi either in the classroom as a focus session or as a stand alone PE lesson. One school was even used as a show piece example in the Partnership Dance Platform event.

As well as the health and physical benefits to all the young people what has been most encouraging is the impact the initiative has had within the whole school. Schools have been using Tai Chi as a means of stress relief for pupils (and staff) prior to exams, as a means of calming children down after lunchtimes, as a way of focusing children in the mornings to start the day.”

Copyright © Singing Dragon 2011.