By Kira Willey,
Kira Willey: Music, Movement, & Mindfulness for Kids
I’ve been a musician all my life. I started playing classical violin at the age of five, continued all through school—taking a break in college to play sports—and then picked up a few more instruments: guitar, ukulele, and mandolin.And I’ve always sung in choruses, plays, and choirs.
After leaving a short-lived marketing job in the corporate world (sooo not for me!) I began teaching music to young children in a parent/child program in New York City. It was a fantastic experience; I loved the energy of the kids, and felt that exposing them to music and movement was incredibly important. I learned a ton in that job, but soon realized I wanted to be able to teach my own material and not follow someone else’s curriculum. I got certified as a kids’ yoga teacher, and began teaching my own classes.
As a lifelong musician, then, when I began teaching kids’ yoga, I brought my guitar; it just came naturally to me to sing my instructions instead of saying them.This led to songs like “Dance for the Sun”— my musical way of teaching kids the sun salutation—and eventually turned into my first album.
Three more kids’ yoga albums and a bunch of years later, I’ve taught musical yoga in countless schools and yoga studios, as well as on stages big and small, and I know this for sure: if you take advantage of everything you can do with rhythm, music and song in your classes, it will transform your teaching.
And you absolutely do not have to be a musician or a singer. I promise! There are so many simple ways to do it, and using music is a fantastic way to get, and keep, your students’ attention—essential, of course, before you can teach them anything. Music also improves concentration, aids learning, helps create a sense of community, and—the focus of this post—helps you create and maintain a consistent class structure.
Children thrive on consistency and routine. Knowing what to expect is very comforting for them, particularly for children who may not have much stability in their lives. Creating musical or rhythmic touchstones at certain transition points in your classes can reduce kids’ anxiety, and makes your job as the teacher a lot easier, as everyone knows what to expect. Kids won’t be guessing or wondering aloud what happens next—your music-based structure will reduce the overall stress level in the room, so kids will cooperate much better. And hopefully, kids will internalize a bit of the order and organization, which may help them feel calmer in their own lives.
Think about your classes for a moment: what transition points are tricky? Where do you lose the kids’ attention and focus? Where would it be helpful to use a song that’s the same every time? Then begin to brainstorm ideas for developing musical touchstones for these spots, and start using them consistently. (And yes, I can hear you saying “I can’t sing!” and guess what? I don’t believe you.)
Here are some ideas:
–A “yoga time” song: when you walk into the room, use this to get kids where you need them to be (seated in a circle, say, or quiet at their desks) for the start of class. It’s much more effective than speaking. Keep it short, simple, and repetitive, so everyone learns it quickly, and knows what they are supposed to do.
–Hello song: a greeting which sets the tone you want for your class. Maybe it’s calm and quiet, or perhaps you need to bring the energy up.You could start a beat on your lap or on a drum, and go around the circle taking turns: “I have a name! My name is Mariah!” And none of these have to be “songs,” they can be spoken in rhythm, to a beat. Check out my song“The Shimmy” from Dance for the Sun as an example. If you’re using a smartphone, there are lots of simple apps, like Drummer, you can use to easily create a simple drumbeat.
–Savasana/rest time song: of course, this can be a song you simply play over a sound system, but keeping it consistent will trigger deeper relaxation each time, as the kids’ brains begin connecting the song to resting their bodies. It’s best to use a song with few words—listen to“Just Be” from Mindful Moments for Kids for an example.
–Goodbye/peace song: think about what you want to leave the children with at the end of class. Gratitude for sharing yoga together? A mindful intention for the rest of the day? Pick one brief message—and maybe it’s just “see you next time,” that’s great too—and stick to it.A short and sweet song, used each time you say goodbye, will stick in kids’ heads and get your message across.A simple example is“Peace & Joy,” from Dance for the Sun.
I’d love to hear how it goes! Get in touch at kirawilley.com.