By Robyn Marty
What do you do as a special parent-child activity? Here’s one idea: kids yoga class—with stories.
My preschooler lies curled on bright pink mat on the floor as, softly, the words “Hush, my darling, be still my darling …” croon in the background. Then she jumps up, grinning and dancing when “Wimowheh, Wimowheh, Wimowheh, Wimowheh,” blares out of the small speakers at the front of the room.
Vi and the other small children filling the The Learning Tree yoga studio are participating in the closing ritual of storytime yoga, a Saturday yoga class for youngsters aged 2 and older. After the song ends they will lie on their backs, breathing deeply as they balance a small rubber duck on their stomachs, then conclude with an enthusiastic “Namaste” to Teacher Jessie and the other students.
We’ve been attending storytime yoga for nearly a year now. Before each class, Vi and I pack up her stroller with our own yoga mats (although the studio supplies them as well), a bottle of water and a bag of dried mango to eat on the way back home, then walk a few blocks to the small, two-story building in Columbia Heights. This biweekly class quickly became a sacred ritual for the two of us, the one mommy/daughter-only activity in our family life.
My daughter had become bored with traditional story time at the library, and we were looking for something slightly more active like tumbling or dance when I saw “children’s yoga classes” online and decided to check Learning Tree out. I was initially apprehensive. At two years old, Vi wasn’t much for following instructions or even sitting still for very long.
But it didn’t take long to realize that the mix of stories, songs and constantly changing yoga positions with simple instructions—plus patience from an instructor who realized that kids will occasionally scream, run in circles or head over to the wall of mirrors to make faces at themselves—was exactly what Vi needed to have fun and learn how to follow simple directions.
Jessie Fortson, founder of Learning Tree and the instructor for the storytime yoga classes, came up with the idea by combining her two passions: yoga and literature. “The idea of linking story and yoga together began in my YogaKids training,” said Fortson. “We have a YogaKids element called ‘Reading Comes Alive with Yoga.’ I was teaching first grade at the time and literacy skills are such a huge part of the curriculum at that age, so I immediately ran with the idea.”
“Young children are natural movers and shakers,” she pointed out. “Giving them a focal point, such as a picture book, to guide their yoga and a positive outlet for their energy while listening to a story is powerful.
“Plus, I just plain love children’s literature. What better than to be able to work with two things you love!”
The books are a major draw for the students, an enthralled audience on their brightly colored mats in a circle around Fortson. As she turns each page and reads the story, she leads the children through another pose: cow, tree, mouse, cat, asking them about the colors of their imaginary animals or whether they are covered in stripes or polka dots.
“Pre-K classes definitely have to be quick moving with a lot of gross motor work and follow a familiar routine to be developmentally appropriate,” Fortson said. “But once a young child has experienced a class or two, it is amazing what they can do. From big thoughts to big movements, they can surprise us!”
It certainly surprised me.
I knew my daughter enjoyed the class. She always looked forward to it and would ask about it when too much time had passed since she had last been to the studio. (One month our schedule didn’t quite match, with family visits and vacations conflicting.)
But I finally realized how much she loved it when she decided that we should play “yoga school.” She would be the instructor and my husband and I her students. “Down dog! Now, cat!” she commanded, trying to coach my six-foot-3 inch husband from a downward dog into the arching back of the cat.
Now I have a three year old who can balance on one foot in Tree pose while singing “Driving My Tractor” and can’t wait for her next Saturday class.
But she still can’t balance that duck on her belly. Even now she still won’t sit still for that long.
Story time yoga is every other Saturday at Learning Tree Yoga and costs $10.50 a session. The next class is March 5. Click here for the full schedule.