I recently read an article about parents threatening a lawsuit over yoga in schools because they were concerned about using taxpayer resources to promote “Ashtanga yoga and Hinduism, a religion system of beliefs and practices.” (Parents Threaten Legal Action over Yoga, October 22, 2012, SF Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com/education/article/Parents-threaten-legal-action-over-yoga-3972838.php#ixzz2IFkD1liw). While I have no interest in entering the debate about religion in schools, as a dance educator I am curious about the emerging popularity of yoga and meditation practices for young children in schools. Since the early 20th century developmental theorists began publishing research on how children learn, it has been well documented that children learn through movement, action and experience. My work at Luna has been a continuous effort to advocate for dance in schools and community. My interest in bringing dance to all children is because of the creative expression found in the art form, but I find common ground in the “dance is good for the brain” argument. Frequently, participants in our Professional Learning Institute try to fit dance pedagogy into their own desire to teach yoga, because, “teachers want it.” For several years now, I’ve questioned why? Why would schools allocate precious resources to yoga but remain reluctant to add dance, movement or recess time? This is perplexing because most educators know that young elementary age students in particular need lots of time practicing locomotor movements. Biologically, their bodies require running, jumping, start-and-stop action, leaping and galloping as they learn to skip. While as an adult, I love and appreciate a regular yoga practice, I have questions about the appropriateness of such a disciplined activity for young children—particularly outside of the context of a religious, cultural or family context. I’ve asked myself, “is it the discipline teachers like?” “Do they like seeing all of the kids quiet and in control?” I’ve heard teachers comment that yoga teaches children self-control and I do not doubt that outcome. It is curious to me, however, that controlling children’s behavior and taming their natural impulses to move, fidget, run, race, jump and drape is increasingly a high priority for the adults who work with them and who know so much about how children learn. It is even more surprising at a time when many of these same adults complain of children’s passivity, their lack of engagement, the “obesity epidemic” and the hours spent in front of a screen. IF (and I intend the capitalized emphasis) we have such limited time for children to be in their bodies, why aren’t we allocating it to the large motor activities that we know is right in their zone of proximal development?
(Patricia Reedy, 1/17/13).