Starfish pose is a simple way to include more movement & exercise in your child’s day.
We can feel bombarded with exercise and ‘life improvement’ advice at this time of year. But instead of being daunted by the challenge ahead, we should aim to take little (fun!) steps to enhance our own and our children’s well-being.
The Chief Medical Officer advises that children aim for at least 3 hours of movement each and every day. Click on the image below to see the full infographic from the Department of Health.
AtChildren Inspired by Yoga we believe this all starts with playing and having fun. Frequent bouts of exercise are vital for a young child so keeping the enjoyment and motivation is key. Little and often movement breaks can build up throughout the day.
The Power of the Stretch
A young child’s bones will grow ‘automatically’, at specialised areas in their bones called ‘growth plates’, but their skeletal muscles need movement to lengthen and grow.
- Skeletal muscle (the type of muscle which moves our body and limbs) is composed of spaghetti-like structures called myofibrils. These bind together to form a cable-like structure – our muscle fibres.
- At birth, a baby has their full complement of muscles. However, during childhood, their muscle growth does NOT happen automatically – it occurs by:
- Existing muscle fibres growing in size – main cause
- Addition of myofibrils to increase the muscle mass
- Addition of further groups of myofibrils at the ends of the existing muscle fibres to increase the muscle’s length.
All these processes are powered by physical movement in ALL directions.
- In modern life it can be a challenge to stretch and move muscles regularly in every direction. Even from a very young age we can spend a long time sitting. This leads to certain muscles not having their daily dose of movement.
Let’s remember though – we are going to start with little steps…
Starfish pose takes full advantage of the space around us and challenges us to see just how far we can stretch our muscles.
Work together in starfish pose
Ideally, try to do Starfish pose with your young child, or encourage brothers and sisters to join in, because:
- Children under 3 years mostly learn new movements by copying the actions.
- Research shows young children bond with their parents and ‘key people’ not only through touch but also by moving with them.
- Starfish pose will give you a chance to stretch out your upper chest and shoulder muscles! Remember if you have issues with your muscles or joints (do check with a health professional first to make sure that this pose is appropriate for you).
How to do starfish pose
- Take off your shoes and socks. By doing starfish pose with bare feet, you will get accurate, sensory information though the soles of your feet to help you to balance.
- Start standing opposite your child with your feet hip width apart and your arms by your side. Imagine you are on a beach and take a few deep breaths of the sea air.
These deep breaths help your child to focus their attention onto their body and support your child to activate their deeper postural muscles, helping them to do the pose.
- Walk, or jog together, on the spot for a few seconds, pretending to ‘go for a walk (or run) on the beach’.
- Imagine you see a five limbed starfish stretched out on the beach! Count 1, 2, 3 and jump or step your feet apart, stretching your arms out to either side in starfish pose.
- If your child does not fully stretch out their arms, repeat the pose a few times making your movements very clear. You may have to gently straighten your child’s arm if they are still unsure.
- Try to hold the starfish position for at least 10 – 20 seconds, so you both get the benefit of the stretch. Remember muscles need movement to stretch and grow!
- After the stretch, bring your legs and arms back to the starting position. Walk or run on the spot for a few seconds as before, and imagine you see another starfish on the beach…
Repeat the walking and starfish pose sequence a few times as you both have a gentle, stretchy workout!
Why Starfish Pose is Good for Your Child
- Gently stretches back, arm and leg muscles for lifelong good posture
Starfish pose will provide that lovely ‘whole body’ stretch. It’s a great Yoga activity to do after sitting for a while or after a long car journey.
- Develops body awareness for body confidence
Starfish pose gives your child to a chance to feel a different body position.
Variations in body position stimulate the ‘proprioceptive sense’. Using information from their proprioceptive sense your child will create, and update, an accurate image of their body shape in their mind – their body schema. Having an accurate body schema (knowing where their body starts and finishes) is deeply reassuring for your child, giving them body-confidence.
- Gently alerts or calms, ready for learning
Stimulation of the proprioceptive sense can gently calm or alert but mostly it’s ‘organising’ for young brains. If your child is feeling drowsy, battling with homework, a few starfish poses will help them to raise their alertness & focus. Alternatively, if your child is finding it hard to settle down to their homework or to eat supper, doing a few starfish stretches can help them to feel more grounded.
- Improves balance and attention skills.
Waving starfish arms is a fun way for your child to practice standing on one leg, without feeling too daunted. Remember taking some deep breaths before doing the pose can help your child’s balance skills. As your child attempts to balance in starfish pose they will have to focus and ‘attend to their body’.
- Increase awareness of right and left hand sides.
This happens as you move from right to left legs and moving right, then left arms as you imagine you are waving starfish.
- Progresses counting skills
Bring some fun maths into starfish pose by encouraging your child to count as they wave their starfish arms.
A less challenging starfish pose
If your child finds it hard to stand on one leg, place a small sturdy box, or a small pile of books, in front of them and guide them to place one leg on top. By doing this, their brain will learn the ‘pattern of the movement’ quicker.
Even if your child has difficulty standing on one foot to start with, they will be progressing their self-regulation and persistence skills. Keep it fun and don’t over-challenge – support them to stay calm when they fail, and gently encourage them to try again.
Note to parents: On occasions it is a good idea to offer your child a little bit of support when they are balancing, especially if they are just learning to do this. Support your child , gently round their hips so their arms are free to do the appropriate balancing movements, they then have the opportunity to experience the act of balancing in a ‘straighter’ position or ‘in alignment.’ Your child will also be encouraged to use their mature balance reactions. If your child keeps trying to balance in a crooked position i.e. with their legs wrapped round each other, this may become a habit. As soon as your child starts to ‘get the idea’ of balancing in alignment, stand back or offer less support and let them try by themselves. Maybe suggest they use a wall rather than your hand for support.
A more challenging starfish pose
Imagine your starfish want to say ‘hello’ to one another by waving their starfish arms.
- Start facing each other in starfish pose.
- Wave your hands one at a time. These are two of your five starfish arms.
- Then gently nod your head to one another – this is your third starfish arm.
- Finally, wave your feet at each other by standing on one leg and then the other – these are your fourth and fifth starfish arms!
This is a great way to develop your child’s balance skills and gently activates your own core muscles.
Make it Multi-Sensory, Educational & Fun
Children love doing things together, by watching others they also learn a great deal – often finding out a better way of doing things. Try starfish pose with siblings and friends.
Use your imaginations and take turns to think about what kind of shoes starfish might choose.
Do starfish pose to the ‘Starfish rhyme’
This is a great poem with actions about starfish, hold a streamer or ribbon in each hand to make it even more fun.
North beach – Stretch your hands above your head
South beach – Take your hands down to the ground (remember to bend your knees if this is more comfortable)
East beach – Take your hands over to your left side
West. – Take your hands over to your right side
In the sea – Jump forwards as if you are jumping into the waves
Out the sea – Jump back onto the sand
Starfish are the best! – Wave your arms and legs as dancing starfish!
Try being a starfish on a piece of driftwood
Find a low wall, bench or log. Make sure it is safe on either side. Walk down your piece of driftwood then imagine you’re a starfish balancing.