Peace Out - our guided relaxation and visualisation series for kids - is a favourite with homeschoolers and teachers using it for transitions in the classroom. There are also loads of parents using them at home too especially for bedtime.
The new series is 11 new guided relaxations, available as video and MP3s. In the new series of videos, we open on Jaime speaking into the mic saying hello and getting us ready for the relaxation before fading to a calming image when Jaime invites kids to close their eyes. All 11 videos are already up on the Cosmic Kids App and we will be releasing them steadily to YouTube over late 2018 and into 2019.
Here's one to watch now on YouTube - the Bye Bye Boat:
Our goals with these guided relaxations for kids:
- Creates a routine which kids look forward to - Jaime's intro is familiar and repeats phrases across all Peace Outs. It's all about getting yourself comfortable and feeling calm.
- Helps the kids themselves to learn how they want to approach calm - We want to encourage the kids to take responsibility for their calmness. Aside from needing some quiet to listen, there are no rules about how we do relaxation, just suggestions. Jaime invites the kids to close their eyes if and when they like, just explaining that it really helps as this means you can (for example) be in your own little bubble. She also offers different ways of lying/sitting so the kids can decide what they need to be comfortable enough to make the most of the relaxation.
- Asks the kids to reflect on how they feel at the end - Jaime does this in all of this series of Peace, so we notice how different we feel compared to the beginning. This is important to recognise and value. What does calm feel like compared to high energy? A good learning goal!
- We create context and stories that kids love - bunnies, dragons, stars and many other situations act as the context for explorations of hope, sensation, reflection, love and kindness. This is a lovely space for kids to hang out in - and adults for that matter 🙂
This week Martin and I went to our first meeting at the Houses of Parliament to talk about kids and mental health. We’re now officially part of an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) which comes up with ideas and strategies to help kids have a fit and healthy childhood, and aims to influence legislation.
It felt pretty grown-up to be sat around that table - but as I listened to the issues being raised I genuinely got excited about what Cosmic Kids can do! Cosmic Kids videos are so easy to use, speak to kids in a way that they can understand, have been shown to be effective - and they're FREE - so they can be a genuine solution in this space. I don’t want to get carried away, and believe me, we’ve still got so much more to do -but I can see how we have already made progress where others might be getting stuck.
Here are my highlights and take aways from round 1 in the HOP!
There is a lot of energy for change
With the mighty Baroness Floella Benjamin at the helm of this group, you just know stuff’s gonna get done! Floella was on kids’ TV when I was little and she has a special place in my heart. It's almost like I grew up with her. If you don't know her (and especially if you do!) take a look at the video below.
Baroness Benjamin is an absolute legend and I love the energy she brings! She has shaped the purpose in the group really well and I felt that their (our!) intent is pure - everyone wants to bring positive change and I believe powerful solutions will eventually be implemented.
We need to chunk the challenge down into manageable parts
This is a broad issue we are tackling - mental health in kids. At one end of the spectrum, we have the challenge of helping kids who have 'diagnosed’ problems (scarily this is 10% of kids of primary age in the UK...) This asks for solutions like giving teachers more training on recognising mental health disorders in kids, and funding educational psychologists and other relevant trained professionals so kids get the help they need. At another end of the challenge is the opportunity to help kids in a more universal sense: making sure they develop awareness and a sense of emotional self-reliance as they grow up. I suppose this is essentially mindfulness and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) - techniques which help all kids understand themselves (their feelings, thoughts and actions) and also develop a respect and love for each other. This is frankly where World Peace comes from - humans with well-developed awareness and impulse-control!
Although these two sides to the challenge are related, we need to be clear about the difference between them. 10% of kids need specialist help…and others will do great with just ongoing practice and technique to stay in tune with their minds and feeling mentally stable. Both are essential. Let's create two 'buckets' so we can focus on them both.
It's good to know Cosmic Kids is being used for both extremes
There was a magic moment for us at the end of the meeting when a lovely woman called Charlotte Davies who runs a business called Fit-2-Learn came up and told us how she uses Cosmic Kids and recommends it to everyone she works with, because it works! She told us about a little boy who had become mute. He had just frozen up - he was so tense he couldn’t even release the muscles in his jaw. This is often what selective mutism is like. Anyway, she showed him our Zen Den video - the Owl and the Guard Dog and he began to relax. He began to understand the workings of his mind and that little bit of distance and objectivity gave him the space to start to release and open up again. She said this was the only video she has found that works with kids with selective mutism. We were blown away - we don’t often hear about the specific issues our videos are helping with, so it was incredible getting feedback like this.
Is there a way of normalising mental health rather than stigmatising it?
One of the issues raised in the session was the stigma that comes from being labeled with a mental health disorder. We heard that being diagnosed with something like ADHD as a child may affect your chances of getting into a school or even getting a job later in life. So how do we deal with that? I think it comes down to more learning - for kids and grown ups. We all need to learn to be a little more objective about the workings of our brains and to become aware that we're all wired a little differently from each other. You don't just get a score out of 10 for mental health that you're stuck with. You get what you're born with, life has its effect on you and then you can develop strategies to make life easier for yourself if you're lucky. And if you start to have problems which affect you and the people around you more seriously, then there will be help available for you. This is all OK. Normal.
As we all start to realise mental health challenges are likely to happen to most of us some point - that it’s a normal thing and sensible to be equipped to deal with them - then I hope that stigma will no longer be attached so readily.
Video can solve a lot of problems!
It was great hearing from Barnado's - the UK's 2nd biggest children’s charity (£300m in funds raised annually) - about their PATHS programme. (PATHS stands for Promoting Alternative THinking Strategies). This is a social and emotional lesson programme for schools which involves training teachers and offering lesson plans and other resources geared around SEL for each separate primary year group. The content sounds great. We heard some powerful & clearly communicated techniques to help kids develop an awareness of the link between feelings-> thoughts -> actions. So far it’s having a super positive impact with the schools it’s being used in.
The numbers are interesting for us. Barnados is in 225 schools and trained around 2500 teachers in this country and it's taken a lot of work to get there. It's interesting to note that Cosmic Kids is used in something like 100 times that many schools around the world and we've trained about 2500 kids yoga teachers on our kids yoga teacher training and had 15000 people on our free kids yoga crash course. Clearly this is not a competition, it just shows how powerful online video is!
Cosmic Kids on YouTube is picked up and used partly because it's easy for teachers to offer (you just play the video) and also because it's free. The main barriers to uptake of the PATHS program are the time it takes teachers to teach the lessons: according to teachers, there is too much pressure on achieving academic targets and these new lessons are too much to squeeze in. Secondly - there is a barrier in the cost. This one slightly confused me to be honest. I thought that Barnado's would fund this from the money they raise as a charity, but in fact it has to be paid for by schools or (in one case in London) by the NHS. They didn’t want to say how much it costs to get the programme into a school, but given that funding was reported as an issue, it must be quite expensive, right?!
My question to them, is this: Why not create something that’s free? This way schools can at least give it a go and get started. Why not use video? You can press play and it takes the pressure off the teacher having to do all that extra work. We actually suggested working with them and building out our existing Zen Den program on YouTube with some of their ideas…surely this could be a help? We'll keep you posted.
What does all this mean for Cosmic Kids?
It was great being a voice in this discussion, and as ever it was a pleasure to share Cosmic Kids with the room. I am feeling super positive about what we can do and we are going to continue coming to these sessions. Cosmic Kids is such a small and nimble team, and this means we can get things made and out in the world really quickly. Also we have a growing audience: looking at the stats, half a million screens played our videos an average of 5 times in the last 4 weeks. A good chunk of these screens are in schools, so we know there will have been a whole classroom full of kids watching. So we have quite a lot of influence already in this space and even more potential.
My main takeaway is that we should keep making content that works and getting it in front of as many kids, teachers and parents as we can. The key here is that Cosmic Kids is easy, quick and free - and this is what is needed for a good chunk of this challenge.
So our next steps…
We are planning to dive back into our Zen Den series and develop some more videos that will help, just like the Owl and the Guard Dog did for that little boy. I think as well we need some form of structure or guide to help teachers and parents navigate all the mindfulness content in Zen Den, so that a real program (and by 'real' I mean one that works and you can measure how it’s working) could be implemented in the class room or at home. I reckon this program really ought to incorporate the yoga adventures and the Peace Out series (guided relaxations) too as variety is the spice of life and me sitting on a cloud might get a bit boring day after day!
I’m not quite sure how we’ll get all this done, but we will and we’ll have it in your hands as soon as it’s ready!
Over and out! J xx
8 Ways Kids Can Benefit From Yoga
As more schools include children's yoga in their classrooms, we wanted to talk about some of the benefits of kids' yoga, from physical health to wellbeing.
Yoga has been long used by adults who've found a range of positive results, from improved posture to reduced anxiety. Through teaching children yoga, we've found that many of these effects are actually experienced by kids too. If you've been thinking about introducing your child to the world of kids' yoga, here are just some of the benefits...
As children regularly practice yoga, mastering new poses and creating a flow between their body and mind helps builds confidence. Even a simple step like a child being able to touch their toes after practicing each week, creates the feeling of achievement. Yoga allows every child to move at their own pace which helps mastering a pose to feel important and special. Thanks to the fact that each child can achieve at their own pace, the comparison to others that they may experience elsewhere is completely removed.
2. Kids' Yoga Promotes a Healthy Body
Regular yoga practice helps promote a healthier body through poses that stretch, strengthen and build coordination too. Kids’ yoga improves flexibility and increases blood flow, which in turn can help reduce the risk of injury during other physical activity. In our recent survey of teachers around the world using Cosmic Kids Yoga in their classes, 97 percent of saw improvements in their children's body strength, hooray!
3. Kids' Yoga Improves Concentration
Part of the positive changes teachers have found from using yoga in classes is the improvement they see in concentration. After a kids' yoga session teachers have seen improvements in attention and even behaviour too. Using yoga as a short brain break between classes or subjects can help allow kids to better focus, which in turn means more learning! A teacher from our survey commented that ‘my children’s ability to focus and sustain attention to a task significantly increases after doing yoga’.
4. Kids' Yoga Helps Kids Manage Stress Through Breathing
Controlled breathing can work wonders for stress and anxiety, helping to give us a sense of calm and reassurance. When these breathing techniques are taught properly, this is no different for children. Yoga helps kids understand how to use their breathing to reduce stress and feel in control when they feel anxious. Once they master this whilst practicing yoga they can take this technique away with them to use whenever they need reassurance. Frontiers in Psychiatry talk about yoga as a powerful tool to minimise anxiety and encourage self-regulation in children. Whilst research is still growing in this area, they have a brilliant article pulling together theories on the benefits of children’s yoga for mental health further.
5. Kids' Yoga Promotes Inclusivity
We all want our children to be healthy and activities like football, athletics or gymnastics are very popular for school age children to keep active. Not all children enjoy the competitive nature of sports though, and performing to win just doesn't suit all characters. Part of the reason yoga is so successful in schools is its inclusive nature. Yoga practice does not focus on levels of ability, winning or even being better than the person next to you. It instead encourages you to be the best you can be, putting the focus on the self. By promoting inclusive practice as a group, no matter what your level, kids' yoga is great for children who don’t flourish in competitive environments.
6. Kids' Yoga Introduces Kids to Mindfulness
Yoga helps to align the body and mind, meaning it can be a great introduction to mindfulness too. Children’s yoga often uses stories to engage kids, usually with a mindful message to take away; whether it's about building confidence, finding inspiration or simply following your dreams! By using the whole body and thinking about our breath in each pose, children finish yoga feeling aligned, calm and happy. A school in Baltimore recently replaced detention with meditation, providing a room set up for mindfulness, yoga and breathing exercises to calm children. Since this big change they have seen changes in behaviour, better self-regulation and amazingly, zero suspensions.
7. Kids' Yoga Teaches Through Stories and Song
Yoga for kids usually includes songs, story-telling and wordplay for fun. This gives the opportunity for younger children to learn new words and help develop language alongside their pre-school learning. The benefit of adding songs means that the physical movements can combine with the cognitive process of discovering new words - a kinaesthetic process, which aids learning.
8. Kids' Yoga Improves Coordination & Balance
For grown-ups and children alike, yoga is a brilliant way to develop coordination. As yoga poses work to use a range of muscles, kids find their body working in symmetry, improving body coordination and encouraging motor development. Of the teachers we talked to who regularly practice yoga in classes, an amazing 97 percent saw positive changes in their children’s balance.
As yoga becomes more readily available for children, parents asking ‘is kid's yoga right for my child?’ can know that there are a whole host of benefits for children. Whether it be through physical health or wellbeing, the positive mindset children’s yoga encourages leaves kids feeling aligned, focused and happy. As specialist children's yoga like Cosmic Kids also meets official guidelines for physical activity in schools through aerobic activity, muscle development and bone growth, it's perfect for class, home and beyond!
If you'd like to see what we're talking about, try this kids' yoga playlist for beginners. With slightly slower yoga adventures, it introduces children to key poses and most importantly, the fun of kids' yoga! We're always on hand to talk more about all things yoga. If you're interested to hear more, comment below or join us for a chat on Facebook or Twitter.
How All Children Learn Through Play
We’ve been reading a lot about play recently, and have started using games in our mindfulness videos. With so much conversation around the benefits of play, we thought we’d share some of the research and ideas we’ve stumbled across…
As the pressure on parents mounts to prepare children for nursery, preschool and beyond, the role of simple play in their development has been given significantly less importance. Recent research suggests that play is an integral part of a child’s development, helping build a range of vital social, cognitive and emotional skills.
Learning through play is thought to be so important in fact, that Cambridge University last year recruited a ‘LEGO Professor’ to focus on play in education and further studies into this vital part of our early years, in partnership with The LEGO Foundation. The new research centre’s acting director, Dr David Whitebread has already looked into this area of development, seeing the significant issues experienced as a result of a lack of play and even suggesting school education should be delayed in favour of allowing children to learn through ‘physical, constructional and social play’.
Interestingly, in Finland the education system works entirely around this school of thought, with children delaying traditional school education until the age of 7 in favour of a different type of learning experience. The aim of any form of learning in these early years revolves around children becoming happy, confident kids, learning important social skills and how to interact with other children and their teachers. The main focus of this is both monitored and free play, allowing children to explore and learn through fun. As Finland’s education system ranks amongst the best in the world, it poses the question about whether more countries should be taking this alternative approach to early learning.
With all this in mind, how can we help our little ones learn through play at home? We’ve come up with some ideas for play with learning in mind…
Free Play - The Great Outdoors Children have a natural ability to free play, without any commercial toy or game needed. One way to create opportunity for this type of play is by going for a long walk. The child selects their ‘toys’ themselves, which might be leaves, pine cones, sticks or even a nook in a tree, and their imagination does the rest. It’s easy to forget that even through activities like this, children are learning about the world around them and themselves too.
Play to Develop Senses - Listening Young children are learning all about the world around them and how they interact with it, and games showing them how to use their senses only helps with this important part of their development. As part of our Zen Den series we have a number of videos designed specifically to help children learn through games. The latest Zen Den episode is a game teaching children how to use their listening skills, helping them learn that it isn’t always easy to listen, but by practicing we can become very good at it!
Indoor Activities - Colour by Numbers Every child loves colouring for fun, and this activity includes the additional element of recognising different numbers. Draw a big butterfly with patterned wings. Number the different parts of the picture from 1 to 3 and give your child three different coloured pencils, writing down a number for each colour. Depending on the age of the child you can add more or less pencils and numbers. By matching each colour to a number, at the end they’ll not only have followed the activity, they'll also have enjoyed some time out by colouring.
Have you tried learning through play at home? We’d love to hear the ways you and your little ones have learnt through games!
Mindfulness and meditation videos for kids
We have started a new series of mindfulness meditations for kids on our channel.
Jaime has been trying out some brilliant mindfulness games in her kids yoga classes and we've now made many of them into videos.
We've made 15 episodes so far. We think they are probably best for kids aged 5+ but we would love to hear how anyone gets on with them. We are hoping that they might be helpful in schools as a 'brain break' too.
The first 3 episodes we made are here:
Whirly Burly Snow Storm
This meditation is all about what happens in our minds when we are a little stressed or busy. In this video, Jaime uses the metaphor of a snow storm, and shows how we can use our breathing to calm the snow storm down.
Candle of Concentration
Kids hear a lot about concentration at school, but it's quite a complicated thing for them to understand. In this video, Jaime shows us a candle and encourages us to focus on it, then we close our eyes and still see it in our mind's eye. Candle gazing is an ancient form of meditation which encourages calmness. Here we use it to introduce the idea of visualisation (we see the candle still when we close our eyes) and to explain what focus or concentration is.
Movies In My Mind
This one goes a little bit more into helpful visualisation. Creating positive images in our minds is a really useful thing to do - we build a picture of what we want and move towards it. This video shows the kids that they can make a movie in their mind of anything, then offers them the opportunity to go through a door to a lovely place where they feel safe in the movie in their mind.
Please do let us know how you get on - we think there may be something very positive in these meditations, and we are aiming to make them work really well.
We’ve been doing some research on the physical and mental benefits of yoga for kids. There seems to be pretty universal agreement across a wide range of disciplines that it is officially good for you! This is no surprise to those of us who do yoga, or see kids doing yoga, but it’s great news nonetheless!
Helps develop the right balance of muscle tone and strength throughout the body to support the joints.
Builds core strength for good posture and overall physical fitness.
Helps to maintain flexibility and mobility in all joints and muscles.
Encourages the retention of calcium to help build strong bones through weight-bearing postures.
Supports and strengthens the immune system by reducing stress and stimulating the lymph system (the body’s highway of white blood cells which fight viruses and infections).
Improves balance, alignment and coordination with practice of postures.
Helps children develop a positive image of their body and an awareness of how to look after it.
Helps balance energy levels and calms the nervous system with twists that stimulate the spinal cord and regular practice of relaxation
Develops sensory awareness – kids learn to notice what’s going on in their body and mind while they’re in postures.
Yoga can accommodate all body shapes and sizes and is not competitive, so it’s a good form of exercise for non-sporty kids too.
Keeps the heart and respiratory system fit and strong, encouraging better circulation by getting the heart pumping and using more of the space in the lungs with deeper breathing.
Improves the digestive system with yoga postures that get things moving in the gut and by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system during relaxation, triggering important acids in the stomach to be released for breaking down food. That’s why you hear everyone’s tummy start to rumble during savasana!
A reduced risk of injury in sports and games with better overall fitness and coordination gained through yoga practice and better flexibility in the joints.
Mental, emotional and social benefits
Increases attention span and improves concentration through the story structure, and the inclusion of multiple learning styles:‘visual’ through seeing the story and yoga performed, ‘auditory’ through hearing the instructions and the narrative, and ‘kinesthetic’ through feeling the body in all postures and connecting emotionally to the story.
Kids build compassion and empathy for themselves and others through exploring the stories’ meanings in a non-competitive environment in class.
More oxygen circulates round the body and brain during yoga practice and breathing exercises, so improving memory retention and learning ability.
Kids build self-confidence because they can do the yoga, and by relating to inspirational stories and role models.
The stories encourage self-expression with the use of imagination and creativity, physical postures and vocal sound effects.
Kids get better at dealing with anxiety and stress because they learn to incorporate relaxation and breathing techniques into daily life.
The stories support curriculum learning - especially Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE).
Improves relationships and social awareness through group and partner work and role-playing in stories.
Encourages healthy sleep patterns with the practice of relaxing the body and lengthening the breath.
Increases confidence with speech in interactive parts of the stories and improves vocal ability as the voice is exercised in tandem with postures.
Encourages joy and a positive outlook with fun stories and a happy experience during their yoga class.
There are great classes happening in every corner of the world which will help your child get these benefits. Google 'kids yoga' in your area.
This list of benefits is the outcome of various conversations I’ve had with teachers, child care professionals, occupational therapists, parents, physiotherapists, nutritionists and…children (who also have a point of view!) - and the collected wisdom of some great reference books: