Conducting dance classes for very young children in the age range of 3 to 6 requires a tremendous amount of managing, engaging, and interacting skills. The dynamic setting of a dance class environment can make teaching very challenging and need the most preparation, energy, and patience.
Before we delve into what works and what tips can be implemented to get AND keep that attention, here are just a couple of reasons why you should sign up your interested preschooler in a dance class -
Dance helps Young Children Learn Literacy Skills - Literacy requires you to think, create and then share information," she says. "When children are in a dance class they are thinking about what do and where go and what the teacher says. They are also creating during free time when the agenda sometimes is just an experiment by dancing by yourself. Often the last 10 minutes of the class is about experimenting and dancing by themselves. The children are also sharing information like emotions and feelings which is a form of communication.
Dance Classes help with Memory and Patience - This directly impacts their performance in school. Children are exposed to different elements in a dance class - memorizing things, taking direction, thinking creatively, all of this comes handy and get applied to other areas of their school life. The dance involves a lot of practice and perseverance. Practicing steps over and over again, persistently until they get it right increases their patience.
Below are 10 tips for dealing with the short attention spans and behavioral challenges typical of the preschool (3-6 years) age group — and maybe even older!
1. Keep the Class Moving
A common mistake in teaching classes with young children is to spend too much time on a single activity. Kids this age don't have a very long attention span, two minutes is about as long as you can stretch one activity before moving on to something else. A 45 min class is the maximum a dance class can last and that too when things are fast paced and full of action. If there are more than eight children in the class, you most definitely need an assistant!
2. Repetition -
Songs and movement are often used in kindergarten classes to signal when it's time to transition from one activity to another. Use the same actions during the chorus of a song to make it easier for children to learn choreography and develop musicality.
3. Offer Choice
In this age group, children are learning to express their thoughts and take independent decisions. As a dance teacher, offer opportunities for children to make decisions regarding their movement; for instance, they may choose between dancing sharply or smoothly (quickly/slowly, happily/sadly) around the room.
4. Explain Each Step Clearly -
Each step in dance needs to be explained clearly and to cater to different children, you have to teach in all three primary learning styles - visual, auditory and kin-aesthetic (movement). If you're not explaining it precisely as you're doing the steps, you may miss out on reaching some children.
5. Encouragement -
Remember to build confidence in the kids, by explaining that it is ok to make mistakes as everyone makes them. Explain that you don't expect them to get the dance steps in the first lesson and it may take some more classes before they start getting comfortable with the steps.
6. Reward Students
Positive reinforcement stickers, stars, etc.,) makes all the difference when teaching dance to younger students. Five to six-year-olds will respond better to praise, and criticism on the way students are doing a particular movement or behavior should be used sparingly and subtly.
7. Focus on Fun
Bring the energy up in the class by giving the kids plenty of chances to giggle! Sound effects and exaggerated moves pique their interest and, and plain entertain them. Once they start laughing and having fun, they all come alive and makes a class interactive and fun.
8. Offer Positive Feedback at Every Opportunity -
Actively be on the lookout for things that are being done well as this gives the class a chance to model the appropriate behavior. Looking for that one child who is doing SOMETHING (anything) right and singling them out is a more effective strategy than reprimanding the whole class (an example is "beautiful arms, Lisa!”)
9. Give Them Something to do while Waiting their Turn -
Waiting for a turn may make some children anxious or plain jittery. Help them calm down by giving them something to do or hold while they wait their turn. Offer the next child in line something sensory like scarves (or a stuffed animal) to hold until it is his or her turn, at which time they pass the object to the person behind them who is waiting.
10. Participate and Model Behavior -
Young children take all of their cues from you and so if you are asking them to pretend they are in a dark cave as they creep around the room, then you must be in that cave with them at least part of the time.
Tips for Teaching Creative Movement
When children in the ages 3-5 are enrolled in a dance class, especially ballet, the focus is on cultivating creative movement rather than showing the specific moves associated with a particular dance form. In this example of ballet, around the age of 6, the classes are called "pre-ballet," which is when the students are ready to stand at the barre and learn the mechanics of alignment and ballet positions.
Creative movement can be taught many different ways—and each dance teacher from her own experience has used a variety of methods and has had to improvise on the go just as often as they have come with a prepared structure
1. When in a circle, engage the children in stretching by having them flex and point the toes and fly like a butterfly using pretty arms with the soles of the feet together.
2. Incorporate yoga 'asanas' and have the kids lie on their bellies with their heads towards the center of the circle, practicing pushing up onto their hands and keeping their necks long (like a cobra in yoga), and lifting their heads and their feet off the ground and flying like Superman.
3. Props such as colorful scarves are incredibly helpful to teach specific basic movements - hopping on one foot, galloping, skipping, walking toe to heel like on a tightrope, etc.
4. Add layers to the movement - Keep skill practice interesting by layering your instruction with imagery. Find occasions to play pretend that will also enhance their understanding. For port de bras exercise, you can ask children to pretend that the wind is blowing their arms out (for demi second), or encourage them to become pancakes and "flip" as they practice three-step turns.
5. When you feel like you're losing them, go back to imitating an animal to get their attention again. Take light springy steps like a cat, heavy steps like a gorilla, etc.
To teach dance to preschoolers requires more than a teaching degree in dance! A natural aptitude coupled with some smart strategies can keep them coming back for more - and there is nothing more delightful than seeing little ones perform on stage, making it all a highly worthwhile cause.