I was recently reminded by some Early childhood teachers about the importance of younger children learning about being a good friend. Using the appropriate tone of voice, facial expressions and the right words are all important parts of both socialization and being ready to go to school.
Many of these communication skills may be learnt through dance and movement activities and include gentle touch and turn taking. Dance also gives children a chance to explore emotional communication through play.
Social and emotional learning is important for children to learn about relationships and making connections. It also makes them feel safe and secure in the classroom and with this confidence children thrive.
It is important that through learning about being a good friend they learn to empathize with others and feel confident about themselves. Through their voice, expressions, and movement they learn about how they make others understand their ideas when they may not have a sophisticated vocabulary.
Because dance is physical and emotional it lets children discover expressive and creative ways to learn about not only communicating with each other but also about control. There is nothing more frustrating then hearing someone ask a child to sit and listen to the music.
Children are always ready to launch into immediate action as they are inherently movers and creators.
Being a good friend calls for many small skills that are developed over time. We can encourage children to foster friendships and build strong collaborative tools in the process.
Early childhood dance activities to teach friendship skills
Dance activity for taking turns
Sitting in a circle, play a piece of music and the children explore the movements with their arms, torso and head. They take turns in standing up and exploring larger movements on their own.
Initially this give each child a chance to practice and explore the movement seated rather than being immediately in the ‘spotlight’. The more withdrawn children may not wish to stand and they then can still participate and be ready to stand the next time you do this dance activity.
Using a theme like the rolling surf or the wind blowing the clouds will help to give their movement direction. Try to find appropriate music to stimulate their imagination.
Many children like to make sound effects and that can really help them to further their movement exploration. The teacher can have an imaginary volume control and turn the sound effects up and down throughout the activity or even turn it to silent.
You may also like to have an imaginary speed control and speed up the movement or make it slow motion. These changes to the conditions of the activity help the children to regulate their movement and to listen for instructions while taking turns.
What does my face say today?
Here is a dance activity that is about turn taking but also encourages children to be kind. They make decisions about who will have a turn at the fun based on reading other children’s facial expressions.
Two children start to dance together in a hula hoop then one person leaves the hula hoop and chooses someone to take their place. They pick the person based on being kind. No person may be picked twice.
When playing this game, the children think about who may be missing out on the fun:
How can you tell when someone feels left out?
How do you tell someone is happy?
How can you tell if someone is sad?
Try this activity for a second time but instead of the children waiting in a natural pose to be picked to enter the hula hoop they make superhero shapes. You can talk about how who was picked may have changed when we looked strong and confident.
The ‘good friend’ monster
In this movement activity the children identify some of the things that make a good friend. Each child says what they think makes a good friend. The teacher can help by making some suggestions to begin or help children who can’t think of anything. This then makes the teacher a good friend because they are helping someone.
The child must think of a movement to represent their idea that happens on the spot. As each idea becomes a movement, they join one by one to become the ‘good friend’ monster.
I like to take a picture to display so we can label the ideas and remind the class of what makes a good friend. Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems is a great book to start this activity as it looks at what makes a kind friend.
Dance the right words
In this activity you can identify some not very nice conversations you may have been hearing in the classroom. ‘You’re not my friend’ is a common one for this age group and is often spoke in a tone that is inappropriate.
Each of these phrases that are not particularly nice need to have an angry, monster-like movement that the children or the teacher may devise. As a class you then say something kind instead and use a movement that reflects that emotion.
Dance for Gentle touch
Sitting in a circle think of five things you touch gently. Then you decide on a movement for that object or thing. The movement must require the children to move slowly, quietly and gently while seated. This could be a kitten, a baby bird, a snowflake or anything that needs a gentle touch.
These movements are then joined and performed to some quiet soothing music. Repeat the movement combination at least 8 times.
Using this sitting circle dance for a quiet time or at the close of day encourages calm thoughts and helps the children to be able to control their bodies.
These kinds of dance activities foster a positive classroom environment and may result in children making friends for life.
Always bear in mind that being a good friend is about laughing and crying together and that children do need to learn both. Through dance play children have many learning moments and teachers have clear opportunities to model behaviour that supports happy and resilient children.
For more dance ideas for young children see Dance for Early Childhood.