Angela Major
Harmony Elementary first-graders practice yoga to unwind.

WATCH: Yoga part of daily routine for Harmony first-graders

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Jim Dayton
Tuesday, May 2, 2017

JANESVILLE—Most first-grade classes are prone to a little chaos, but when Sara Simes tells her students it's time for yoga, the kids show an unexpected level of maturity.

The Harmony Elementary School classroom grows quiet. The kids, many of whom sit on yoga balls for chairs, find empty spots and wait for different poses to flash across a screen while doing their best to copy them.

Simes has been teaching at Harmony, in the Milton School District, for nine years, and for more than seven of those she's made yoga a part of the daily routine. She believes it helps her students learn better and relax—no small feat for their age group.

“We have 6- and 7-year-old little kids who we're asking a lot of during the day, and they need a way to get their wiggles out,” she said. “Yoga has been a great way of doing that.”

It particularly helps kids who like to fidget, which for some is the brain's way of trying to stay attentive. Yoga can help their attention spans endure throughout the day, she said.

Simes started the practice after a special-needs student suggested it to her years ago. The student had already been doing yoga at home and taught Simes some different poses. Other kids immediately loved it.

“I saw the benefits, and I liked it,” Simes said. “It kind of has pushed me to do other things in my classroom and be more self-aware of how kiddos function in the classroom, like the brain, the body and how they all work together.”

The kids' affection for yoga continues, and a handful of students told The Gazette how much they enjoyed it.

Echoing some of Simes' mantras, the students said yoga helps them focus, connect their minds to their bodies and get their “wiggles” out.

After the routine was finished, Lizzy Kirchner said yoga helps her with karate practice. Karate involves punches, kicks and yells, but like yoga, it improves focus, Kirchner said.

Hunter Lund said movement was his favorite part of yoga. Paradoxically, however, the cobra was his favorite pose because he likes lying down, he said.

Grayson Neff said he couldn't remember the name of his favorite pose, but it was the one where his arms support him and his “butt is upside-down.” That sounds like downward dog.

Simes said her students can do poses she can't do. Some have even become young yogis, teaching their parents at home, she said.

“It's great because come parent-teacher conferences, (parents are) like, 'Oh, I learned some new yoga moves,'” Simes said. “They're taking what they're doing here and applying it at home.”

Former students even return to teach first-graders new poses, she said.

A handful of students usually are hesitant to make yoga a part of their school day. Once they see their classmates doing it, those kids start to accept it, Simes said.

In class, she emphasizes how yoga can help kids with their education, which usually gets everyone on board. She hopes the practice also will provide a stress-relief strategy as kids get older and experience the pressures of growing up.

“I stress the importance of yoga and how it helps with your learning, so they just know it's their job to help (themselves),” Simes said. “It's all about helping them be the best they can be.”

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