Unit 5: Yoga and Play therapy for children with mental retardation

5.1 Aim, scope and importance of yoga and play therapy

5.2 Strategies for adapting Yoga in classroom

5.3 Understanding and application of Play

5.4 Therapeutic application of Music, Movement and Dance

5.5. Therapeutic application of co-curricular activities like group games and Special Olympic events








5.1 Aim, scope and importance of yoga and play therapy


Yoga is a system of mental, spiritual and physical development which originated in our country. Yoga means to bind together. There are many branches of yoga. The popularly used one is Hatha Yoga, which involves expression and conservation of energy. This type of yoga incorporates asanas (postures) along with pranayama (breathing exercises). Yoga is being tried quite effectively to control children with hyperactivity.

Benefits of Yoga

Both yoga and mindfulness have been shown to improve mental and physical health in children 6 to 12 years of age, Harvard Health says. They can improve students’ balance, endurance, and strength, as well as focus, memory, self-esteem, and anxiety. All of these elements play an important role in classroom behavior and academic performance.

Here are some of the other ways yoga in the classroom can benefit students.

Control and Confidence

Yoga can help students develop self-control and respect for their bodies as they grow and change. It can also help students feel strong and comfortable in their own skin.

Mind-Body Awareness

When students understand the connection between their mental state and physical well-being, they can identify healthy ways to cope with stress and negative emotions.


When students are tasked with holding a specific yoga pose or completing various mindfulness activities, they learn to improve their ability to focus. This is particularly important for students with ADHD and other attention challenges.

It is important to note that yoga in the classroom can have real benefits for teachers as well.

Differences between physical exercise and yoga

Practice of Yoga is being tried with children disability to

Practice of yoga involves Asana – meaning posture and Pranayama – meaning regulated breathing. An individual doing asana must experience comfort and should maintain steadiness in given posture.

Pranayama is usually praticed in a comfortable sitting position. It involves breathing in, holding breath, exhalation and retention after exhalation.

As defined in “Adapted Physical Education and Recreation” by Sherrill, play refers to the spontaneous, pleasurable behaviours through which children interact with their environment. In non-disabled children, play is inborn and instinctive, and they progress through easily observable stages right from exploring and manipulating the environment during infancy to grasping complex rules, strategies and regulation as in competitive games, when they grow older.

Most children utilize their time outside school in unorganized or structured play activities. They are attempting to use play as a constructive activity and an outlet for excess energy. Earlier theorists proposed four major explanations of play. The first was the surplus energy theory (Schiller et al, 1875). According to this, the reservoir of energy left over after the basic needs of the body such as food are spent on play.

The second is the relaxation and recreation theory of play, proposed by philosophers Lazarus (1883) and Patrick (1916). In contrast to the first, this theory proposed that after engaging in physically and mentally exhausting work, the body is drained of energy and needs sleep. However, in order to achieve full restoration, it first needs to engage in play activities, that help one relax and release pressure.

The third is the practice or pre-exercise theory of play (Gross, 1898, 1901). The purpose of play according to this theory is to practice skills necessary for adulthood.

Importance of learning through play include:

·        Creativity: Open-ended play lets kids be creative with how they interact with things.

·        Vocabulary: Kids expand vocabulary as they interact with new things. They may learn new words from their peers as they play. Teachers can expand vocabulary by talking with kids about what they’re doing and offering them words for different things. Introduce new words related to what the child is playing or ask questions that encourage the kids to talk.

·        Problem-solving: Play often presents situations that call for problem-solving skills. They might need to figure out how to do something or how to work together with peers. During dramatic play, they have to decide which roles to take and how those roles interact, for example.

·        Concentration: When kids get to choose what they do, they’re more likely to show interest and stick with the activity. They get more out of the activity because they’re actively engaged and focused.

·        Social skills: The free play format encourages kids to interact with one another, which helps build social skills. They learn to communicate ideas and cooperate. Social skills are so important not only in the classroom but life in general.

·        Emotional development: Play opportunities help kids develop empathy and explore feelings. Dramatic play is particularly helpful. Kids play different roles and explore how others might feel. They can also learn how to keep their emotions under control while interacting with their peers.

·        Stress relief: Traditional classroom learning can put a lot of pressure on kids — especially those who may be behind developmentally. Play is something that kids enjoy. They might feel calmer while they play. They’re learning, but they don’t feel the same pressures that they might during traditional learning.

·        Decision-making: Since kids get to pick what they do, play-based learning can help them develop decision-making skills. They decide not only what to play with but also how to interact with those items.

·        Independence: Kids are responsible for their own actions. Instead of relying on a teacher to tell them exactly what to do, kids act independently as they explore the play options.

·        Confidence: All kids can play regardless of their background knowledge or ability level. They find success in the classroom with play-based learning. That success can help build confidence that may make school seem less intimidating.

·        Physical development: Play requires movement. Kids use fine motor skills to manipulate small toys and gross motor skills when they run around and play actively. The more they practice both types of motor skills, the faster they develop those abilities.

·        Active learning: When kids play, they’re actively engaged. Being mentally active helps kids learn better than they do when they’re learning passively.

·        Real-world connections: Play helps kids connect ideas to their lives. When they play in a store-themed dramatic play area, they might connect it to trips to the store they take with their parents.


5.2 Strategies for adapting Yoga in classroom


5.3 Understanding and application of Play

Schools that use the Montessori education focus on encouraging children to learn through “meaningful play.” Meaningful play has five characteristics. It:

·        Gives the child a choice about what he or she wants to do

·        Feels fun and enjoyable for the child

·        Evolves spontaneously, rather than giving kids a script to follow

·        Is driven by intrinsic motivation about what the child wants to do

·        Creates a risk-free environment where kids can experiment and try new ideas.

In meaningful play, children are active participants. For example, instead of passively taking in a lesson, children take on roles alongside their peers and respond to the other children according to the rules of play that they’ve created.

While “rules” may seem counterintuitive to the idea of free, voluntary play, a system of mental rules is actually one of the other key features of play. Children may state these explicitly, form them collaboratively or follow a selected leader, or have an inherent sense of what governs the terms of their playful engagement. This active, pleasurable negotiation of rules and symbols can offer a number of learning benefits.

Here are three unique ways to incorporate more play into the classroom:


1.     Make Learning an Adventure
Instead of describing a new topic, have students use their imagination to visualize that they’re right in the middle of what you’re teaching. For example, when teaching children about ocean life, turn your classroom into an ocean! Display photos of animals and plants around the classroom and have your students pretend they’re scuba diving and exploring these new things.

2.     Use Manipulatives While Teaching
Manipulatives don’t just have to be used when you’re teaching your students math concepts! Try using toy cars to practice blending sounds or letter tiles to teach children about new words.

3.     Act it Out
Whether your students are telling you a story or you’re teaching them a new concept, encourage them to act it out and move as they do so! For example, you can incorporate math concepts into daily play by asking questions such as “how far can you throw a ball” or “how high can you jump?”


5.4 Therapeutic application of Music, Movement and Dance

There have been many instances where children have fared average or below average in academic subjects but excelled in sports or arts or music. It is now recognized that there is more to preparation than just academic learning. Bright and Mofley (1977) stress that the ultimate test of our educational system pertains to its effectiveness in assessing students to have a well balanced emotional and intellectual life that includes leisure participation.

Educators are beginning to realize that creative activities not only help develop individual potentials and talent, but enhance learning certain academic concepts. They are interesting, fun to do and experiential. How many of you can remember learning information through a relaxed conversation than through drilling or lecture method? The same implies to children. Learning becomes enjoyable, and there are opportunities to enhance their skills in language, motor abilities and socialization.
Activities such as music and dance, crafts, sports and games and other physical exercises and computers are now being included in the regular timetable. They are now referred to as co-curricular activities. Trained teachers in each one of these areas are appointed and children given a choice to pursue the activity of their interest. In case of children with mental retardation also, the importance of co-curricular activities in their growth and development is well recognized. Many educators have realized that their education must extend beyond the environment of the classroom. Most of them have a disproportionately large amount of leisure time when compared with their non-retarded peers. If they do not acquire skills to utilize their leisure time meaningfully, the problems will be compounded as they grow up. Also, as in the case of all children, creative activities may enhance their learning of academic skills, improve self-image and provide avenues for vocation.

Howard Gardner lists 7 intelligences namely, 1) linguistic intelligence, 2) musical intelligence, 3) spatial intelligence, 4) bodily kinesthetic intelligence, 5) analytical intelligence, 6) interpersonal intelligence, 7) intrapersonal intelligence. He urges the trainers of children with learning problems in academics to look for other abilities in them. Bodily kinesthetic intelligence reflects in performing arts (dance for instance) and games and sports. Musical intelligence is seen in some of the mentally retarded persons with even moderate degree of retardation, excelling in Tabla, Guitar or vocal music.


Performing arts are a means of expression; of ideas, concepts, thoughts, opinions and abilities, through drama, dance, movement and music. Performance could be through any one of the above media or a combination of two or more.

Importance of performing arts for children with disability
Right from infancy, children listen to music, enjoy making movements to music and listening to stories, especially if they include action and voice modulation. Traditionally, we have had the privilege of enjoying listening to verses/stories/songs narrated by our grandparents- drawn from our rich cultural heritage, across all religions. Mentally retarded children are no exception to them. Broadly, teaching of performing arts benefit children with mental retardation in the following ways.

It is well known that fables featuring animals and supernatural characters such as Panchatantra, Hitopadesha and Aesop’s fables have been repeatedly used to educate children who were labled slow or dull. Recently, various dance forms and playing musical instruments are being tried to reduce hyperactivity. World over, music, dance and drama as therapies are becoming a part of remedial education for children with developmental disabilities. Specific methodologies, are used for set goals according to needs and evaluated.

Children with mental retardation can be taught to appreciate as well as perform these activities, provided they are taught.

Use of performing arts helps you establish a close rapport with children, handle large groups and make learning enjoyable and teaching less tiring for you. According to the age level, you can teach them a variety of activities such as clapping hands, simple rhythmic movements and miming to complex dance forms, singing or playing musical instruments and drama. They contribute towards individual’s overall development and build/improve self- confidence.

As mentioned earlier, it is important that the right cues – auditory, tactile, visual or kinesthetic be selected while planning, depending on individual needs and abilities. Cues should be gradually faded to facilitate independent participation. For example, physically guide a child to do a hand movement in a dance rather than saying right/left, which is abstract. Gradually reduce support and introduce the music.


Dance activities

Initially, let them form a circle, hold hands and move to music, clockwise and anticlockwise. This will help in warming up. Encourage group participation.

Slowly introduce movements such as raising and lowering hands, coming to centre of the circle and going back, sitting and standing, holding hands on waist and tapping feet. Tying bells (ghungroos) at the feet will make the activity very enjoyable. Also try giving each child a colorful baton or ribbon to motivate them to move.

Take them out to a local school performance or play a videotape of folk dances – tell them to which region it belongs. Draw their attention to the costumes and make up.
Children enjoy dressing in colourful costumes. Include ‘show time’ in your timetable where children get a chance to dress in dance costumes and wear make-up. This will help them overcome stage fear and increase their self-esteem.

They can be taught formal dance, provided each step is taught in small sequences and repeated. For example – first teach hand movements, then feet and then whole body. Counting 1-2, for each sequence will help them remember the sequence. Once they have learnt the steps, introduce the song.
Some children with severe mental retardation may need to be addressed individually, require physical guidance and told repeatedly what to do such as-‘ Raju, bend down, move your left hand’ and once he has learnt, proceed to the next step.

Drama can be used to enhance learning of concepts, teach appropriate social behavior, safety rules and hygiene, current events and about our culture and environment. The visual and auditory cues which drama provides improves learning and retention. You can also use drama to teach them express emotions such as anger, fear and happiness.


5.5. Therapeutic application of co-curricular activities like group games and Special Olympic events


Physical education plays a very important role in helping a child with mental retardation understand his body in (motion) movement and at rest. It includes instructions in relaxation, opportunities for creative expression, social interaction, practice and scope for selecting meaningful leisure time skills. It builds self confidence and improves one’s self-image.

Adapted Physical Education
Definition: Adapted physical education is the body of knowledge that focuses upon identification and remediation of problems within the psychomotor domain in individuals who need assistance in mainstream education or specially designed physical education services. Since adapted physical education is a part of special education, a multi-disciplinary approach is very essential, as each child’s developmental level and needs differ. It gives scope for educators to develop skills in students through assimilation of many disciplines by including lessons in recreational skills, music and dance, art and drama.
Children with mild or moderate mental retardation who have motor abilities similar to non-disabled persons may be trained in physical exercises, sports and games with slight modifications in terms of rules and complexity of the games. Organizations like the special Olympics give them opportunities to exhibit their skills at national and international levels. You will learn more about special Olympics in the next unit. However, children with severe/profound mental retardation in whom physical growth and development are grossly delayed require adaptations and training needs to be done at a sensori motor level.

Sensori motor training
Sensori motor training, which is the earliest form of physical education for children with mental retardation is done in four main areas of behaviour – namely, (a) level of awareness, (b) movement, (c) manipulation of environment, (d) posture and locomotion.

1.     Level of awareness – help the child to recognize pleasant/unpleasant stimuli – exercise discrimination in anticipating or avoiding future contacts. To evolve avoidance reactions, try hot/cold water, vigorous toweling of skin, restraints such as splints on legs and weight, taps from rubber, hammer and extreme tastes such as alum or lemon. For approach reactions, try pleasant stimuli such as bell ringing, music, human voice, colourful objects, cuddling or drawing closer. Also – children are drilled on discriminatory reactions such as responding to name, obeying simple verbal/gestural commands, or turning towards objects when named.

2.     Movement – As the child becomes aware of sensory stimuli, he must be trained to make more motor adjustments. Initially all purposive movements must be initiated by teacher – (carry, rock, roll, bounce, swing the child). Child may begin with active assistance leading to independent movement. Progression –> roll to side, roll to front to back, roll completely over, roll in a barrel, roll over pillows, rock on a chain or hose, bounce on a bed, jump to seat – swing in hammock or trampoline – continue till sufficient muscle strength is developed to allow sitting and standing postures without external support.

3.     Manipulation of environment – This implies teaching – reaching, grasping, releasing, throwing, holding, passing from hand to hand, rubbing, squeezing, tasting, pounding, shaking, pulling apart and deassembling. It also includes communication – through sounds, gestures, words and self help skills with assistance.

4.     Posture and locomotion – start with lifting head, with lying in different positions, motivate by ringing bell or smell food.

Activities and adaptations

1. Ball throw

Have children stand in a line one behind the other. The first child is given three chances to throw a soft ball to a peer standing at a distance. He goes to the end of the line after 3 attempts. The peer rolls the ball back to the next child in the row. The child who throws farthest or succeeds in reaching the peer is considered winner.

Reduce distance, vary the size and texture of the ball. Place a box or a pot to throw the ball into. For children with associated impairments such as blindness, use a ball which makes noise. Allow children who cannot stand, to sit and throw.

2. Track and field events
To train positioning of hands and feet in place before signal is given for running, mark outlines of hand and foot where the student has to place them. Use brightly coloured flag or a loud whistle for starting the race. Mark the tracks, starting and finishing points clearly. In a relay race, use bright coloured batons. Reduce the distance for children who have difficulty in running.

3. Wall ball (Primary level)
Divide players into groups of six. They stand in lines perpendicular to a wall, four feet apart. Mark distances every foot, three to eight feet from the wall. First child in each row throws and catches the ball off the wall three times. He then moves to the next mark and repeats throw and catch. If he misses, he goes to the end of the line and the next player gets his turn.
The team where all members finish are winners. A player who completes catches at each mark has finished playing. Others repeat the throw and catch at the point where they missed previously.

4. Balancing activities – book balancing, balancing on beam
If the child has limited balance,

5. Jump rope activities

6. Target activities
Stack empty tins like a pyramid manner. Give each child three chances to aim and hit the tins. Ask others to count the number of tins fallen. Vary the targets to be hit. Reduce distance, size and texture of ball if the child has problems in coordination. Provide a backdrop for easy visibility. Place targets at ground level and allow child to roll the ball if he has difficulty in throwing.

For older students – during games such as shuttle, throw ball, volley ball and basket ball reduce the height of the basket or net. Take them out to watch matches between local teams or on television. Organize friendly cricket matches where students can play with neighbouring school teams.

Games in which the student’s disability becomes an asset, provide excellent opportunities for group cooperation. For example, Blind fold all participants and ask them to locate source of a sound. Student with visual impairment may give them cues to locate.

7. Team games
Team games are especially important for persons with mental retardation because they provide opportunities for large muscle activities necessary for maintaining physical fitness. They also enhance their abilities to contribute to the group effort, and of course social competencies.

Cricket is one of the most favourite games in our country. This can be easily taught with few modifications. Some children may need intensive training in each of the these areas before beginning the game. Begin with throwing and catching the ball. To reduce monotony, have two teams stand in row facing one another. Ask the first child in one row to throw the ball to the child facing him. He catches it and throws to the second child opposite. Continue catching and throwing till the end of the row. Reshuffle the order and teams. Alternatively, let one team stand and the others change positions – sit, crouch, lie down and catch the ball. Once they learn to catch, increase the distance between teams.

For training in taking runs, ask each child to choose a partner. Ask the child who has motor problems to be umpire. Provide prompts for calling/signaling a run.

There are numerous games that children play. Select the game adapt if needed and train the students with mental retardation using the correct blend of creativity and teaching principles.

Participation in disability sports has dropped by an estimated ten percent since 2012, with feedback revealing that a focus on finding future Paralympians has left local sporting facilities lacking. As a result, many people with physical and intellectual disabilities are still finding that their sporting ambitions are held back, predominantly by the continuing scarcity of clubs and basic facilities. 

Taking part in sporting activities is a great way for anyone to improve self-esteem and wellbeing, regardless of their supposed limitations. It can be a confidence boost, as well as a crucial part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. For these reasons and more, keeping the spotlight on disability sport and campaigning for better facilities for everyday people nationwide should be seen as vital.

Just like the Olympics and Paralympics, the event begins with a spectacular opening ceremony and sees athletes competing in a diverse array of sporting contests, from athletics and cycling, to powerlifting and open water swimming. But the Special Olympics World Games is also an opportunity to increase social inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities, and for this reason is considered the largest combined humanitarian and sporting event in the world.