Yoga and Literacy in the Preschool Classroom: Action Research by Kara Grice

The Ferguson-Florissant School District has a strong focus this year on promoting literacy.  In my preschool classroom, I am helping to lay the foundation for literacy development through various learning experiences, including daily read-alouds. According to the Missouri Early Learning Standards, preschoolers are expected to be able to apply early reading skills. This includes telling a story from pictures, retelling stories (beginning, middle, end), and recalling information about settings, characters, and events in a story.

The preschoolers in my classroom enjoy listening and interacting during story time. However, since the beginning of the year, I noticed that their ability to retell stories varied greatly. The Desired Results Developmental Profile assessment scores from the first quarter of the 2016-2017 school year showed that 63% of my students were performing below level on text comprehension and retelling stories. According to Yoga Freedom, “A key factor in literacy is focus. Yoga… improves concentration and can have a calming effect” (2011). Lederer (2012) says that, “For the mind, yoga improves attention, concentration, and memory necessary for listening and learning.” After incorporating yoga as a daily morning practice, I noticed that it helped my preschoolers calm down and focus for large group activities.

I wanted to find out if practicing yoga prior to reading a story would help my students’ literacy engagement and improve their ability to retell stories. Based on my students’ scores in reading comprehension, I chose to study the impact of yoga on children’s abilities to focus and retell stories.

Each day, prior to story time, my students and I engaged in a five-minute yoga and relaxation time. We listened to soothing music, took deep breaths, and practiced several body poses/movements to help us calm down and focus. I explained to the children that this was done to help their minds focus and learn about the story.

In a different study on the effects of practicing yoga prior to literacy activities to increase focus in a 2nd grade classroom (Toyras, 2013), the teacher took data by tallying off-task behaviors (motor, vocal, or passive) during the literacy activity. I used this method to help track the effectiveness of the yoga as well.

I teach in a full-day preschool classroom of 12 three- and four-year- olds. After the children came in from playing outside each day, I asked them to participate in a short yoga experience and then listen to a story being read. These activities took place in a large group setting. My assistant collected data, tallying off-task behavior, in order to help determine students’ focus on the story after yoga. The children performed a retelling assessment from the story that was read. We conducted individually the retelling assessment.

My assistant and I took data on off-task behavior four different times. For the first reading, I chose not to implement the yoga experience to get a base for my data. My assistant tallied 33 off-task behaviors: 11 motor, 14 vocal, and 8 passive. The second reading was preceded by a five-minute yoga experience. The second reading recorded 25 off-task behaviors, which showed a large improvement in student focus. The third reading—with yoga prior—recorded 25 off-task behaviors, and the fourth reading recorded 22 off-task behaviors.

The retelling assessment was given twice, and scored for several factors. These factors included the students’ abilities to use imitation to tell the story, use language from the story, retell the story with pictures/visual cues, answer questions/fill-in- the-blank, and/or retell the story independently. We then scored the students as “Not Demonstrating,” “Beginning,” “Emerging,” or “Demonstrating” based on their responses.  We gave the first assessment after yoga and reading “The Little Red Hen.” Two students were “Not Demonstrating,” three were “Beginning,” four were “Emerging,” and none were “Demonstrating.” The second assessment was given after yoga and reading “The Three Bears’ Christmas.” One student was “Not Demonstrating,” six were “Beginning,” four were “Emerging,” and none were “Demonstrating.”

After reviewing this data, I came to several conclusions. One is that engaging in yoga prior to reading seemed to decrease off-task behavior over time. Perhaps if I were to continue this study, my students’ off-task behaviors would continue to decrease, and focus increase. I also noticed that, while the scores are still not where I would like them to be, there was some growth in student ability to retell stories. I then cross-referenced the data to see if the students whose off-task behaviors decreased, also showed an increase in their retelling assessment scores. Data showed that the three students whose scores improved on their retelling assessments had fewer off-task behaviors during the reading of the story. Attendance was also a factor in gathering this data. If a student was absent, he/she did not participate in the yoga or reading activities, and therefore did not know the story in order to retell.

This data shows that implementing yoga experiences with young children prior to reading a story helps them to focus more and increase their ability to retell the story. The outcome of this data suggests to me that yoga is an important, effective practice to teach young children. It also suggests that yoga can perhaps be used to help young children focus during other learning activities. This research has affirmed my belief that young children do have the ability to focus and attend to stories.  We, as educators, need to give them the tools and skills to help them do so successfully.