Silverthorne Elementary teacher creates ‘peaceful warriors’ with Calming Kids program
LEARN TO CALM KIDS WITH YOGA
Calming Kids integrates yoga exercises, breathing techniques, stress management, nonviolent communication and conflict resolution strategies to reduce violence and increase concentration at school, after-school and at home.
Founder Dee Marie will offer Calming Kids trainings to educators, youth professionals and parents at The Peak School in Frisco this November and December.
Elementary training: Nov. 15 and 16, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., $295
Middle/high school training: Dec. 6 and 7, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., $295
Ayurveda/asanas (postures) class: Dec. 5 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Dec. 6 from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., $160 (required for full certification)
To register for any of the trainings, visit Meta Yoga Studios at metayogastudios.com or call (970) 547-YOGA (9642). To learn more about becoming a certified Calming Kids educator, call Marie at (303) 530-3860 or visit calmingkidsyoga.org.
“Breathe in like you’re smelling a flower. Breathe out like you’re blowing out a candle.”
Silverthorne Elementary third-grade teacher Liz McFarland told a small group of students to tell any negative thoughts they were thinking to go away while an instrumental version of The Beatles’ “Let It Be” played softly behind her.
She reminded the students, gathered in a circle in front of her, to sit up tall in “strong mountain pose.” Together they recited a morning pledge while acting out the words:
“We gather together today to share with one another our strengths and our weaknesses, our successes and our failures, our brilliance and our darkness in order to transform ourselves in order to create a planet of peaceful warriors.”
For the second year, McFarland, 33, of Frisco, has been offering a six-day program called Calming Kids to students at Silverthorne Elementary before school.
Sometimes the sessions involve moving through yoga poses, while the class on Thursday, Nov. 6, incorporated an anti-bullying role playing scenario.
McFarland told the children about how other students teased her as a kid by calling her “Lizard.” Then she directed them through a skit where a student responded in different ways to another boy calling his shirt ugly.
“If it’s ever a big deal, if someone is hitting you, should you tell a teacher? Of course. If someone’s using really bad language, should you tell a teacher? Yeah,” she said. “But if someone’s making fun of our shirt or our name, can you try to handle that one on your own?”
The kids nodded.
In those situations, McFarland recapped, they should stand up tall, take a deep breath, look the other person in the eyes and say what they don’t like about that person’s actions. Then without waiting for a response, the kids should turn and walk away.
“Even if you’re sad, try to find something that’s going to make you happy at that moment,” she said.
Remember, the bully isn’t doing those things to be mean, she added. Something is going on with them; their candle is out.
“If you see your friend over there in the corner getting made fun of, now that you’re a peaceful warrior do you think you could help them and stand up for them?” she asked to more nods. “I want you to stand up for yourself but peacefully.”
She ended the Nov. 6 session by telling the kids to come talk to her if they are struggling with anything. Then the group sang a goodbye song:
“The light in me sees the light in you. The peace in me sees the peace in you. The love in me sees the love in you. Namaste.”
YOGA IN SCHOOL
Silverthorne students sometimes call McFarland the yoga teacher, and children ask her when they can do the sessions.
She taught 115 kids last year, and this year more students want to participate than she can teach.
“The word has definitely gotten out, and the kids are excited,” she said.
She teaches groups of 10 to 15 on a first-come, first-serve basis. They meet at 8 a.m. three days a week for two weeks, and the sessions last 25 to 30 minutes to give the kids time to eat breakfast or play outside before school starts at 8:45.
Silverthorne Elementary principal Jeff Johnson, who has experience incorporating yoga in class as a PE teacher, supports the program and called it “so much more than yoga.”
“That’s an easy thing for kids to remember it as,” he said, “but I think yoga is a fraction of what comes out of it.”
The kids also learn self-love and how to better understand and communicate with each other, he said.
The idea of yoga, which comes from Hindu traditions, being taught in schools can upset some parents, so Silverthorne Elementary calls it a before-school exercise program in the fliers it sends home.
Calming Kids isn’t a yoga program anyway, McFarland said. It uses yoga, dance, skits and other techniques to build kids’ self-confidence and reduce emotional, verbal and physical violence.
Another Silverthorne teacher is in the process of becoming certified to teach the program, which will allow more students to participate, McFarland said.
She also hopes to start a mentorship program in the next few months that pairs older “peaceful warriors,” or students who have completed the two-week program, with the younger ones. She wants to meet with the students monthly over lunch and teach the older kids how they can help by talking with their mentees.
McFarland has been passionate about yoga for almost 20 years, since she started practicing it in high school.
She was certified as a Calming Kids teacher by the program’s founder Dee Marie, who started using the curriculum in a Boulder elementary school in 2004.
In the last 10 years, Calming Kids expanded to teach educators, counselors and students nondenominational yoga-based techniques that increase concentration, relaxation and fitness and decrease bullying.
It works, McFarland said. “I’m seeing a lot of changes in the classroom and the atmosphere of the school.”
During the session Thursday morning, first-grader Liam Meyer told the circle, unprompted, about how he used one of the techniques at home the night before.
“When my mom made me angry I did that,” he said.
“What did you do, honey?” McFarland asked.
“Took a deep breath and put my eyes up and roared,” he said.
McFarland praised him for remembering to use lion’s breath, a fun stress-management tool that involves sticking the tongue out and exhaling audibly.
At a session in October, 10-year-old Esmeralda Sotelo said she also used the techniques she learned at home.
“Yesterday I was really mad at my brother, and I calmed down,” she said.
McFarland hears that kind of feedback all the time.
A kindergartner once shared with her, she said, that his mom was frustrated one night, and he told her, “Mommy, I’ll show you how to breathe.”
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