I just completed another semester of teaching Creative Dance for Children.
As I observed the college students practice-teach in our lab program, these tips came up repeatedly.
Note: Our classes follow the lesson plan format established by Anne Green Gilbert in her two seminal works: Creative Dance for All Ages and Brain-Compatible Dance Education. If you do not already own these two volumes…run, don’t walk… and get them.
Tips for teaching 4 and 5 year olds
1) Free Play before Class
If behavior is inappropriate…..Don’t just stand there and watch. Provide a fascinating alternative instead, preferably related to the concept(s) of the day.
This is relevant if children come into the room and start running, or hitting each other with the prop of the day (scarves, noodles, etc.)
Use a sound source, instead of your voice, to transition from free play to the warm up. Teach it on the first day of class. A drum can be very effective. Or play a melody on a pitched instrument, such as a recorder (flute), that says “time to clean up and join the circle.”
To speed up (and make joyful) the transition for gathering in a circle, sing to gather the children. The novelty attracts their attention and gets them moving quicker.
Example: Pick a familiar melody such as “London Bridge” and make up words: “Join me in the circle now, my dear dancers.”
DROP HANDS BEFORE you open out a circle, to prevent pulling.
Pitch your singing voice high, since the children have high voices.
When a child is off-task but not distracting from the group or hurting herself or others, it’s okay to leave her/him alone, and invite her/him in to participate periodically.
If you are sitting near a child who doesn’t get a movement pattern, you can manipulate their limbs so they get the pattern, or ask an assisting teacher to do so.
Introducing the Concept
Color-code the different concept words on the board so you can refer to them by color for your non-readers.
Use color to suggest meaning, such as green for “go” and red for “stop.”
Clap the syllables of words and say them at the same time to help children to ‘chunk’ the information and understand it better. Always have children say the new vocabulary/concept.
Give a brief explanation of new vocabulary any time you introduce it.
Examples: Gestures are everyday movements we do to communicate. Locomotor movement goes from one place to another.
Note: when facing children you have to reverse your OWN right and left.
When children try to cut in line, teach them to find a place at the end of the line. This is a basic get-along skill required in school, too.
For leaps….when you set up cones or other props to leap over….. check the leap distances to make it challenging.
To signal a ‘freeze’ to a group while they are running, it helps to shake the drum as a ‘warning’ followed by the double-beat ‘freeze’ sound.
It is helpful to play the uneven rhythm of skip, gallop and side slide on a drum when teaching these locomotor movements.
The first time you teach constructive alignment, tell the children that you are going to give them 3 adjustments: legs, arms, head. Ask them to ‘pretend they are sleeping’ when you do the adjustments so they’ll be dead weight.
Designate ‘zones’ when you divide the groups so each group has a nice amount of work space.
When watching different dances:
Ask the audience beforehand to “watch with a purpose.” What will we be looking for?
During review, if you aren’t getting anything back, you can always refer back to the board and the color of the word.
Review all activities before asking for favorites at the end of class.
To be quick and inclusive, have everyone show their understanding of the concept at the end (e.g. ‘show me shaky movement’ or ‘show me a curved shape’) Call on specific kids rather than have them raise hands.
Tips for teaching older children (ages 6 -10)
Any time you teach movement that involves dropping the head, children will raise their heads up to watch you. Therefore, model first, have them do it, then embed it in the combination.
Remember, when you are at the barre they ALWAYS have to see you. You must be furthest downstage of their movement. Otherwise, they are looking over their shoulder.
Sometimes a movement is better understood with everyone facing your back to see the mechanics of the movement, rather than in a circle.
Developing skills and moving across the floor
Rhythmic acuity is an important skill to build. If students are rushing the beat, you can stop the group, have them listen to YOU clapping the beat, then have them join again.
When modeling something that faces away, have them watch you first, then have them join you in the face away.
For backwards walking (and all backwards movement) across the floor, you can have first line people touch the backs of all the others as they arrive at the line.
In a jump-hop combo, encourage dancers to alternate the hopping leg.
For safety sake in weight sharing/bearing….teach a wrist connect (holding at wrists rather than hands).
Always give a 4-count pick up at the top of a rhythmic combination, even when first modeling.
What would you give as a refinement when students repeat the combination? As you watch students, note what could be refined. Timing? Skill? Smoothness of transitions?
If groups are done creating and seem to be aimless, you can say “show me what you’ve got.” You can also do that for groups that get ‘stuck.’ “Show me what you’ve got” helps groups get ‘unstuck.’
Give a time ‘warning’ for wrapping up: “1 more minute.”
General Tips for All Ages:
Make sure the volume of the music never overwhelms your voice.
Make sure students don’t always group together the same. Give them frequent opportunities to learn how to work with others.
Note how hard it is for the children to integrate when they come late! Have a welcoming strategy for that (e.g. pair your assistant with that child to help them transition)
When students come into class wearing distracting clothing (mask, feather boa, crazy shirt, scarf) try right at the start of class to see if you can get rid of it. (Could be a class rule). But do it in a fun way. Usually, when a student is bothered by the garment, you can see an opening and ask them to leave it by the door to pick up on the way out.
Demand that children give you their concentration and call on the off-task ones to get their attention during all instruction-giving.
During reflection – if younger students are getting stuck, time is short, or the concept is challenging – give choices to select from among.
Examples: Which movement was smooth: punching or swaying? Which was the low level movement: crawling, leaping or walking?