Georgia 4-H focuses on teaching kids about their heads, hearts, health and hands. When 4-H clubs started offering Yoga for Kids three years ago, the program was a perfect fit.
Today, more than 100 Georgia 4-H agents, program assistants and volunteers have been trained as Yoga for Kids instructors, and yoga poses have stretched their way into everything from after-school clubs to standardized test preparatory programs.
Many Georgia 4-H agents will offer yoga programs throughout the summer in conjunction with activities hosted by University of Georgia Cooperative Extension offices across the state.
For agents, Yoga for Kids is a fun, inclusive way to keep kids moving during the summer while teaching them valuable lessons about stress management and healthy lifestyles. For kids, it’s a chance to sprawl out on the floor, get silly, bark, moo, meow, and basically try something fun and new over the summer break.
Brittani Kelley, a 4-H Youth Development agent at the Cobb County Extension office, was one of 30 4-H agents and volunteers who participated in a daylong Yoga for Kids training in early May at Rock Eagle 4-H Center in Eatonton, Georgia.
She plans to integrate yoga into summer activities for Cobb County 4-H’s Wellness 360 program, which works with families and children to support healthy lifestyles through nutrition classes and fitness programs.
“It’s a little different from the ‘let’s just jump around’ kind of activities we offer,” Kelley said. “It’s a calming activity where they not only learn about fitness, they learn how to de-stress and how to be mindful. It teaches them how to focus instead of just running around all the time.”
Sergia Gabelmann, Chatham County 4-H agent now certified to teach the Yoga for Kids program to other agents, has been hosting weekly yoga classes through her network of 4-H community clubs for the past year. She plans to host regular yoga practice for kids at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Garden at the Historic Bamboo Farm in Savannah, Georgia, this summer.
“The most meaningful outcome has been the kids’ attitudes,” Gabelmann said. “This is evident in their attitude toward the yoga practice and toward each other.”
The kids weren’t so sure about yoga when Gabelmann introduced them to it, but the tools she learned through the Yoga for Kids program helped her engage them.
“The first yoga session was a disaster,” she said. “I could not get the kids to listen to instructions or stay on their own mats. I decided to play a yoga game and give them time to adjust. By keeping the class fun and lighthearted, the kids began to settle down and this was how we started our yoga practice. Eventually, they were able to practice yoga and breathing exercises without distractions.”
The Yoga for Kids curriculum structures the program to be fun and help kids focus at the same time. Public health and wellness Extension specialists worked with Arkansas 4-H to develop the curriculum specifically for 4-H’ers.
The program teaches the basic tenets of yoga — deep, controlled breathing and balanced poses — without the Sanskrit vocabulary or the need for special clothes or equipment. It also gets silly, like mooing and meowing during cow and cat poses.
When Georgia 4-H agents learned the curriculum this spring, they focused on safety, introducing basic poses to students and adapting yoga practices for different situations. They offered simple routines for the classroom, energizing wake-up routines for mornings at day camps and techniques that students can use to calm themselves down during stressful tasks like testing or athletic competitions.
“You don’t have to be very skilled in yoga to teach or participate in this program,” said Cheryl Varnadoe, a UGA Extension 4-H programming specialist and coordinator of Georgia 4-H’s Health Rocks program. “It breaks it down into kid-friendly terms so they’re not scared of doing it and kids really enjoy it. … People are using it and we’re doing classes at Junior 4-H conference, Senior 4-H camp and other different settings. The counties report that the kids really love these programs.”
Teachers love it too. The 4-H programs in different counties integrate it into their preparations for standardized testing or offer it during the school day to help kids focus on learning.
“One of the main components of the Health Rocks! program is stress reduction, particularly around test-taking time,” Varnadoe said. “This is something you could do at your desk with kids. You can do it in an after-school club meeting or you can host a class at the library on a Saturday morning.”
For Jessica Vincent, who helped to certify the latest group of Georgia 4-H agents this spring and refine the curriculum in Arkansas, teaching kids about fitness and yoga is just a continuation of the original Corn Clubs, 4-H’s predecessor.
“When kids learn something, they take it home, just like it was 100 years ago when children learned agricultural science in Corn Clubs and took that information home to their family farms,” Vincent said. “Today they’re taking yoga home, they’re practicing with their siblings and maybe their parents will try it too.”
To find out more about the Yoga for Kids program and Georgia 4-H, visit www.georgia4h.org or call 1-800-ASK-UGA1.