Here are two methods for controlling the environment while allowing children to move through the space.
One is moving around in a circular formation, starting and ending in a place in the circle. The other is traveling from a single file line, one by one, as when we do an obstacle course.
To give children an opportunity to move freely, instead of following precisely in a single file around the circle line, try an activity that has a clear beginning and ending and does not go on for too long. Little Birdies (Songs for Dancing #19) is a great activity for this. It is a story dance about birds that sleep, wake up, fly and go back to sleep. It begins with children on the floor, kneeling and with heads down, like they are in an egg, sleeping. An image they can relate to is the size and shape of a rock. One by one, wake them up. Indicate the direction for flying by using gesture (this challenges their focus and concentration) and then have them follow you as we fly around. When it’s time to come back to the nest, come to the center of the circle and use “come here” hand gestures.
The objective at the end is for the birds to use body control to fly in from right where they are, and flutter down to the sleeping bird shape.
To disaster-proof this activity, I make sure the children watch for three things when I model how to fly: stretched out arms, brushing back feet, light and buoyant movement quality. Then we practice, flying once around, as I sing or rhythmically say: “Our feet brush back, our arms are wide, our bodies are light.” The other disaster-proofing is to demonstrate the “come here” hands from the middle of the circle, ask the children what it means, and emphasize flying in from right where you are.
What can go wrong?
Problem: Children fly in the wrong direction, against the flow of traffic.
Solution: Swoop down on the child and steers them in the right direction.
Problem: Children don’t look down as they fly in, and trip over a child who has already arrived.
Solution: Keep your eyes open as you fly in.
Problem: Children runs flat out and don’t fly.
Solution: Stop the music. Ask the ‘runner’ to demonstrate ‘flying.’ Compliment them on their body control. Start the activity again.
Problem: Too many children flying.
Solution: Split the group in half. Half are watchers with ‘binoculars’ (use your hands for these). The other half are birds. How to trade at the end? Stand up, walk to trade places, sit to watch or to make sleeping birdie shapes.
Traveling from a single file line involves:
- Keeping the line moving up to a starting point
- Signaling (cuing) children to move one by one, and…
- Making sure they add in to the end of the line
Place a poly spot, yoga square or a tape mark to indicate “start from here.”
Initially, oversight works really well with three adults.
One adult is the ‘gate keeper.’ ‘Open the gate’ to let the child at the head of the line start moving.
Another adult is at the end of the line to keep children moving up to the starting point as they feed in at the end of line.
The third adult stands at the mid-point of the obstacle course, cheering on the movers, overseeing the flow of the activity.
As you get better at this, you can tell the children to ‘start when the first child gets to (a specific point in the course).’ This empowers them to ‘open the gate’ by using their concentration instead of leaving that up to an adult.
What does an obstacle course look like?
Set it up like an arc, from the starting point to near the end of the line. Have a couple of special stopping places, something to go over, under or around, and a final stopping place (make a shape!) before going to the end of the line.
What will you need? place spots (yoga squares, etc), small traffic cones.
Also fun to use: chairs, mats, hula hoops, piano bench, etc.
Concept: Body Parts
- Side slide to the first spot. Make a shape with three parts on the ground.
- Side slide to the next spot. Make a shape with two parts on the ground.
- Run and leap over the cones, stretching your legs and arms.
- Make a shape with one part on the ground at the last spot.
Concept: Relationship (over/under, around, through, between, on/off, connected…..)
- Gallop to the first spot. Jump off and on the spot.
- Crawl under the bench to the next spot. Jump off and on the spot.
- Leap over the cones.
- End on the last spot and make a shape with your arms and legs connected to your body.
Concept: Pathway (straight, curved, zig zag)
- Skip straight to the first spot. Make a shape.
- Skip in a curved pathway around the cones.
- Run to the chair and sit in it. Go backwards to the next chair. You are making a zig zag pathway to run and sit in the chairs.
- Skip straight to the last spot. Make a shape.
- Form the single file line by asking children to stand ‘between your arms.’ (Children line up so you can see them when you hold your arms forward.)
- Children pivot to face the space and sit ‘ready position’ in the single line, watching with concentration.
- Model the journey. Then start again and ask the children to tell you what you should do as you repeat the sequence.
- As they go one by one, verbally repeat the key concepts of the sequence. Cheer them on.
- Let each one go all the way through before you start the next one, or start the next one when the previous dancer is halfway through the sequence.
Suggested Music: Free Dance (Songs for Dancing #18)
I’ve been thinking about how challenging it is for many teachers to ‘allow’ their younger students to travel from one place to another. It’s so much easier to have children move on their own spot: jumping, turning, melting and popping up, shaking, etc.
Each child is beside another, oriented towards the leader/teacher. That’s the way music teachers often work with children as they sing and dance.
While this is good for the individual, it does not promote negotiating relationships with others, and therefore does not build holistic social competence. Sure, kids have to keep their hands to themselves, but they aren’t taking turns, sharing the same space, moving with another person.
When I start out with a new group of young children in a school setting, I first teach them how to make a circle. Typically, we do Down By the Station (Songs for Dancing #1) to travel in a line to a circle. This teaches, or reinforces, the basic skill of following in a single file line, which every child has to be able to do successfully in public school. Then we do a series of activities from the circle.
The first time I teach children to work in a formation that is NOT a circle, I use yoga squares (one mat can be cut into ten squares. I recommend yogadirect.com as a source for inexpensive mats in lots of bright colors).
I toss the squares (which I call ‘dots’) out in the space, then travel around the circle touching each child on the shoulder, singing (to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It”) “When I touch you on the shoulder find a spot (or dot).” You can also ask them where to touch: knee? back? This is a great way to work on parts of the body. After we’ve done this a few times, I just sing, “When I touch you on the _____” and they suggest. I toss 5 squares, and touch five people, and repeat the process until everyone has found a spot. When we are ready to transition back to the circle or to line up to leave, I have them make a “pancake pile” of the dots. I use the “1,2,3, transition” strategy for this: 1= stand up with your dot. 2 = walk to make a pancake pile. 3 = line up (or make a circle). As I say each number, they do each thing. Sometimes I’ll play a three-line melody that ‘says’ the same thing. (I use a recorder for this, but it could be pitched percussion, guitar, etc.)
Once we are on the yoga squares we can do all kinds of bigger movement that the circle won’t allow. More room on either side of us!
Young children need to have the concept of ’empty space’ explained. “Look for empty space for ‘freedom and safety.’ ” Empty space is where ‘the dot is not.’ It’s ‘nobody space.’ Point to empty space. Everybody points to empty space. It’s above us! Beside us! In all the ‘preposition places.’
The first time I teach children to travel, we practice moving ‘where the dot is not’ and then ending on a dot. A really fun song to practice this is Stick Together Game (Step on the Beat #3) because it asks the dancers to dance around through all the empty spaces, to different places and then stop, stick parts together, then move different ways with their parts stuck together.
Of course, there are lots of other ways to approach this. You can use any music, including live music, and have students dance in the empty spaces, giving them a nice cue for when to find a spot. Once they are on a spot, they can dance on their spot (you control the energy and speed here….is the spot a chance for them to recover from big locomotor movement and move gently, such as swaying? Is is a chance for them to use a lot of energy after doing something controlled, such as tip-toeing, like jumping or exploding?)
What happens if MORE THAN ONE PERSON ends up on a dot? I disaster-proof this, by modeling it the first time we are going to travel and find a spot. I demonstrate ending on a spot with another person and pretending several ‘wrong’ options: getting mad, pushing, etc. Naw! That’s not what we do! Ask your students for a solution that would work better. How about sharing?
I follow up with a dance-and-find-a-spot activity in which I take away several dots during the dancing time. When you end on your spot, hold up your fingers to show me how many people are on your dot. I see two fingers up (for two people)….three.
Continue this activity until everyone has has the opportunity to share a spot.