Primary school teachers are always looking for ways to include the natural world as a key part of their teaching. Using the current Season as a theme or a Big Idea, whether it is to celebrate a holiday or to draw attention to the environmental changes around us, is an exciting starting point for a dance activity.
Firstly, determine what you are going to focus on from a movement perspective. Are you looking at the Elements of Dance, using choreographic devices, exploring the work of a choreographer or something else?
Secondly, will this be a choreographic, performing or responding activity? It could be a combination of all three, but it is always good to decide on a central focus.
Thirdly, are you combining this with another learning area? The seasons are fantastic for linking with science or literacy. Many of the suggestions below are linked to these two areas. Perhaps you are exploring cultural celebrations that link to the seasons in your community or even sustainability priorities within your curriculum.
If you are using a Big Idea approach, you will use Seasons as an overarching idea and see where the children naturally create connections. You may start with a question that makes them curious about the Season and then be led by the children’s exploration.
A thematic approach will depend on what you are aiming for as an outcome. Your threads of learning could focus on the links to each of the Seasons as a narrative. Alternatively, it could look at the changes between each season and how it effects the animals and plants.
Here are books and dance ideas you could use for the various seasons to explore movement in your classroom.
There are so many favourite books about Autumn and the wonderful changes that take place. This is perhaps the most visually magnificent season of all. In the DTI Membership Resources for Early Childhood to Year 2, there is a full unit of work that explores Floor and Air Pathways using a book as a stimulus.
However, there are many other books that cover a range of approaches to Autumn (Fall). These can look at the science of what is happening in the environment to plants and animals. They can also look at narratives about other themes, like Leif and the Fall, by Allison Sweet Grant, Adam Grant, Merrilee Liddiard (Illustrations).
This story of persistence and creativity, investigates problem solving how a leaf could stop from falling to the ground. There are many approaches you could take to creating dance activities using this book as a stimulus.
Build a machine with your body that stops leaves from falling.
Explore giving into gravity, falling from high level shapes to low level shapes.
Investigate the movement of the leaves caused by the wind and other elements associated with Autumn.
Create a dance that explores the setting, characters, beginning, middle, end, problem, and solution of the story.
You might like to use this reading of Leif and the Fall. It includes another nonfiction book that looks at the processes of nature associated with Autumn. There are many ideas for dance activities from each of these books, and they can be used in conjunction with each other.
When This World was New by D.H. Figueredo and illustrated by Enrique O. Sanchez is a story that deals with the American immigrant experience. The themes are about the experience of a snowy Winter from a different perspective.
Explore the different clothing you need for winter and how you may move differently in them. (Contrasting energy and time)
Using the differing emotions of the story to create movement. Moving from the fear of the new surrounds to the joy of discovering a snowy winter.
Using contrasting seasons around the world create different dances for different countries.
Using the footprints that are left in the snow as a stimulus, improvise floor patterns and directions. Alternatively investigate the symbolism of the footprints as a part of this story and create movements that show what they mean to the boy and his father.
Springtime really is a time for connecting with nature. Dance activities that link to the changes that occur in the children’s own neighborhood are great for this time of year.
Get the children to photograph or draw pictures of the changes that happen over several weeks in early spring in your natural environment. Use these pictures to create a group dance about how nature comes back to life after the colder months.
Alternatively, use the changing colours they observe in nature to create a dance that responds to the shades of Spring.
A book that you could use to support these dance investigations is Margaret’s Unicorn by Briony May Smith. The illustrations have a lovely use of light and are sensitive in their use of colour to represent the changing season. The themes of the book are equally delightful and could be used for a dance on their own. Perfect for Year 1!
Wild Summer, by Sean Taylor and Alex Morss and illustrated by Cinyee Chiu, is of course about summer but also about the relationship between a little girl and her grandfather. This book really lends itself to movement as it does to the joy of close observation of nature.
Find all the adjectives in the book and use them as stimulus for movement. You could also do this with the ‘moving’ words. Create a Word Wall that the children can refer to as they create their summer dance and then write about it as a reflection.
Make a dance about climate change as it is referred to in the book. The children can find the questions they would most like to ask about how the natural world is being changed by the climate.
Dance activities about four seasons
Many books describe all of the seasons. This means that you can revisit the dance activities at several times across the year. The dance may evolve across the year as the children observe and describe the weather, the changes to the length of the day and the world around them.
“Watching the seasons teaches children to be observant of their world and its changes and to represent these through movement.”
A Walk in the Woods by Flora Martyn links the seasons throughout the year. It looks at the woods in different seasons and at different times of the day. Filled with great illustrations of animals, weather, and plants, it inspires movement through the use of colourful adjectives. It describes movement but also sensations, highlighting words using bold printing.
Omar the bees and me, by Helen Mortimer, follows bees through the seasons. It even includes a performance about bees. This lends itself to dance ideas about the children devising a bee dance that represents the bees in the different seasons.
In addition, the story is lovely for young reader to see the kinds of projects that happen at school (including arts projects) and the transition from moving from one class up to the next. It represents the seasons of school quite beautifully including elements of school, home, and friendship.
This version of the story is read by Maisie one of the leading characters in the story.
A different approach to the seasons
If you live in Australia or in other parts of the world that have a different way of observing the season change you may like to use these books. Even if you live in a country that has four distinct seasons, it is a great idea to demonstrate that people around the world experience the changing of the seasons differently.
Summer Rain, written by Ros Moriarty and illustrated by Balarinji, describes the wet season in northern Australia. Covering a whole day, this book is filled with colour and movement. It describes nature using descriptive movement that is perfect for improvisational dance activities. Use phrases like ’dancers leap in silvery light’ to inspire a range of movement.
Elsina’s Clouds by Jeanette Winter is a story from South Africa that follows the local traditions about bringing rain to the dry winter months. This story may be linked with visual arts as it describes the colourful paintings and how they are a part of the harvest. Movement can be used to start ideas for the children’s own art works or as a response to their paintings.
No one does the changing seasons quite like Alaska. Although this book is an early reader book, Seasons of Alaska, is an interesting way to explore the culture and climate of one of the world’s more remote regions. This Picture book includes vocabulary in Yugtun and English so could be used for an interesting take on Seasons from a different perspective.
These are just a few ideas that you may like to explore in your classroom. Each can be adapted to suit the needs of your students and the approach you wish to take.
Keeping children observing and creating art about the natural world is a way we can invest in the future of our environment and work towards a sustainable future.