Tag Archives: John Smisson

Mindful Little Yogis

Mindful Little Yogis
Nicola Harvey, illustrated by John Smisson
Singing Dragon

The author of Mindful Little Yogis is an education writer and children’s mindfulness practitioner and the book is based on her experiences as a teacher working with children in both primary and secondary schools with a range of learning abilities and needs. Several years ago around 20% of children were identified as having special educational needs and the number is rising, making additional demands on classroom teachers in both mainstream and special schools. Nicola stresses the importance of these children receiving consistent positive messages from all adults be they parents, carers, teachers, teaching assistants, therapists.

She advocates using mindfulness techniques to help build self-assurance and describes the STAR model: ‘STOP. Take a breath. And. Relax.’ that provides a framework, a four part developmental tool.

Then follows a section on mindful breathing, giving guidance on a range of sensory breathing techniques that I know from experience work very well with young children and those with additional needs.
The same is true of Animal Breathing (children I know especially love lion’s breath, bee breath and snake breath); Shape Breathing techniques and the use of sound, and body flow are explored next.

Part two ‘AND …’ comprises a range of self-regulation activities, grounding and sensory yoga games. There are also sections on emotional intelligence, using music as therapy and much more. I especially like the emphasis Nicola puts on positivity throughout.

With illustrations by John Smisson, this is a smashing book for all children of all abilities in all places for all times. With our increasingly pressurised education system all schools would do well to include some of these techniques and activities in their daily schedule.

Go Yogi! / Animal Asanas

Go Yogi!
Emma Hughes and John Smisson
Singing Dragon
Namaste: Meet Monkey, Mac and cat, Flo: they are enthusiastic about yoga and its benefits and want young children to join them and learn a special yogic way of breathing and some of their favourite yoga poses. First though, a space away from distractions is needed and then, mat down it’s time to start. The first focus is on the breath, and this is followed by a round of sun salutation. Here are the opening moves:

The two animals then move on to some standing poses, the first being the triangle – here called ‘Tea Pot’.

Clearly this book is for very young children who will most likely be familiar with the favourite nursery action song.
After this come four further standing poses; ‘balancing barn door introduces the slightly tricky (for 3 and 4 year  olds) standing on one leg. They’ll love to try though and increase the time before wobbles set in. Equally great fun, is the ‘warrior’.
All good yoga sessions need a variety of standing and sitting poses, so Flo demonstrates the ‘balancing boat’ next.

Following it with what they call here ‘pebble on the shore’ and many yogis will know as the pose of the child or balasana. Three additional poses are shown by Flo and then it’s time to relax. Mack gives her instructions and Flo begins to let go completely, making a ‘Ha’ sound to help her.
The entire yoga lesson is nicely illustrated by John Smisson who also teamed up with the author in Striker, Slow Down!
The final spread is aimed at adults and offers words of wisdom from a very experienced teacher of yoga, the author, Emma.
For me, as an early years teacher and yoga teacher, this is perfectly pitched for the very youngest beginning yogis. I’d strongly recommend it for all early years settings and families with young children. It could, one hopes, be the start of a life-long practice that offers many benefits, physical and emotional.

Animal Asanas: Yoga for Children
Leila Kadri Oostendorp and Elsa Mroziewicz Bahia
Prestel
A gloriously ornate menagerie of creatures great and small demonstrate over a dozen yoga asanas, and relaxation exercises.
‘Namaste, Children’ the author says on the introductory page and then goes on to give some wise words about yoga and taking it up. Anyone coming to yoga for the first time should read and inwardly digest what’s said before going near a yoga mat
The first asana shown is Vrikshasana – the tree pose and before embarking on the pose itself, there’s a ‘tree meditation’ that begins ‘Imagine you are a tree … You stand firmly on the ground and nobody can move you.’ A great introduction and believe me, as a yoga teacher and one who specialises in teaching children, this really works. Benefits of the pose (and indeed, all the others), is given as is a helpful tip. Here it’s the crucial anti-wobble: ‘Focus your eye on to a single point straight ahead of you. This will help keep your balance.
After this, all the asanas are animal-based: there’s the Frog, Cat and Cow, The Dog ,

the Cobra, the Dove (I know it as the Pigeon), the Butterfly, the Camel, the Tortoise, the Roaring Lion – a great one for letting off steam and relieving tension/stress – children love this …

the Rabbit, the Locust the Fish and finally, the Crocodile.
Relaxation is extremely important after a yoga session and there is a lovely Rainbow journey to undertake while lying in sarvasana.

The final spread gives some words of yoga wisdom – and wise they are ‘time spent … is for children’s enjoyment and exploration; it is not a time to be achievement-oriented or critical.’ and some practical tips for parents on a child’s yoga practice.
The whole book is beautifully presented both verbally and visually. Ornate Indian style borders enhance each spread and really help to underline the notion that the yoga mat or demarcated space is ‘a place from which to become aware’ and that time spent on yoga is a very special time when nothing else matters; and nothing should be impinging on that time.

Striker, Slow Down!

How often do we ask children to ‘calm down’ or ‘slow down’? Fairly frequently I suggest. Now here’s a little book to help subtitled “A calming book for children who are always on the go‘:

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Striker, Slow Down!
Emma Hughes and John Smisson
Singing Dragon
Striker the kitten, like many young children, leads a frenetic life, dashing from one activity to the next, never stopping or slowing down, despite frequent pleas from his mum and dad.

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Seemingly the only times he stays put are mealtimes and when he’s fast asleep. Now if you’re the parent of a whirlwind-type youngster, this will surely resonate.
One day though, the inevitable happens: Striker’s rushing results in a bumped head. Only then is he ready to sit down quietly with his mum, and start to relax.

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Those of us who work with young children know it’s not as simple as that. I do know however, that regular short sessions, be they of yoga, breathing, listening to a meditative story or whatever, do lead to calmer youngsters who can spend short spells being relaxed and peaceful in mind and body.
This little book is written in rhyme (creaking slightly once or twice) and Emma Hughes, the author, is herself a yoga teacher so obviously knows things don’t happen overnight as the book might suggest. However, if it does nothing more than set adults and young children off on the calming path, then it will have served its purpose.
For a start, take time to sit quietly together, share the book and enjoy the bright, bold, appropriately uncluttered illustrations.