Children are born to move. The process of achieving mobility drives them at first. Movement is further used to express thoughts and feelings, especially before words become plentiful. Primed to be in motion throughout their day, toddlers and preschoolers are at a great stage for discovering dance.
But despite the natural fit, creative dance has yet to find a consistent foothold in early childhood education programs. The National Dance Education Organization says, “…while our educational systems for early childhood include drawing and singing, they often neglect to include dance.” Society at large, teachers and parents are generally less familiar with dance than with other art forms.
To fill the gap, why not create a dance venue in your own home? It’s the natural place to start. Whether you have a background in dance or not, guiding your young child’s motion is easier than you think. You don’t even have to call it “dance.”
Both parent and child can learn by exploring some basic dance and movement principles. Lead by example and flex your own creative muscle while moving beyond your comfort zone. Children aren’t the only ones designed to keep moving.
Start with rhyming games. Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake baker’s man … As you share timeless nursery rhymes, notice how each one has a rhythm, often with prescribed movements, that engage your young child’s attention and imagination. Little did you know that rhyming songs build memory capacity and help form a foundation for future literacy. Most importantly, rhyming is fun, with giggles and tickles galore.
Follow the leader. Lead your child through the kitchen, around the sofa and through the hallway. Walk, tip-toe, slither and slide your way through the house. Sing a little song or click and clack two spoons together to create sound effects you make up to go with the traveling steps.
Copycat. Copy facial expressions first and expand from there. The possibilities are endless, especially since young children learn primarily by imitation. As parents explore their own expressive capabilities, young children receive implicit permission to give full expressions of their own.
Get a rhythm. Provide rhythms for your child to copy. Soon you’ll be the one trying to keep up with your child’s convoluted manifesto. Then, bring it back down to simpler, countable rhythms. Rhythm sticks are inexpen-sive and may be available at your local toy store. Music books can refresh and inform your own sense of rhythm.
Make shapes. Move to recorded music or beat a rhythm until it’s time to “freeze” and make a shape. Notice something about the shapes after the fact. Strong, soft, tall, wide, curved, sharp angles are all qualities that help define shapes. Your child may have a definite idea of “Who am I” when he stops to make a shape.
Move like an animal. How does a cat move? What about a cougar? Your kids are playing like this already. Now is your chance to join in the fun.
Mirror, mirror. Is your child at a developmental stage where she can follow your movement as if following a mirror image? This takes concentration. You’re creating an opportunity for your child to develop observational skills and expand peripheral vision at the same time.
Tell a story. Dances can tell stories. Without words, how would you dance the tale of Little Red Riding Hood? Your child can dance while you tell or read the story.
As your child grows, your dances together will evolve. Movement and dance opportunities could become part of your child’s educational experience. A search in your community will likely reveal a variety of dance disciplines and performance opportunities to choose from. Some children may actively pursue dance study as an expressive vehicle and as an art form.
All children can benefit from an early foundation in dance as a basis for preparing both body and mind for learning. In How the Arts Develop the Young Brain, consultant in educational neuroscience David A. Sousa explains, “During the brain’s early years, neural connections are being made at a rapid rate. Much of what young children do as play — singing, drawing, dancing — are natural forms of art. These activities engage all the senses and wire the brain for successful learning.”
Employ dance as an active force in your home. Some of the best dances happen in the kitchen! Music has the power to bring family members together, and dancing has a way of making all the chores that much lighter. Pass out the dish towels, put on your apron, turn up the music and give us your best moves.
Diane Turner Maller holds an MS in Dance. She continues to find joy in social dancing with family and friends.
Creative Dance Books:
Dance, Turn, Hop, Learn! and One, Two, What Can I Do?
by Connie Bergstein Dow
First Steps in Teaching Creative Dance to Children by Mary Joyce
Movement Stories for Young Children by Helen Landalf
Dance for Young Children: Finding the Magic in Movement by Sue Stinson