Dance in early childhood learning is fun and rewarding for students, teachers and for parents. Young children are made to move and are natural wigglers. Dance provides a fun movement activity while developing concentration and attentiveness.
Dance-play activities encourage young children to practice balance and motor skills while stretching the imagination.
They have an inbuilt spirit of inquisitiveness and creativity and are intuitively sociable, loving the adventure of doing. Modern child psychology explores the ideas that children learn by doing and engage their bodies to see, hear and touch what interests them.
Furthermore, what young children do in play through rhythm and movement, with someone they love, can lay the ground work for the accumulation of complex skills later in life (Delafield-Butt and Tevarthen, 2015).
As dancers, children explore space and time in active experiences, sharing feelings and making decisions about intentional movement.
Dancing at home and school with younger students
Sharing activities that are linked to actions, events, and interesting objects gives children a chance to experiment with language. By observing parents and teachers in the process of dance, your children learn to explore a range of gestures and facial expressions that are appropriate for sophisticated communication.
“I can do it myself!”
Yes, they can do Dance-play for themselves. Children are able to progressively do more things for themselves, so movement activities should encourage choice and individual expression. A range of stimulus material can allow your child to explore and develop new skills.
For example, a basket with a range of lengths of fabric, in different textures, can initiate many creative movement activities. This age group begins to understand symbolism and will readily see a scarf as being the wind or a slithering snake.
These stimulus objects encourage children to learn through dance-play, as they choose what interests them not just what you want to ‘teach’ them. Inviting children to tell you what they see and experience as they move, develops pathways to engaging in learning in later years.
Dancing in nature
Children need opportunities to touch and sense through a changing landscape. Outside dance and movement on grass or sand is a chance to talk about ‘easy’ and ‘difficult’.
How do they sense their natural world through their whole body? What do they understand about their world as they feel the surface of the earth when they dance?
Even though dance is about movement it is also important to be still. The act of stillness when making shapes helps children to understand their impulse to move.
Keep in mind that stillness in young children causes fatigue. They do NEED to move.
When still, they can hear the rhythm of their own body as they breath. They can hear the world around them and ready themselves for even more movement.
Try making statues in the garden that shows the shapes of their favourite tree. Respond to the shapes they have created. For example, “What a lovely curved shape this statue has! It’s making me look at the curved branches of the tree that it is under. What do you think?”.
Encourage them to take risks with their shapes, as they explore balance. Stay close but don’t interfere with a ‘be careful’, that pops out of our mouths without thinking. All children are excited to experiment.
Then swap places and have them tell you about your shape. You will be surprised at the range of their opinions and ideas.
Lying, watching the clouds float above them and then moving like the clouds is a chance for your child to closely observe nature.
Patterns in dance activities
Repetition helps the toddler to frame their mental images, not only of their own bodies but images of objects and how they work. It may not be a dance as you know it but a kind of ongoing science experiment.
How does this work?
What if I repeat it?
How is this the same or different?
Repeating similar activities often encourages children to remember their ideas about the activity and then build on them. They often will be confident with familiar patterns to lead the dance rather than following your examples.
Young children will find the their own body language through their own exploration of movement through dance-play. They find what feels good for them. What shapes or movements make them feel strong, safe, and joyful.
Physical benefits of dance-play
If these benefit are not enough to learn through dance-play consider the physical benefits.
• Develops upper body strength to aid in control for writing
• Supports fine motor movements used to turn the pages of a book or hold a pencil
• Eye focus for looking at books and screens
• Strengthens back muscles for sitting and standing
• Develops balance
Simple is often the best for this age range.
Safe dance at home
As with any activity you need to ensure that your child is safe to explore. Making sure there is space to move and that they have bare feet and a non slippery floor surface will reduce the risk of falls when they experiment with their balance.
Be prepared to do any activity only as long as the children are interested. This age group needs to be engaged to learn. They may want to jump from one activity to another depending on their personal interest. That’s ok.
Using relaxation as a part of dance activities
In our busy world, children need a chance to relax, so try to incorporate at least one relaxation activity with your child after movement play. Helping children let go in their muscles when they stop to count their breath or try to stretch their full length on a blanket, gives them the opportunity to learn how to pause…even for a minute!
Relaxation activities are also a chance for children to learn about their bodies and begin to develop mindfulness. It supports attentiveness to how they are feeling and help develop self awareness.
Dance Relaxation Activity
Try lying together in a comfortable space. Surrounded by pillows is good as children will feel safe and relaxed. If they want to close their eyes it is good to really focus on the body part.
Move their toes on one foot and then the other.
Repeat with their fingers.
Try making a fist with both hands and then releasing.
Squeeze and crunch up their face and then relax.
You can repeat with different body parts. Once again, try not to go for too long as some young children will lose focus quite quickly.
At the end of these activities make sure there is time to lie quietly and really relax. Have children focus on their breath.
Moving with your child is a rewarding experience as you watch them explore and grow in confidence. Dance-play is a wonderful way for toddlers and young children to share your world and to communicate through creative play.
Delafield-Butt, J. T., & Trevarthen, C. (2015). The ontogenesis of narrative: From movements to meaning. Frontiers of Psychology, 6