Kids Practice Mindfulness with YMCA’s Head Start Program

mother and son exercising

The YMCA of Frederick County’s Head Start program provides comprehensive education, social, health, and nutritional services to eligible families in eight locations. Three- and four-year-old children can participate in educational experiences, field trips, activities, and health screenings. Children and families also receive transportation services, referrals for disability and mental health issues, and school transition services. The Head Start program recently introduced yoga to the children via the Bee Mindful: Yoga and Mindfulness techniques for the classroom program.

Check out our Q&A with Family Advocate Maria Wardlow below to learn more.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your position at the Y?

I am a family advocate. We’re essentially the case managers for families. We help connect them with resources and education to work with their children in safe environments. We’re a comprehensive program, so we not only work with kids, but the entire family to meet their needs.

What is the Head Start program?

It is a need-based early childhood education program. We work with children typically from about three years old until they go into kindergarten. This program was originally intended for low-income families, but there are other considerations for the program such as families who are McKinney-Vento certified, children who are or ever were in foster care, families with substance abuse, or anything that would be a risk factor for children to not be ready for kindergarten.

How does this program benefit Frederick County children and their families?

It helps children get ready for kindergarten. Some children need extra support to be able to start school. Sometimes that has to do with their emotional wellness; sometimes it means learning their ABCs or counting. We provide a support system for children and families that is stable and helps meet their needs, whatever they may be.

Can you explain the Program Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) plan?

This is basically a cultural shift of how we work with children and how we understand their behaviors and respond to them. It’s a long-term plan to adjust our programs to create environments for children that are conducive to positive behavior. We provide them with consistency and opportunities to express themselves in a positive way.

What types of activities are involved in the program?

We have centers, where children can choose where they’d like to play. Some of the centers are sensory-based, problem-solving-based, and some are dramatic play, where kids can learn to interact with each other and become more independent. We also have circle time, where kids read books or learn lessons. We also recently introduced yoga into the program.

How does yoga fit into the Head Start program?

Yoga very much aligns with our PBIS plan because it has a lot to do with building stability, routines, and learning how to understand and regulate emotions. Yoga highlights body awareness and being in the moment. A lot of kids at this age are learning to understand their emotions, and yoga and mindfulness in general really help with that. It teaches them to stop and choose how to react to situations.

How does yoga benefit young children?

We use breathing exercises to help the children understand their emotions and use their breathing to stay calm, happy, and peaceful. Many of these kids are running on very intense emotions all day. Yoga allows them to take time to relax. Beyond the emotional aspect, yoga is a great physical activity. It adds intentional movement to the children’s day.

What changes have you seen in the children since introducing yoga to the program?

They have a better awareness of what they’re feeling and how to deal with their emotions in a healthy way. I’ve seen children who previously lashed out at others be in situations that would normally upset them and choose to control their emotions in a healthy way, such as going to the ‘quiet center’ or asking a teacher to do some yoga poses with them. It’s really amazing.

How does the Head Start program demonstrate “living well”?

We take into consideration all the aspects of what it means to live well. It’s not just about eating healthy or exercising. It’s also about emotional and mental wellness. It’s about self-care for the children and parents. This program covers all of that.

Even if you’re not eligible for the Head Start program—your child can benefit from practicing yoga and mindfulness. Yoga can reduce anxiety, improve their emotional regulation, boost their self-esteem, reduce impulsivity, and more. Try incorporating fun yoga exercises, games, and meditation into your child’s routine.

To apply for the Head Start program or to learn more, visit their website or call the Head Start office at 301-378-9140.

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