VAIL STEWART RUMLEY | DAILY NEWS  UPWARD DOG: Children take on the posture Upward Dog in yoga class at Washington Montessori’s afterschool program.
UPWARD DOG: Children take on the posture Upward Dog in yoga class at Washington Montessori’s afterschool program.

HEALTHY MINDS: Montessori brings yoga to afterschool

Published 7:24pm Saturday, November 2, 2013

On a given Tuesday or Thursday afternoon, walk into Building 4 of Washington Montessori Public Charter School and what you’ll find is children reaching, stretching, doing backbends and testing the boundaries of their flexibility. It’s not a gymnastics class, however. It’s yoga.

In October, the Montessori School added yoga to its long list of activities offered in their private afterschool program. The 45-minute classes were added at the behest of parents.

“PTO sent out letters to our community members to see if there was interest and then proposed it to administration as an option,” said Head of School Jen Hales. “Due to the high degree of interest and parental involvement, we thought it would be a wonderful opportunity for our students.”

Pennie Ireland, head of Montessori Parent Teacher Organization, spearheaded the drive to put yoga on the list of afterschool activities, alongside chess club, cross-country, music lessons, painting and drawing classes. When she polled parents as to whether they’d like to see yoga added to the available activities, the response was very positive. Now two of Ireland’s four children look forward to yoga every week and are disappointed if scheduling conflicts mean they miss a class, she said.

According to Ireland, what started as an alternative exercise class has produced other benefits for her children — mainly the ability to take a step back and breathe before reacting with negative behavior. Breathing exercises are fundamental part of yoga.

“When I started this, I wasn’t really thinking about (them learning) coping skills,” Ireland said. “But it’s teaching them coping skills.”

Hales is looking at a broader picture for the Montessori afterschool participants, in keeping with the Montessori philosophy.

“One of the main priorities at Washington Montessori is to expose our students to a wide variety of activities and experiences that they may not normally encounter in their day-to-day lives,” Hales said. “We believe that exposing our children to such unique experiences begins to light a flame of interest in each child, which is the first step of learning.”

It also gives children the opportunity to interact with children of different age groups, and in some classes, their parents. Parents are invited to attend with their children and participate in the yoga classes. Some come as observers, sitting on the sidelines as their children move through upward dog, downward dog, cobra and child’s pose; others bring a mat and participate alongside their children.

According to school officials, instructor Michelle Shipley’s classes are beneficial to the kids, offering them a non-sport option for exercise and fostering healthy lifestyle choices — in all, a way to promote the relationship between healthy bodies and minds.

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