Tips for teaching 2-3 year olds

Here’s a good question from a reader: Do you have any ideas or tips, suggestions for the 2 and 3 yrs. old group? Their attention span is so short, and preventing chaos it’s always a must.  Do you have any suggestions on how to balance the fun and learning concepts with this age group? In your opinion, what are the most important concepts and skills for the 2 and 3 yrs. old to learn in a dance class environment?

This is such a tough age when it’s just you and a group of children, rather than a parent/child program. My first thought is always to include parents with this age group when possible, so they can bond and communicate through movement, develop a shared vocabulary of movement and continue the play at home.
However, if that’s not possible, look at where these young children are developmentally. Little ones have not yet grasped the idea that you cannot read their minds. They also play in parallel rather than relating to one another.

In her book Creative Dance for All Ages, Anne Green Gilbert says 2-4 year olds learn through imitation, manipulation, observation and exploration.

Let’s look at each of these.
For imitation, use a lot of “I model, you copy” and “Do what I do.” Teach with tons of eye contact and positive, smiling energy. Modulate your voice. Scan the group with your eyes.
Strike just the right balance when pacing the lesson. The first time you do it, go slow enough to catch their attention. In later repetitions, you can speed up a bit. Keep teaching light, friendly, and fun. And don’t take it personally when kids go through their changes. Mood swings are common; don’t get attached to the sadness…they don’t!

 

Manipulation means using touch to communicate. When I do cross lateral movement, for example, I will pick up the arm or leg of the child next to me so she/he can feel the action. Think of all the finger play, tickling and bouncing games that have movement in them and can be done one on one, in a parent/child class. A hand puppet is a fun prop to use for appropriate touch, such as teaching body parts. Around goes the puppet touching each child on the shoulder, the knee, etc. as you name the parts.

Observation means watching and listening. Some children will choose to watch you and do very little movement themselves in class, even week after week, and then go home and sing the songs and perform the actions in the safety of their familiar environment. Be patient with the shy watchers. They will come to you.

Exploration is about teaching the dance concepts. Limit yourself two ideas for a concept area, such as size (big and small), level (high and low), direction (forward, backward, etc.) and speed (fast and slow). When you come back to a concept later, you can layer in additional points. Look for activities, songs and stories that emphasize your chosen concept, and let that be the thread that runs through the lesson.  Check for understanding by having children show you: Show me a big shape!  A small shape!

If a child can see, hear and do the concept…. they are on their way to understanding it.

Work in a circle.  Move in all directions and levels on your spot.  Move forward and back towards the center of the circle (It’s like a flower closing and opening, the petals meet in the middle.…model that once before they join you!) Move around the circle line.  Eventually, days into the semester, move away from and back to the circle (model that, too…..expect chaos.  Be ready with a sound cue that says ‘dance away’ and  ‘come back home.’)

Use visual aids: pictures and picture books. Alternate between picture and movement instead of all the pictures followed by all the movement.  Example: Using the book Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell, have children move each animal as it appears in the story, then return to the book, sit down, and discover the next animal. Guide the movement with ideas you’ve already come up with, such as a big and small face for a lion’s silent ‘roar’ or a tip-toeing, arms-reaching -up ‘giraffe.’ This will also control the chaos.

Sing! Play lively music!

The age of a child plus 2 minutes = a typical attention span. Therefore, structure your lessons in 5 minute increments and make sure to keep the instruction brief with plenty of movement time.

Expect to ‘play rather than plié’. By that I mean hard-wired skill development should be fun and brief.

Repeat, repeat, repeat…then do something new.

Set routines and follow them…. just plug in different activities but keep the structure familiar. You can even post the routine and point out where you are in the flow of the lesson during the first few weeks. This relaxes the anxious child who wants to know when they will go home! Familiarity breeds comfort.

Transition strategies are also part of routine and familiarity. Name the formations and transition strategies with the same words, play the same clean up tune, etc. In time, everyone becomes empowered and loves to show you that they know what to do when you say the words or play the tune.

Through dance, we teach the super-important life skill of following instructions.

My four tools that I want children to know are Concentration, Body Control, Imagination and Memory. (You can simplify the language: Watch and Listen, Control Yourself, Pretend, and Remember) I teach each with a gesture and use the word/gesture combinations frequently. Sometimes all I need is the gesture.

Decide on your cues/words for transitions for following instructions, such as ‘look at me’ or “my turn first, now your turn” or “1,2,3 ears on me, eyes on me as well” when modeling a skill.

What are some other strategies that you, my readers, would like to share on this topic?

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November 9, 2014. Tags: , , , , , . Elements of Creative Dance, Kate Kuper on Teaching Creative Dance, Studio Teaching.

One Comment

  1. Kerry Bevens replied:

    I use a lot of props with this age group…..I also try to use music with words as much as possible. Never turn your back in this age group…The flow of the class is most important I find.

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