Early childhood educators are aware of the many benefits of teaching dance in children’s early years of learning. Because dance is preverbal in nature, it allows even the very young to communicate complex emotions and to enjoy the discovery of how their body works.
The sensory nature of dance allows children to experience their bodies in relation to music, their environment and each other.
Dance in Early Childhood supports cognitive, physical, emotional and social development through interactive, joyful movement experiences.
Physical Benefits of Dance
While many studies have shown that dance benefits the cardiovascular fitness and healthy weight maintenance of young children, there are other physical benefits to dance. (Flores, 1995; Robinson et al., 2003, Gallotta, Baldari, & Guidetti, 2016, Mo-suwan, Pongprapai, Junjana, & Puetpaiboon, 1998)
Dance is important for children in their early development as it assists with self-regulation of their bodies. They understand how to control themselves in different spaces and to shape their bodies intentionally.
The relationship between children and their own bodies is an essential part of learning from an emotional control viewpoint and for muscular control and development. This is important for everyday activities like walking on and off a kerb, stepping onto an escalator or even sitting at a table.
This sense of spatial knowing is the basis of moving safely in everyday life. The use of relationship as an element of dance develops the child’s ability to estimate distances and knowing the results of acceleration and deceleration in relationship to objects in the space.
Sensorimotor synchronization or the ability to move your body to a rhythmic beat is a primary function in dance. This rhythmic ability is also important in many sports and has been shown to influence children’s language and literacy development.
Children with developmental dyslexia show an inability to coordinate perception and action. The relationship between the ability to synchronize body and beat and reading and phonological awareness in children is unclear. However, new research does support the use of drumming and other rhythmic, musical intervention in the development of language function (Serrallach et al, 2016).
Dancing to a range of rhythms, using both improvised and teacher choreographed movement, will provide a foundation for children’s learning and cognitive development through sensory and motor interaction.
The centre of gravity is a part of children’s vestibular system, providing sensory input to the other senses. It enables children to be aware of the world around them and may affects their ability to learn.
Lack of development in the vestibular system may result in children being able to achieve static balance. This is an important function for sitting in still positions later in their schooling. It can lead to children fidgeting and being unsettled in the classroom, not just while sitting at a desk.
Much of these children’s energy is being used to calm their body. Rather than achieving a connection between their brain and body, the disconnect limits their attention span and can affect their pencil grasp, hand dominance, spatial awareness and muscle tone.
Dynamic balance also needs to be developed for the broad range of body movements necessary for learning. The movement of the head as a student copies the teacher’s notes into their books requires complex head and eye movement.
Research shows that a child’s balance is not fully developed until 12 years old and that doing activities to promote and improve balance can improve attention and learning skills.
Fast response to sound
Fast movement reaction time in response to music stimulus, helps children to accurately process sensory stimulation in the environment. It prepares the body for quick and appropriate responses to movement.
Making sense of sound is one of the most complex functions of the body. Pitch, timing and timbre all contribute to the intricacy of the body’s connection with the brain when dancing.
When the child hears the music, they then are either improvising movements to match the sound or recalling set choreography to duplicate in time with the music. Both processes require high brain function.
Success in participating in a range of dance and movement activities in early childhood can be a predictor of brain health and learning abilities. Activities that promote ’sound to meaning’ development should be encouraged.
The use of the whole body, as students explore the use of body bases to create balance when making shapes, assist with strengthening the non-dominant hand. This bilateral integration also occurs when using large more general movements that cross the midline of the body.
Bilateral integration or coordination is critical for many activities that include writing, cutting with scissors, riding a bike and tying your shoes. But even more essential is the effect it has on children’s abilities to understand narratives, express themselves and to concentrate in class.
Forcing sensory activities is never encouraged which is why dance is such an expressive, creative and fun way to help the brain develop further.
Being able to perform a range of movement from small, intricate movement of the fingers through to fast acceleration, deceleration and rotation of the whole body is a valuable function of dance in Early Childhood education. Dance activities give students opportunities to practice and repeat movements to become confident.