Starting school is an exciting for both child and family. Getting to make new friendships and know new teachers may be challenging for many children and these changes can bring big emotions. Dance activities can be a great way for children to explore these relationships while building the physical skills necessary for starting school.
The obvious skills that a child will need for this transition is concerning self-help. This includes being able to ask for help, toileting and being able to wash their own hands. They should also be able to participate in play or adult led activities. Being able to take care of their own belongings such as putting away coats will also be helpful and add to the child feeling empowered in this new environment.
How dance activities can support children transitioning to school
Dance activities by children creating works of art, performing dance, and talking about their own dances and the dances of others , develop the skills they will need to flourish. There are both emotional and social benefits as well as the advantages of physical skill development.
Emotional and social benefits
Firstly, making attending a new school the best possible experience for children can be supported by confidence building activities. Using dance and the Arts to develop confidence and independence, as a part of social competence, is a great way to prepare children for what lies ahead.
Mastering new movements can boost children’s self-esteem and dance activities that culminate in performance are a good introduction to setting goals.
Secondly, coping with change and uncertainty is also an important life skill and is part of the emotional maturity required to make this transition. Creative movement with others requires children to improvise changes quickly, often in the moment, while being mindful of the safety of others.
In addition, dance activities may also strengthen the ability of children to interact with each other and build relationships through creative collaboration. As they create movement together children learn to negotiate different ideas and to find ways to incorporate the creative movements of others.
Also following directions, learning rules, and moving in safe ways in the classroom are important for children starting at ‘big school’. Dance games are important for learning self-regulation, both emotionally and physically. They help to make children more spatially aware and learn how to control their movements.
Physical development benefits
Dance also helps children with balance, sensory motor synchronization and bilateral integration. The development of these skills is essential for writing, being settled in the classroom, and literacy and language development.
The building of children’s core strength is also crucial for success at school. It helps them to be able to sit on the floor and at a desk and maintain the necessary posture for learning to write.
Dance activities that require children to learn or create movement sequences are instrumental in developing memory, language, number and literacy skills. As they perform and describe their own dances, young children tell stories about the world they see around them. They find meaning and make sense of their world through these movement stories.
Dance activity for transitioning to ‘big school’.
Here are some ideas for a movement activity that encourages children to see themselves going to school that I am currently doing with my grandson.
I was surprised about some of his preconceptions about ‘big school”. Even though we take his sister to school every morning, he still thought that his parents (who both work full time) were going to be with him every day. Not sure how he came up with this!
These dance activities are about children finding what they know about ‘big school’. It helps them articulate what they feel and have conversations about what their new routine may look like.
Children like and need routines as they provide security and stability. Children will learn to anticipate what will happen soon and understand that something will end in order for another activity to begin. Clare Ford in 100 Ideas for Early Years Practitioners: School Readiness
1. Dance movement story
Use the following questions as a beginning for movement exploration. They can be joined together to make a story about a day at school.
You may like to repeat this activity several times over a few weeks to see if there are any changing ideas about starting school. The children will continually be asking questions and answering them. So address their concerns as they come up.
What days do you go to school?
How do you go to school? Do you walk, bus, bike or drive?
Where will you be when you say goodbye to your family in the morning?
What things do you think could happen on the first day of school? (For example meet a new teacher, be in a new classroom, meet kids in the class, eat your lunch out of a lunch box or in a cafeteria, pack up at the end of the day.)
What are some things you may have to do? Raise your hand? Sit quietly in a chair?
How will you go home?
What will you be excited to tell your family about school when you go home?
2. First day of school feelings circle
Begin by reading a book about the first day of school. One that I particularly like is A Pirates Guide to First Grade by James Peller. You could do this one on “Talk like a Pirate Day” and then again a little later in the year.
Sitting in a circle, each child does a movement that expresses how they think they might feel the night before going to school. They say the feeling as they do the movement. Repeat, using how they will be feeling at school and then again when they come home at the end of the day.
3. Movement activities for physical school readiness
Here are some movement and dance ideas for building children’s physical school readiness.
These are ideas for structuring movement, however it is important that children have the freedom to engage in their own exploratory movement play. They should always be empowered to lead their own learning. The teacher’s role is to introduce and reinforce language, model desired behaviour and responses, and invite children to make discoveries. Standing back, observing, and letting children explore will help you know where to lead these movement activity.