Children inspired by yoga
Tree pose is a fantastic way for your child to develop their balance skills. Practicing this pose can help your child to:
Go up/down stairs safely and quickly in crowded situations
Change quickly into/out of their PE kit
Try new activities in the playground or on the sports field.
In a recent study, early years specialists at Loughborough University found that many reception children are experiencing problems with their balance and co ordination. Dr Rebecca Duncombe, who led the study, commented:
‘A child’s physical development level impacts their ability to complete simple tasks such as sitting still, holding a pencil, putting on their shoes, and especially reading – all skills essential for school’ and ‘Our research shows that not only are children starting school less physically ready than ever before, but that teachers are noticing this change and its impact in the classroom.’
How to do tree pose
Be safe. Always check with a health professional if you have concerns about whether tree pose is suitable for you or your child. Find a clear space on a non-slip surface, where you can do tree pose without bumping into anything.
Take off your socks and shoes in order to receive more accurate sensory information through the feet.
Try to do tree pose along with your child – slowly and carefully so that they can copy you. Your child will love to do the activity with you and moving with your child is a powerful way to strengthen the bond between you both.
Begin tree pose by guiding your child to stand with their feet hip width apart, stretching their arms out to either side, like branches.
Now… imagine the wind is starting to blow. Take a few deep breaths, blowing out softly, and gently rock onto one foot and then the other. As you exhale, gently twist your body round one way and then the other so that your ‘branches’ are swaying side to side in the wind.
Then, take one foot a little way off the ground. See below for why this is an important step.
The benefits of tree pose
Strengthen core muscles Tree pose activates and strengthens hip, back, tummy and shoulder muscles. These large muscle groups are sometimes referred to as the ‘core muscles’. Strength in these muscles is not only important for more complex sporting skills i.e. football, dance or tennis. It is crucial for good posture, writing skills and daily living skills i.e. dressing.
Refine balance skills Balance is a complex process. As children learn to sit, stand and move around, they develop mature ‘balance reactions’. These are automatic responses which help us to remain upright and regain our balance if it is slightly disturbed. For most children these postural reactions develop as part of growing up and moving around. However, you can help your child to develop and refine these reactions by providing them with plenty of (safe) opportunities to experiment and gently challenge their sense of balance.
Develop concentration skills Doing tree pose demands concentration. It may help older children to try and focus on a particular point ahead of them (drishti) whilst they stand on one leg.
A less challenging tree pose
Observe your child. Be aware of signs that he or she does not yet have sufficient core stability to do the pose accurately, i.e. if:
your child holds their thighs together
he or she wraps one leg round the other, as they lift their leg off the ground
If this is the case, it is best to break the pose down into smaller steps. Try the activities below to help them perfect their balance skills.
“Having good core strength can help your child sit well at a desk, and helps provide a stable base for gross and fine motor tasks.“
Tree Pose in smaller steps
When trying to stand on one leg, young children often don’t realise they have to first shift their weight onto that leg. Only then can they lift their other leg off the ground. Here are some useful tips on how to encourage this weight shift:
Be a tree in the wind
Start Tree pose by encouraging your young child to simply sway from side to side with their arms out wide. Like a tree in the wind. As they do this your child will automatically learn to transfer their weight from one side to the other. Start with small rocking movements, then see if your child can move further over to each side. You could blow gently on your child’s body so they can feel the ‘wind’ in their branches.
Be a tree on a hill
Place a low sturdy box, or a pile of 1-2 big books, in front of your child, on a non-slip surface, to make a low step. Initially, you may need to give your child some support as they step up/down. See note below on how to do this.
Encourage your child to step up with one foot onto their ‘step’. See if they can hold this position for a few seconds – then guide them to bring their foot back down. This stepping activity helps your child to learn the subtle weight shifts they have to do to stand on one leg and to negotiate stairs. Start with a very low step then increase the height just a little as your child gains in confidence.
Once your child has had a go at stepping up and down with one leg, see if they can do the same thing with their other leg.
Offer support by holding the trunk of the tree
Your child may need some extra support as they do tree pose for the first time. If this is the case, rather than holding their hands, kneel down alongside your child and support them by holding them round their hips. If you support your child in this way they will be able to use their arms to balance – much more normal.
Be a tree with tiny roots!
If your child is getting the idea of moving their weight onto one leg, but has not yet mastered taking one foot completely off the ground, see if they can do Tree pose with one foot flat on the ground and just the toe of their other foot on the ground. They can rest the heel of their raised foot against their main supporting foot.
A more challenging tree pose
Try doing tree pose together whilst balancing on one leg. If your child is a bit wobbly, show them how to practice this by leaving your toe on the ground and gently resting your heel against your other foot. As your child gains confidence, they can rest the sole of their raised foot against the calf of their other leg. It is important to make sure your child does not rest their raised foot against the knee of their supporting leg as this can strain the knee joint.
Note to parents: when your child moves onto one leg, guide them to try and keep their hips as level as possible and their legs slightly apart – this means they are using the correct muscles. If your child has a tendency to wrap one leg round the other in an effort to keep their balance, support them round their hips (so their hands are free to balance) and see if they can stand on one leg, keeping their legs slightly apart. Once they have the idea, you can stand back and let them do the pose by themselves.
Spark imagination & make tree pose fun!
Tree pose is essentially about standing on one leg. However, many children will feel far more motivated to try being a ‘big tree in the jungle’ or ‘an apple tree in an garden’ rather than to just keep trying over and over again to stand on one leg!
Tree pose with apples
To make tree pose more engaging for your child, give them two apples to hold in their outstretched hands – then they become an apple tree. The weight of the apples will also help your child to become more aware of their arm movements, which will help them to balance. You might even try balancing a third apple on top of your head! How many apples can you have on your tree?
Have a go at picking the apples up with the soles of your feet to put them in the basket. This game is great for strengthening foot and tummy muscles.
See if they can roll an apple under their bare feet – great for balance and for activating their foot muscles.
Play the ‘wormy apple’ game! Carefully core one apple. Then give your child a pipe-cleaner to represent their worm. Guide your child to thread their worm through the cored apple. Younger children will need the apple held for them, and will thread the worm through one side, then pull it out the other using the same hand. Older children can be encouraged to thread their worm through the apple with one hand and pull it through with the other – this is a great activity for eye hand co-ordination and fine motor skills.
Tree Pose Progressions
Remember, you can practice tree pose throughout the day. For example, you can be a tree:
Whilst standing in a supermarket queue!
Just after you have brushed your teeth (using the sink for support if needs be)
When you are passing a tree whilst out for a walk. Pick up two leaves, hold them out wide in each hand, then copy the tree you are next to.
Practice little and often, as this is the best way to learn a new skill!
Tree pose with real leaves
Collect a variety of real leaves and encourage your child:
To experiment with putting the leaves between their toes whilst they are sitting down and try to wave their feet in the air with their leaf! (Watch your child closely so they do not fall backwards). This is a great activity for balance, and strengthening tummy muscles. Older children can see if they can balance apples in their hands, whilst they are waving the leaves with their feet!
To look at the leaves closely and see if they can make their body into a similar shape to the leaf (long & thin, spiky or round)?
To play a ‘collecting leaves’ game with you. Put a basket down for the leaves and see how many you can collect and put into it. As your child plays this game they will not only be feeling the leaves but they will be encouraged to balance in squatting and practise their hand skills as they pick up the leaves.
To ‘have a go’ at blowing the leaves – hold the leaf on the back of your hand and see if your child can blow it off!
Maths and Tree Pose
For a simple yet fun maths activity to play whilst doing tree pose visit Fantastic Fun & Learning.
For more poses to help concentration, take a look at our post about using yoga to support & improve reading.