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'Missing piece of curriculum': Little Yogis gets kids moving 'mindfully'

'It really ties to my purpose in life now because I’m a mom and I want my kids to be self-confident and emotionally well,' says owner of Little Yogis Academy in York Region

As a mom of two young children herself, the tagline of Little Yogis Academy — “positivity and movement for busy minds" — hit home for Monica Xu.

The York Region mobile evidence-based movement and mindfulness enrichment program aims to improve physical, mental and emotional health through a yoga curriculum with mindful movement instruction, mental health and wellness classes, and workshops.

With more than 10 locations across the province, Little Yogis York Region owner Xu works with everyone within the school and child care community, including students, school administrators, teachers and parents.

“I took over the York Region area in March and I’ve seen so much organic growth,” she said. “I’m so happy about it because we just empower children every day.”

While on maternity leave, she began researching how to build resilience in children and saw the benefits of what Little Yogis offers.

“I thought what better way than to start at a young age,” she says. “I look at this as a way to self-regulate and it really ties to my purpose in life now because I’m a mom and I want my kids to be self-confident and emotionally well.”

In school, students are focused on the academic side of the curriculum, but Xu says there are gaps that need to be filled with the emotional side.

“It’s the missing piece of the curriculum,” she said. “There’s so much they have to get through academically that they don’t focus on the social and emotional aspect. Teachers don’t have the time to teach it, so what better way to do it than bring the Little Yogis program into the school and give everyone who wants access to it the ability to access it. That’s how we build our community.”

As she works to bring awareness to the programming that Little Yogis provides, Xu is in the process of doing more outreach in hopes of working with schools in Newmarket.

“I’ve talked to a couple schools who are interested in bringing the programming in,” she said. “We’re hoping to get into the schools and child care centres for the fall. Right now, it’s about building awareness and getting the message out there that we’re here to build a community.”

Referencing a study done by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Xu says 59 per cent of students are feeling depressed about the future and that early education is key when teaching children the tools to have the ability to self regulate through mindfulness, yoga and breath work.  

“Recent studies have shown mental health in children is declining post-pandemic,” she says. “It’s more important than ever to help children to combat negative feelings and thoughts about their mental health.”

Little Yogis has worked with more than 800,000 students across 270 schools and child care centres ages one to 13 with the ultimate goal of creating happy, healthy, and confident kids, according to Xu.

“Children’s declining mental health has been leaving parents feeling overwhelmed and leading them in search of ways to help with children’s coping mechanisms,” she said. “We have the programming and enrichment to help arm children with self-regulation techniques that can help combat anxiety, stress and mindfulness.”

Early intervention is key to Little Yogis programming that was developed by an Ontario certified teacher and yoga teacher, Xu said.

“It’s aligned with the Ontario school curriculum,” she said. “Through the connection between brain and your body movement, we teach children to develop self-confidence and self-awareness which in turn, help children better self regulate, reduce stress, and can help them create an invisible armour when navigating difficult situations in everyday life."

While being mindful that the programming is for children, there’s an emphasis on fun to keep them engaged, Xu said, and it’s tailored to different age groups

“We go to child care centres and schools, armed with our toolkit ready to get the children moving and stretching their bodies all while having fun,” she said. “The kids love it because we’re not doing traditional yoga. It’s mindful movement that’s engaging and fun.”

Little Yogis offers one-day workshops, biweekly classes, weekly classes, summer camps, and private classes. Learn more about Little Yogis here.

“My goal is to make the practice of mindfulness and yoga for children accessible to any child who desires it,” Xu said.