Early years educators know the importance of social and emotional learning for 3 – 7 year olds. New Zealand neuroscience educator, Nathan Wallis, believes that how children feel about themselves as learners is more important than learning to read or write in this age group. Developing a positive attitude to learning in a secure environment is central to giving children a head start in the school system.
Dance for pre-schoolers can be a useful way of developing these emotional skills and the important laterization function of the brain. Self-generated movement challenges where children can lead their own inquiry into how the world works encourages the development of intrinsic motivation for learning.
Lateralization of the brain function means that the child is working both hemispheres of the brain. Current research shows that movements like turning, rolling, rocking and general dance movements stimulates the balance, telling the body where it is in space. This is essential for posture and responding to stimuli, using both sides of the brain.
Using dance in the preschool classroom also encourages divergent thinking through creativity. It encourages collaborative approaches to play and use of the imagination to explore children’s questions about their world.
Dance activities are about following the child’s interests and problem solving rather than having the right answer. It gives them confidence to learn about themselves and others through their own playful curiosity.
Starting your preschool dance
Dance classes often take a quite structured form; however this is not always necessary in the preschool class. Spontaneous opportunities for movement may not require an Olympic style warmup and cooldown. Finding new ways to move through a space or responding through movement to a book you are reading are warmups in themselves.
The movement often comes from the children’s own inquisitiveness around their immediate environment. This may mean that dance is a part of their storytelling, moving in response to words or ideas they are exploring. Using the body to engage the senses in the story adds texture and delight.
Try to ‘listen’ to where the children are leading you with their movements. Rather than asking questions all the time (which can be exhausting for them and you), observe how they respond with their body. When reading a story, are they using their arms, or can you see the movement jumping from their bodies? This indicates they are ready to explore!
Pause the story and move with them. You can use description or sound effects to support the movements. You don’t always have to give instructions for movement…just move with them.
Recently I was reading David Walliams book, Boogie Bear to a group of 4 year olds. When they got to the page where the polar bear is sleeping and floating the children showed me what to do. They began swaying as they were sitting down. So, we got up and pretended to float in curving pathways. I had to remind them to open their eyes so they could see where they were going!
Moving in response to the children’s own play inspired curiosity is often the best for this age group. These spontaneous moments of dance give teachers and students the chance to interact through movement and music. Open ended dance play opens the door for integrating the senses with cognition.
When children are playing outdoors it is a perfect opportunity to explore different pathways as a part of their imaginative play. Real or imagined obstacles encourage different levels and speeds of movement. Floating like an Autumn leaf, darting like a dragon fly, tumbling like the wind, or sneaking through the forest like an explorer uses the children’s imaginations and challenges their movement vocabulary.
There are a number of free lesson plans that are useful in supporting early learners emotional development on DTI. Good Helper Ladybird, encourages children to work together and help each other.
Making corrections in the preschool dance class
Emotional wellbeing for this age group depends on their confidence to take risks when learning. In the dance class there is no right or wrong, just curiosity. Rather than making corrections try to support a positive learning atmosphere.
This means modelling rather than telling, paraphrasing what they have shared with you rather than continually asking them questions and listening to their questions but not always having the answers.
Giving young children praise needs to be specific. What did they do that you thought was great? How was the shape they made with their body exciting? Why did their floating movement look so realistic?
Making a Good Morning Dance
Rather than making children sit with cross legs on the floor each morning, try creating a ‘Good morning dance’ that wiggles out their woggles. This can be an opportunity for children to tune in to their own bodies. It can be a part of your coming into the classroom routine that acknowledges the children’s autonomy over their physical and mental place in the learning environment. You can include singing, gestures, stretching as well as a more aerobic approach.
This is a dance that should be created in collaboration with the children as they consider what is important in your classroom. It needs to be adaptable enough so that each child can interpret it according to how they feel on that day.
Have the children decide on several pieces of music so that you can mix it up according to the energy of the day. Having a calming alternative so that they can perform the dance in slow motion can be interesting for the children as they learn to control their bodies and explore balance.
Some guiding questions may include:
What will we need to do for our body in the morning? Have you got some ideas?
Does the dance need to be slow or fast?
What is it important to say in the morning?
You may also choose to start children thinking by reading a poem or a book. I Am Grateful, by Lina and Nick Della Bosca, is a wonderful starting point for the conversations about inclusive ways to start each day.
Having fun with dance in the preschool classroom
Above all, these preschool dance explorations should be fun for all. Each child will engage (or not) in their own way. Having multiple opportunities to move, imagine, and create makes the preschool classroom come alive.
Find more dance ideas for this age group as a part of the DTI Premium Membership resources.