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PE: Yoga at School: Case study #1

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By Michael Chissick — BE.D (HONS) BWY DIP, Director of Yoga At School

Discover how Yoga at School has helped children with SEN

Children doing yoga

Yoga is perfect for including SEN children within whole class activities

Facing a class of 30 primary school children, Yoga at School teachers are presented with a range of different abilities. Here is the story of Anita, who is as much part of the yoga class as anyone else.

As you read her story, consider: What is the likelihood of Anita attending an after-school yoga club? Where will Anita feel safest, supported and included?

Background

Anita, who has spinae bifida, is a Year 4 child at a mainstream primary school in Essex. Anita transfers from her wheel chair to her walking frame before the yoga lesson and is assisted by her learning support assistant. Anita can support herself on one leg within the safety of the frame, holding on with one arm. She can also sit and support herself on the yoga mat independently. She is highly intelligent, articulate and a very determined child.

I have been teaching Anita and her class for three years. Over that time I have seen her posture work improve, especially her balancing and her confidence soar.

Individual aims for Anita:

  • to include Anita in all activities
  • to teach Anita a variety of yoga postures
  • to encourage Anita to balance on one leg without holding the frame.

Our approach

All postures and activities are adapted so that the whole class can, at the very least, do what Anita can do. This means that Anita is immediately included, while other children are not held back from stretching to their potential.

The lesson is spilt into two parts. In the first part, the children are taught and perform standing postures and in the second part — sitting or floor postures. This way, Anita avoids the constant ups and downs which she finds difficult and time consuming.

Standing postures

Most of the standing postures involve balances, which are great for improving concentration and focus. Over the time that I have been teaching Anita, we have encouraged her to stand in an adapted Tree Posture within the walking frame, but without the support of the frame. While this was not easy, Anita’s determination helped her to a victory — a victory that was shared with her class who were in no doubt what she had achieved.

Sitting postures

Sitting on the mat, Anita is not reliant upon the support of her legs. Here, she is able to perform Twists and any of the many seated postures that I teach, as well as anyone else. One of the class’ favourites is the Flower Game. Children do need to move around in the game and they are given the choice of walking or sliding on their bottoms. Anita, naturally, finds that she can get about by the sliding method. Thus again, she is included in the fun of the game as well as the posture work.

Sequences

Sequences are highly effective in the Yoga at school lesson for several reasons:

  • sequences demand concentration and coordination
  • children enjoy flowing body movements
  • sequences are a more invigorating way to practise yoga, compared to isolated postures
  • children find sequences easy to remember and can teach them to friends and family members.

The most popular sequence that I teach is called the Sun Sequence. Adapted from the adult version, it is normally performed from a standing position. It is considered to be an all-inclusive yoga activity, because all the basic body movements are involved. For example, forward bend, back bend, inverted and side stretching. Working from standing would obviously be very difficult for Anita. Therefore I have adapted the sequence to be performed from sitting without losing any of the basic body movements. In this way, Anita and the whole class get the benefits from the activity and everyone is included.

Relaxation

Children are taught simple yet effective ways to relax. Relaxation relaxes muscles, improves breathing, refreshes and invigorates the body, helps children cope with anxiety and become calmer.

Apart from some blocks supporting her behind the knees, Anita is able to relax in the supine posture. Anita and the class - and especially the class teacher - look forward to this part of the lesson enjoying the opportunity for peace and quiet that can sometime be rare in a child’s life.

Summary

Adaptations of postures led to enhanced self esteem for Anita and her classmates, because:

  • all children irrespective of shape, weight, intellect or physical impairment, are included
  • children experience a sense of success
  • class unity is enhanced
  • some children who may not be included in games and PE, can participate, boosting their self esteem.

Read more about Yoga at school here.

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