What is your favorite silly dance? Is it the chicken dance, the hokey-pokey, the bunny hop, or the twist? Maybe you enjoy ballet, love folk dancing, or prefer to join the latest dancing craze.
Even if you do not dance for personal pleasure, try dancing with children in your early childhood program. Dancing is a fun way to incorporate physical activity into the daily schedule. You do not need special equipment, talent, or skill and young children are wonderfully nonjudgmental about adult dancing abilities.
Health Benefits of Dancing for Young Children
Dancing is beneficial to young children, helping them develop a wide range of gross and fine motor skills while promoting overall physical fitness. Dancing develops coordination, flexibility, balance, agility, strength, and stamina. It is a form of physical activity that individuals can enjoy throughout life, allowing for a wide range of abilities.
Caring for Our Children recommends that preschool-age children be offered opportunities to learn about their bodies and how they function. Dancing enhances control of the body and encourages children to move safely and creatively.
Dancing also benefits young children’s mental health by increasing self-esteem and confidence and provides an outlet for expressing emotions. Dancing can be an independent activity, and it also can enhance social skills.
Standards for Dance in Early Childhood
The National Dance Education Organization (NDEO) has developed “Standards for Dance in Early Childhood” as a framework for what young children should know and be able to do related to dance. The Standards relating dance to healthful living for two, three, and four-year-olds include:
- Two-year-olds should demonstrate dancing safely without hitting, banging, or crashing one’s body into other bodies or the floor and should also demonstrate being gentle to others.
- Three-year-olds should demonstrate dancing without hurting themselves or disrupting the movement of others and being gentle to others to make them feel safe. They should also demonstrate movements that feel strong, healthy, and safe.
- Four-year-olds should demonstrate dancing safely with respect for one’s body and the bodies of others. They should also demonstrate being gentle to others to care for their safety and feelings and movements that make themselves and others feel strong, healthy, and safe.
These Standards cover both the physical safety aspects and the mental and emotional health and safety components of dancing for young children. The emphasis on safe dancing individually and with others, as well as gentleness as a dancer, is important for a safe early childhood dance experience.
Like all activities for young children, there are safety concerns relating to dancing with children. A safe dance environment for young children is one that has adequate space for movement, flooring that is not slippery and that can absorb falls safely, and equipment that is developmentally appropriate.
For example, if you use hand-held streamers as a dance prop, make sure they are short to accommodate small children’s heights. Very long streamers can become tangled, pose a tripping hazard, and difficult for children to manipulate.
Plan for the dance activity and have adequate supervision. Children become excited and very active when they dance, and lack of planning can result in a chaotic environment that can quickly become unsafe.
Allow time for warming-up and cooling down. Begin by dancing slowly so children warm up and stretch their muscles and focus on moving their bodies. During cool-down, children can dance to slower music to help them become calm and ready to end their dance. Warming up and cooling down also can help with the transition issues many children experience in moving between activities.
Implement practices to help prevent accidents and falls. For example, encourage children’s control of their body movements, and provide guidance about personal space. Encourage families to dress children in clothing and footwear that allows for comfortable and safe movement.
Recommendations for Dancing With Young Children
Dancing teaches children rhythm, timing, and coordination. It helps them learn about different parts of the body (e.g., legs, arms, hands), develop a sense of direction, follow instructions, and begin to develop cultural appreciation. Dancing also helps children learn about how their bodies work, and increases their dance and movement vocabulary.
As a childcare provider, you are an important role model. If you dance with children and show enthusiasm and enjoyment for dance, children will happily follow your example. To help young children begin to develop a range of dancing skills, include these elements:
- Non-locomotor movements—bending, twisting, and swinging limbs
- Locomotor movements—walking, hopping, jumping, marching, and leaping
- Musical accompaniment that features rhythm and a strong beat
- Activities that encourage children to move and follow straight and curved pathways and that promote balance
- Movements that increase in complexity as children demonstrate mastery
- Encouragement for children to develop their own dance movements and to dance independently
Enhancing Dance Activities
To add fun and creativity to dancing activities, integrate different types of music, ranging from classical to country to hip-hop. A variety of musical styles and beats will enrich your dancing sessions. Remember, you want to include music; avoid recordings with inappropriate words or lyrics.
Props also can make dancing more fun; include mini-flashlights, crepe paper, pinwheels, scarves, pom-poms, streamers, and costumes. Or, take dancing outdoors for a different experience, and draw inspiration from nature, such as a flower or snowflake dance.
Dancing activities can be easily adapted to different seasons or holidays. The hokey-pokey can become the bunny pokey, the scarecrow pokey, or the snowman pokey. Depending on the developmental levels of the children, you may plan individual dancing activities, group or partner dances, or a combination.
Dancing is a physical activity that all children can benefit from and enjoy. Look for ways you can bring dancing into the lives of children!
Parent Educator, Asheville City Preschools, Asheville, NC
Benefits of Dance, www.sharperimagedance.com/files/Benefits_of_Dance.pdf
Benefits of Movement and Dance Classes, www.earlychildhoodeducation.co.uk/benefits-movement-dance-classes.html
Books for Young Children about the Creative Arts, Beyond the Journal, NAEYC, journal.naeyc.org/btj/200407/CreativeArtsBooksForYC.pdf
Dance Skills and Techniques for Young Children, www.googobits.com/print/printer.php?article=1090
Standards for Dance in Early Childhood, National Dance Education Organization, www.ndeo.org/content.aspx?page_id=22&club_id=893257&module_id=55411