Scarves are one of the props we introduce first in a kids yoga class, and that’s not an accident. They’re bright, easy to work with, and children intuitively know what to do with them. Without any adult guidance, tots naturally play with scarves in ways that support exactly the skills we want them to developing. I’ll share some of the ways scarf play helps support early development, as well as some of our favorite ways to play with scarves to enhance those skills.
Imagine an invisible line running down the vertical center of our body, dividing it in half. Any time we reach across this imaginary line, we’re crossing the midline. Midline crossing helps children with things like hand (and foot) dominance, core stability, and even handwriting. Try writing a sentence without crossing your midline with your dominant hand! If you watch a very young tot play, you might notice they pass a toy from their right hand to their left hand to place it in position. Or, they might appear almost ambidextrous, using both hands to play, depending on which is more convenient. They haven’t yet developed the skills necessary for midline crossing. The child with established midline crossing patterns will simply reach their right hand across their body, rotating their whole trunk if necessary, and complete the task without adding in extra steps or spending extra energy. We don’t expect this skill to be fully integrated until the elementary years, but its never too early to practice!
How to practice: Hold the scarf in one hand and twist at the waist. You can have floppy spaghetti arms or a long straight arm. Hold your arm over head and paint a rainbow! Try it in the other hand! You can also hold the scarf in both hands and twist at the waist.
Just about everything we do requires some level of hand-eye coordination, and many of us struggle with it even as adults. Simply put, hand-eye coordination is the label for any time our eyes take in information to tell us where our body is in space, and our hands use that information to carry out a motor-based task. One of the earliest ways we practice this with tots is when we teach them to put objects into a container. We don’t tend to think much about hand-eye coordination until it becomes a problem, but because it effects everything from tying our shoes to handwriting, its an important skill to practice.
How to practice: Toss and catch! There are endless variations of this game. You can toss the scarf back and forth. Your child can toss the scarf and catch it. You can toss the scarf and your child can catch it. Catch it with a clap! Catch it on your foot! Catch it on your head! Catch it in your favorite stuffie! This practice of throwing and catching is also great practice with visual tracking.
Young children are often still developing a dominant hand. Activities like scarf play give them a chance to practice working with a dominant hand in a physical way. Younger children may struggle with this. They’re still learning that their bodies have two sides, and that they don’t have to do the same thing. Putting an object in one hand can help them make the distinction between the two separate sides of their body, and allow them more freedom to move them independently.
How to practice: Allow your child to choose which hand to hold the scarf in. Dance, shake, toss, and move with the scarf in that hand. Tickle your toes! Dust off the stars! Paint the walls! Sweep the floor! Practice yoga poses like shooting star, or sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, with the scarf in one hand.
Up, down, high, low, top, bottom, head, toes. Adults don’t even have to think about these things, but tots are still grasping them. When we have them reach overhead or down to their toes and back again, their brains are forming important pathways, both about how their bodies work, and about what these directions really mean.
How to practice: Can you hold the scarf up high? Can you put it on your head? Can you touch your toes? Up high, down low!
Bilateral integration is when we use both sides of the body together. In early years, this is as simple as jumping or banging a drum with two hands. Older kids use this skill to jump rope, ride bikes, and swim. You can see that this skill can apply to activities where the two sides of the body are doing the same thing at the same time–like the arms swinging a jump rope, or working in contract, like the legs pedaling a bike. Bilateral integration can also apply to fine motor tasks. Heading beads into a string, where one hand must hold a bead and the other hand must guide the string intro the hole. Or drawing and writing, where one hand works the pencil and the other holds the paper still.
How to practice: Hold one scarf in each hand. Lift them both up and the same time. Now down. Up! Down! One hand up, one hand down! Can you flap your arms up and down like butterfly wings?
It wouldn’t be yoga class without breath work! Our breath is our brain’s remote control, and being able to access it allows us an excellent tool for regulating our nervous system. Shorter, faster breaths can give us energy. A deep breath can be cleansing. Long, slow breaths calm us down. In order to use our breath, we first have to notice it. Scarves are a great way to make our breath visible, which can make it more accessible to young children.
How to practice: Hold the scarf by two corners in front of your face–like you’re playing peek a boo. Take a deep breath in, then blow out as big as you can. Watch the scarf move! Put the scarf on top of your head so it covers your face like a veil. What a silly hat! Take a big breath in and blow. Can you blow the scarf all the way off your head? (Tip: Make sure only a small part of the scarf is on your hair, and most of it is hanging down over your face.)
What home supplies should you use for scarf play?
Chances are, you have something on hand. Many of us might have an actual fashion scarf on hand. A handkerchief can work. In a pinch, so can a tea towel or even a tissue. But, if you live with a child and have the means, investing in a “real” scarf–something large and square, light and drapey, with a bound edge to add just a little weight. Thrift stores are a good source of colorful printed scarves if you’re shopping on a budget or like variety. Amazon has inexpensive synthetic juggling scarves by the dozen, if you want to purchase a bunch all at once. But, for sheer beauty and tactile experience, you can’t beat real play silks. They float beautifully, are soft to the touch, and hold up like iron. They also grow with your child, turning into dress-up costumes, pretend play props, and decorations.
Learn more about Early Childhood Yoga:
- 6 Reasons to Take Yoga with Your Toddler or Preschooler
- What is Preschool Yoga Class like?
- Benefits of Bubbles – A Toddler and Kids Yoga Class Favorite
- Again, Again!! The Importance of Ritual & Routine in Early Childhood
- Singing in Kids Yoga – Fun and Beneficial
- Savasana in Early Childhood Yoga Classes: A Parent’s Guide
- Planes, Trains and Other Mobiles aka Why I Love Kids Yoga
- Preschooler Family Yoga – Fun and Fitness – FAQ
About the Author:
Jessica LaGarde has been teaching creative movement in the metro area since 2005 and is passionate about helping children discover and explore their bodies and the world around them. She was trained by Joye Newman, MA to teach preschool creative movement for Kids’ Moving Company, a Bethesda-based creative movement/perceptual motor therapy studio. In 2017, she completed her Baby, Toddler, and Children’s Yoga Teacher Training through Childlight Yoga. In addition to working with preschoolers, Jessica is a registered massage practitioner and is trained in infant massage instruction. She has practiced massage for over twelve years and taught massage as part of Potomac Massage Training Institute’s professional training program. Outside of the movement space and massage room, she enjoys cooking, knitting, sewing, gardening and exploring the outdoors with her daughter.