Teaching Tips

Building Body and Brain: Tips for Teaching Dance to 3- to 6-year-olds

Beverly Spell introduces games to help children develop their relationship to others. Photo by Jason Cohen, courtesy of Leap 'N Learn

Creative dance means creative teaching, too. Though leading a class of 3-year-olds may sound like fun and games to the uninitiated, there's a serious side to early childhood dance education. Each activity has a purpose: to develop cognitive, social and physical abilities. There are also specific teaching strategies for working with this age group. “It's important to understand how children think," says Rima Faber, who developed The Primary Movers, a curriculum for early childhood. “They don't think abstractly the way adults do. Children have to experience, to know what it feels like. They don't understand if you're telling them to feel this muscle or that one. You have to provide images that they have experienced." For example, she says, “In second-position plié, I tell them, 'You're like a park bench.' They already know a park bench is wide and open, so you give them that picture, then they can internalize it."

Dance Teacher asked Faber and four other early childhood dance specialists to share their favorite tools and advice for success with pre-K children—an age group that is increasingly regarded as key for the growth of any dance studio.


Beverly F. Spell Leap 'N Learn Milton, Louisiana

Beverly Spell with students. Photo by Jason Cohen, courtesy of Leap 'N Learn

Creative movement is not just running around with a scarf. It develops the brain and teaches kids to think, but you have to give them tools to help them be successful with it. With a new group of 3-year-olds, one of the things you have to do is let them know what they need to do, rather than telling them what not to do.

We introduce a lot of different types of activities, and the games that we play help develop the relationship to others. I might show them a picture of a frozen pond and tell them that we're going to go skating. I'll ask them, "If it's frozen, what's the temperature like? How would I know when I look at you that you're cold?"

Then I'll put them in pairs and have them work together in a team. I'll call out what their relationship to the other person will be. So if I call out "side by side," then you're going to stay side by side and work out with your partner how to do that. Do you hold hands or not hold hands? And at the end, I always have them thank their partner for dancing with them.

I look at creative movement as child-directed creation of movement. If you just say to a child, "Create a movement," but you don't give them tools, they'll just stand there. You have to give them tools, different types of information. Then they can create their movement.

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