Yoga and Spelling Tests: Connecting Wellness and Learning with Second-Grade Students

August 18, 2011

By Katie Hogberg, HSC Intern

Take a big deep belly breath in. Count to three as you inhale. Hold it for three. Then exhale for three. 

Just a few breathing exercises a couple minutes a day and I can calm, energize, or focus myself. As a student at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse (UWL) in the Community Health Education program, I had the opportunity to learn about many different mindful practices, including yoga. I experienced a lot of pressure to keep a balance between school, a social life, and sleep. Yoga was one tool I used to balance my busy schedule. The meditation and focus on breathing kept my mind clear of busy thoughts and the stretching and poses kept my body free of tension.

When I was given the opportunity to teach second graders about yoga and mindful practice, I couldn’t wait to share what I’d learned!

Many studies have explored the idea of physical activity and concentration levels in elementary students. One such pilot study, conducted with elementary students and published by Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, showed that “the majority of subjects reported improvements in directly targeted behaviors, with 50 % to 80% reporting improvements in flexibility, balance, attention, liking oneself, liking the way one’s body feels, behavior in class, strength, ability to calm oneself, and sleep.”

Another study conducted by undergraduate students at UWL was administered and evaluated at Northern Hills Elementary in Onalaska, WI. The study was created to test the levels of concentration and success rates of spelling test in second graders. 

“They found that yoga helped to calm the mind and prepared the students for their tests—they were not as anxious and were scoring relatively higher than if they were not to perform the practice,” said Chelsea Zess, a UWL undergraduate student and yoga instructor involved with the program.  

The school leaders at Northern Hills believed in the practice of yoga and continued to use it as a fitness and academic tool for the past few years after the study. For two years, I was lucky enough to be part of the program teaching second graders about yoga and mindful practice. 

Even with the many budget cuts and pressure to focus on the new Common Core State Standards in Wisconsin, in the 2010-2011 school year, the teachers at Northern Hills pleaded for students to receive one half hour of yoga before their spelling exams on Fridays. The teachers argued that the students’ scores, self-esteem, and concentration levels went up when they were allowed time to have physical activity and a chance to center their minds before their tests. 

And the students loved it! After class, they would tell me that they practiced yoga at home with their parents or would ask for handouts with poses so they could teach their siblings. One of the best parts of being a second grader at NHE was being able to tell the first graders that they would get to do yoga the following year. The excitement they expressed over what I believed they would think of as only a few stretches never ceased to amaze me! Especially when they got to pose in the candle or pigeon positions, the room would explode with an excited “yessssssssssss!”  

In my experience, yoga was not only great for the students but also for the teachers. Even if I wasn’t there to teach yoga on Fridays, the teachers would easily be able to keep it going because of the simplicity of some of the stretches. It is an activity that I found to be truly sustainable in the classroom. Just spending ten minutes a day on a few poses would help boost self-esteem, improve flexibility, balance, and attention, and help children calm themselves and focus on their school work. 

Have you had experiences with yoga in the classroom? We’d love to hear about them!