How & Why to Keep Mindful Movement in the Virtual School Day

Not long after I’d begun work as a counselor in a high poverty, high trauma school, I played a social/emotional game with a group of students in which I’d ask questions to get them thinking. “What would you do if you found $10,000?” I asked the children.

Having come to this district from an affluent one, I was used to answers like, “I’d buy a Lamborghini,” or “I’d throw a big party.” I expected different responses in this school, to be sure, but nothing like what I heard from the first boy who answered.

“I’d give it back,” he said.

Immediately humbled, I asked, “What if you couldn’t find who it belonged to?”

“I would spend $9000 of it to help my friends and neighbors.”

Over the years, I’ve often thought about this exchange, but especially these days. The pandemic and the economic turmoil that’s come along with it are deeply affecting populations like the ones in this school. This story reminds me of the resilience, strength, creativity, and care that exist in these communities, and how imagination leads us to develop solutions to the hardships we face.

The Challenges Facing Us Now

In difficult times, it’s important for us all to recognize that although we may feel helpless, we each have reservoirs of strength, creativity, and hope that we can draw from and communities of others for mutual support. This is the power of community – and one reason why Community is one of the five principles on which Yoga Calm is based.

kids attending online schoolIt’s also true that kids are returning to school – whether in person, virtually, or in learning pods – with heightened emotional needs from the various traumas fueled by all the disruptions this year has brought. So there has been ongoing discussion about how educators can best meet these new needs while ensuring that children get the education they need and deserve – and ensuring equal access for all, regardless of ethnic or economic background. It’s a tall, tall order.

When unmet, such needs are often expressed through behavior – disruption, distraction, defiance, and so on. This has led to simultaneous discussions about discipline, especially in the virtual classroom. “It’s likely there will be an uptick in misbehavior,” a recent article over on Chalkbeat noted.

With their movement restricted, students will have fewer avenues to de-stress. Some students will be experiencing new or added trauma, which can cause students to act out.

Several advocates said they were especially worried about Black, Hispanic, and Native children, whose families have experienced higher levels of illness and death during the pandemic. Those communities’ experiences have differed, but in many cases they’ve also faced higher rates of job or economic loss as well as food insecurity.

Students may disrupt classrooms, need more attention from their teachers, or have “some real anger about how this situation has impacted themselves and their family” and not be able to express that, said Miranda Johnson, a clinical professor of law at Loyola University Chicago who studies school discipline.

That makes learning harder, and teachers will have fewer tools at their disposal. Typical interventions like pats on the back or close-up chats are harder now. And while some schools are still holding restorative peace circles to hash out conflicts, it’s unclear how effective those are in a virtual or socially distanced setting.

Keeping Mindful Movement in the School Day

This is all the more reason to be diligent about including opportunities for movement and SEL throughout the day, just as you would in a standard classroom. While partner activities may need to be shelved for now, Yoga Calm processes can still easily be done together online or with social distancing in person.

For those not yet trained in Yoga Calm, an out-of-the-box program such as Empower can be used to provide mindful movement opportunities, all while the kids learn about their brains and bodies. (And right now, you can try it out for a month for free!)

At minimum, students need opportunities to release the energy that gets bound up inside us through too much sitting still – time to relax, let go, and de-stress so when it comes time to get back on task, focus can be there.

girl jumping ropeSo I recommend keeping regular recess times each day – and vary the activities. Have the children help make the plan and list all the different kinds of recess they can do. (Parents and teachers get a break in their day, too!) Simple, inexpensive things like hula hoops, balls, and jump ropes are excellent props for encouraging kids to move. Or pick sports or activities you’re not familiar with and start learning them through the many free how-to videos available on YouTube and Vimeo. Learn new dances together. Or new soccer moves. Get creative!

You’re only limited by your imagination.

And here again, I think of what the students and I learned together back at that high poverty school I once taught at: It’s important to gather and share resources – even if, these days, it’s mainly online. Share your skills, your knowledge, your resources. We depend on each other.

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