Stretching is important for any age especially children since their muscles and bones have not finished growing yet. Though injuries to children are more easily repaired than for adults, bone and ligament injuries never repaired as fully as healthy new muscle. Stretching is generally overlooked in children’s training programs yet children need to stretch for the same reasons as adults.
Hence the following animal poses designed to teach flexibility, strength, balance, concentration, and the importance of stretching, presented as a play, achieve the desired results.
When directing students in the movement, the instructor or leader should be gently instructing them to
- Breathe evenly,
- Not hold their breath,
- Move in and out of each stretch slowly and
- Not make any quick movements that might strain a muscle or bone.
Though the most important thing is for the children to have fun, they develop workout techniques that will carry them through their adult lives. The following animal poses are suggested activities for young children. The leader, instructor or teacher must be prepared to demonstrate. Making animal noises, fingerplays, songs, and jokes adds to the fun and play but be assured these are real and demanding exercises.
Direction: Put your fingers together then bend over slowly from a standing position. With your back straight, swing your arms back and forth like an elephant’s trunk as you walk.
The elephant walk stretches out the shoulders, arms and strengthens your legs.
Direction: Stand with your feet together and place your palms together in front of your chest with your fingers pointed up. Focus on a spot in front of you and bend forward from the waist. Bend one leg up and hold as long as you can. Straighten up to stand with your feet together. Now let us do the other leg.
The flamingo stand presents new difficulties. If a child is uncoordinated have, him/her stands and holds on to a chair or brings their leg just slightly off the floor. This exercise also strengthens and stretches out your legs and ankles and focuses on balance.
Direction: Assume a position where your feet are on the floor (shoulder width) while your hands are flat on the ground in front of you (also shoulder width). At the starting position, your butt should be high in the air; imagine you are making an inverted “V” with your body. Walk your hands out as far as possible, and then walk your hands back to the starting position. Preferably, at the end position, your abs should be two to three inches off the ground and you will look like a flying Superman.
The inchworm stretches and strengthens the back, shoulder, hamstrings, and gluteus maxim us. It also strengthens the gluteus medius and the rest of the arm.
Direction: On All Fours, you move along the floor keeping yourself low. Chest remains off the floor, as you should move at a moderate pace to avoid “hopping”. The bear crawl can be done moving forward, backward, or sideways.
The bear crawl stretches and strengthens the hamstrings, gastrocnemius, soleus, the gluteus maxim us, and back. It also teaches coordination, agility, and speed.
Direction: Sit back almost on your heels — not completely back on heels where it would hurt your knees and ankles. Point your fingers to the side like flippers. With back flat, lift your chest to straighten elbows. Keep your seat off your heels and hold the pose.
The seal pose will take some explanation, direction, and correction to get right. The seal pose stretches and strengthens the quadriceps, abductors, adductors, the sartious, patella, and the back.
Everyone loves to mimic the animals when they go to the zoo. Now children have an opportunity to do just that. What a wonderful way to teach about animals and the importance of stretching for life!
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