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 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.
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 they 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 a range of gestures and facial expressions that are appropriate for sophisticated communication.
“I can do it myself!”
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.
Dancing in nature
They need opportunities to touch and sense through a changing landscape. Outside dance on grass or sand is a chance to talk about ‘easy’ and ‘difficult’.
Even though dance is about movement it is also important to be still. The act of stillness when making shapes helps children to control their impulse to move.
Try having them make statues in the garden that show a feature of a tree. Then comment on aspects of the shape they are making. 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”.
Then swap places and have them comment on your shape. You will be surprised at the range of their opinions and ideas.
If your child is very young, stillness can be used to observe something in nature. 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 the ‘rules’ of the activity. They often will be confident with familiar patterns to lead the dance rather than following your examples.
Physical benefits of dance
• 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 a cleared 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,
A need for some children to put everything in their mouth also means that dance can bypass that particular safety issue! They are moving their arms or using the objects you give them to make shapes or further movement. They will not be thinking about putting things in their mouths.
Be prepared to do any activity only as long as the children are interested. This age group has ‘no’ as their favourite word and may want to jump from one activity to another.
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 and self control.
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. Have them 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 young children will lose focus quiet 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 is a wonderful way for toddlers to share your adult 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