This week I worked with several challenging 1st grade groups in the music room. Not a big room, and at least 4 students had poor impulse control.
However, I wanted to do The Stick Together Game (from Step on the Beat) as a follow up to teaching Body Shape Jam (from AlphaBeat) for a lesson on Body Parts. This would involve traveling, stopping, connecting parts, then traveling again with parts connected.
Here’s how I set them up for traveling. First, we did a call and response of “General Space, Go!” with voice and gesture, clapping the syllables of ‘general space,’ and pointing across for ‘go.’
Next, I demonstrated traveling, with words recited rhythmically, while playing the pulse on my hand-held drum:
Move into the empty space/ bodies moves-mouths don’t/ listen for the stopping sound/ stop on your spot//
Each short phrase was 4 beats long, so the demonstration was 2 8’s long, which is a good duration for general space traveling practice. The last 4 counts included shaking the drum to indicate the stop was coming and playing a strong double beat to indicate stop.
I kept my key words to address body control, spatial awareness, and listening skills, which are crucial to success.
Then, we did it as a group, with my words and drum. A third practice was ‘drum talk’ only.
Happy to say that, when we did the group activity in general space, it was a success.
I might add that my locomotor choice for this activity started with walking on the pulse. We could graduate to gallop or skip if students demonstrated the crucial success skills. But not the ‘r’-sounding one (let the children figure that out themselves!)
This entry was prompted by a question from reader Kerry B., who is currently teaching at a ballet studio. She wants to know how to integrate the expectations of ballet for young students with the creative, concept-based approach.
Here’s the story dance exemplar she provided, and my response.
Example: “At the Castle”
For ages: 4-5
Driving to the castle, skipping to castle stable, marching with soldiers to get horses, trotting and galloping with horses, marching to dungeon, creeping around dungeon, tip toe out, walking into garden, hopping on stepping stones. Tip toe into room to prepare for ball, group and solo dances at ball, grande waltz, leaving ball
Driving – An American in Paris (Gershwin)
Skipping – Skipping Song from Songs for Dancing (instrumental only)
Trotting & Galloping –
Galloping Song from Songs for Dancing (instrumental only)
The Magic Toy Shop: Tarantella, Shostakovich
Ballet Suite No. 1: Galop, Tchaikovsky
Swan Lake Suite, Op. 20A – 6 Act3: Spanish Dance
Marching – Firebird: Infernal Dance of King Kastchel’s Subjects, Stravinsky
Creeping – Op.46, In The Hall of Mountain King, Edvard Grieg
Tip toe – Walk – Hop – Tip Toe – Ballet Suite No. 1 – Music Box Waltz, Shostakovich
Waltz – From Coppelia
Driving to the castle… pathways and directions in space.
Skipping to castle stable, marching with soldiers to get horses…. light and strong weight (or can continue with previous concepts)
Trotting and galloping with horses….locomotor movement and speed. (Or can continue with previous concepts) Imagination – be the horses.
Marching to dungeon, creeping around dungeon…. levels in space.
Tip toe out, walking into garden, hopping on stepping stones…. structure a phrase with elements from each locomotor movement idea. Repeat it several times. Can bring back the pathway and direction concepts.
Tip toe into room to prepare for ball…. This is a transition to reimagining the environment. Preplan with dancers for where they will end in the space for the next section. Potentially a large circle, so that in the next section, dancers will take turns in the middle.
Group and solo dances at ball…. opportunity for ¾ time lyrical improvisational dancing. Can tap dancers on the shoulder to indicate when they dance in. When you cue them to come out, they tap a dancer to take their place.
Grande waltz…everyone dances!
Leaving ball… end in a final body shape.
Our lab program meets Saturday mornings. We run two rooms simultaneously. There are generally 12 children in a class, who have chosen to take this class (self-selected). After our first day with the children (ages 4-5, 6-7, 8-10) here were some remarks I made in response to my college students’ comments.
Building Trust and Emotional Safety
- Get on your students’ level, physically (particularly important with younger children). Go ahead, squat down!
- Give them something to do right away (we always have interesting props set out on yoga squares so everyone can go to a spot and find something as they come in the door)
- Be enthusiastic and supportive
- Be honest and caring
- Show interest
- Be loving
- Never be afraid of your students. You are the Alpha dog in the pack!
- Give freedom within structure, which conveys permission to be expressive
- Consider the “V” of freedom. Start narrow and gradually open out. (As with good parenting).
- Plan activities that help kids get comfortable with community (like sharing yoga squares with more than one person) and a get-together, welcome, name song
- Be flexible with the shy kids; the transition may be harder on them. But expect that by 3 days into the semester, they will have adjusted. (although our class rule is no parents in the room, I make an exception for the separation of that one child on that first day).
- Make sure all voices are heard (call on others besides the raised hands)
- “No” is a ‘wall’…..look for ‘window’ options instead. “No” is reserved for safety and boundaries (such as it’s not okay to hurt yourself or other people in class)
- Learn and use students’ names frequently. We take pictures of every child wearing a name tag the first day, then never have to use name tags again.
- On Day #1, the room should be creative, but structured enough not to be overwhelming. Otherwise, with too much freedom, issues would arise.
- Set boundaries and expectations the first day, and have an easier time thereafter. Example: Always give instructions while students are seated.
- Establish audio cues the first day that indicate “clean up, time to warm up”. My go-to instrument for the start of class is a recorder (block flute) upon which I play a series of 3 simple motifs based around the notes B-A-G. Each motif guides students to pick up, put away, find a spot for warm up.
With early childhood, in the school setting, when the children come to me, I use Down By the Station (from Songs for Dancing) as the transition to entering the gross motor space and forming a circle.
It sets the stage for imaginative play, reminds children that they have not come to ride the bikes or play on the climbing structure, and ends us in a desirable spatial formation.
From there, we either sit or stand for a welcome activity, followed by our warm up.
After doing this song/activity every week for many weeks, the children were no longer ‘transformed.’ Spirited children were getting into other people’s personal space, etc. It has become one more single file line, and we know there are already plenty of those in the school setting!
I DO know that children like to MOVE, and, once the newness wears off, walking on the beat just won’t cut it.
SO…I told the children we were going to do a special kind of train. First it was a JUMPING train. Then, after we’d pointed out all the different animals and plants we saw on our train trip and returned to the song, we were a HOPPING train.
This changed it up just enough to add interest, it was aerobic and exciting, and accomplished the activity objective (get into the space, end in a circle, sing, move, imagine).
Look for different locomotor movements (stomping, turning, tipping side to side), energy qualities (shaky, sharp), or levels (high and low) to spice things up in your own train….or when leading ANY SINGLE FILE LINE.
Think outside the box (car)!
Resting is the last component of my lesson with Head Start (ages 3-5) and the mid-point component of my studio classes in creative dance. There are lots of kinds of music you can play during resting: lullabies (I favor Carol Rosenberger’s Such Stuff As Dreams, James Galway’s Nocturnes, or you can use the last two tracks from my Brain Bop CD, or the Resting music from Songs for Dancing).
Lately, I’ve added some verbal prompts for my Head Start students, since some have a hard time settling.
First, I ask them to find a place with empty space on either side, and to do ‘the 3 S’s’: straight, still and silent. Straight means arms are straight by their sides, and legs are straight. An aligned body, lying face up.
Sometimes I ask for ‘3 P’s’: patient, polite and peaceful. By being still and quiet, they are showing respect to the others.
If you choose to give each child an alignment adjustment, the ‘patient’ word helps them remember to wait their turn.
Finally, when we are done (the duration of a musical selection, 2-4 minutes), I ask students to ‘sit up to the mountain.’
That’s the Mountain Breathing position, a simple yoga seated posture, with hands above the heads, fingers touching, in a mountain shape.
Then, we place our hands on our chest and say, as call and response, “I feel calm…..I feel peaceful….I feel relaxed.”
After that, we float our hands down. If lining up to depart the space, we may float like clouds, balloons or other soft things, with the calm, peaceful, relaxed feeling and moving slowly, smoothly and safely.
Show Your Feelings! is found on AlphaBeat.
Use visual supports to frame the experience.
I recommend Lots of Feelings by Shelley Rotner. This book has photos of children making faces and covers almost all the feelings in the song.
Before you do the song, read the book. For non-readers, I replace the word ‘loving’ with ‘peaceful,’ since that vocabulary appears in the song. I usually skip the page with ‘serious’ and ‘silly.’
As you do the song, you can say, “Hmm, I wonder what’s next?” modeling the feeling of being ‘curious.’
After you’ve done the song, review the images again. You can ask them if the group was ‘curious’ about anything during the song….someone will likely chime in “We wondered what was next!”
You can also create your own visual supports by taking pictures of your students (individual or group) as they perform the song. Print the pictures and caption them with the emotions. Make an emotion word wall, and use these as a reference to help children verbally identify and express their emotions.
Thanks to Rachel at the Savoy Head Start for the emotion word wall idea!
Question: I would want to know how one would go about planning a lesson plan for children with physical or behavioral disabilities. Would it have more “easy” activities?
Physical disabilities and behavior disorder are two different issues.
Physical disabilities require modification based on the disability. First of all, don’t be afraid. Treat the child as a member of the group. Be matter of fact. Be empathetic without being sympathetic.
Hearing – Position the child close to you so they can read your expression. Use a microphone (head set is best). Some schools provide you with a clip on microphone that goes directly to the child’s hearing device.
Sight – Use touch. Sing. Emphasize rhythm. Use imaginative play.
Mobility – Use touch. Encourage children to move the parts that are mobile. Engage with facial expression. Put a child with lower body mobility issues where they can participate as fully as possible, rather than off to the side.
Children act out for different reasons. Some children are ‘low’ (low intelligence). Some have focus issues. Some don’t like to be touched. Some have boundary issues, where they will invade your space. Some want attention at any cost. Some are insecure. (This is by no means the whole gamut of reasons!)
Some are very intelligent and disengage when there isn’t enough stimulation. These are children who will likely be among your best students because they want to move and learn simultaneously.
The teaching skill is to honor this variety within a group and address their differing needs. Sometimes you just can’t win. I once had a student who deliberately did the opposite of everything I was teaching, and talked aloud at the same time. Challenging!
Strategies that work
- Teach 2 of the Four Tools right away (Concentration, Body Control). Add imagination and memory, so they don’t think you are only there to discipline them, but to honor their creativity and intelligence as well.
- Remember that The Sequence (Braindance) helps wire the brain for concentration and focus. Do it regularly!
Exercise released ‘feel- good’ chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin which indirectly influences self-efficacy.
Studies suggest that student behavioral problems may be reduced when non-competitve, nonaggressive physical activities are introduced in school curriculum. (pp. 78 -80, Learning with the Body in Mind, Eric Jensen)
Low intelligence – Applaud and compliment what the child CAN do. Make the rules of the activity for that child simpler. Partner with that child to guide, or have another adult partner. In a room where there is a one-on-one aide with the child, actively engage the help of the aide; don’t let him/her just stand next to the child or stand and speak to the child but not move with him/her. (This can be hard, but you have to take the lead on that.) Pair low children together to do a simplified and modified version of the activity. Pair a low child with a compassionate child of typical intelligence, but don’t make that child be the partner all the time. Not fair to him/her. Stand near the low child to offer guidance.
Focus issues – Teach ‘concentration’ and ‘body control’ and ask for it by name. Create a special signal with the child that means ‘eyes on me.’ Call the child by name, and pause to use the special signal. Compliment the child frequently for using the tools. “Catch them being good.” Do a ‘shake your sillies’ out activity after a challenging one, to help with reset. Use Mountain Breathing. Use Resting in the lesson, but expect to keep it shorter, as that child may wiggle. Adjust that child towards the beginning of resting, then remind them to respect the group by being quiet and still for a few more moments so that you can give other children an adjustment.
Good prompts during Resting:
“Do two things that begin with R: rest and relax.”
“Remember the two S’s: stillness and silence.”
“Remember the three Ps: be patient, peaceful and polite.”
Doesn’t like touch – Ask “may I touch you?” Smile at the child and say something nice…..allow them to come to YOU.
Space invaders – Establish a class rule. “You may stand next to me, but not ON me.” “When you push me I feel hurt because that’s not respecting my body.”
If you must stop a child and sit him/her out, preface that with: “If you can not keep your hands and feet to yourself, I invite you to watch this next activity.” Return to the child after they’ve had time to watch the activity with: “Did you see how the children used their hands and feet? …….. You may come back in to the group and use your hands and feet appropriately …… Good job! Etc.”
Bright but ADHD – Brisk pace. Compliment good choices. Don’t be afraid to stop the activity to ask how they can do something better behaviorally. Have them define the problem “Oops, we have a problem! What is it? Talking? Running? Right! What can we do better? Not run? Good idea! Let’s do it again.”
Use the body shapes for learning frequently (sit ready position, etc.), even during an activity as a reset.
Autism Spectrum – Transitions are hard for these children. Let them in on the lesson flow so they know what’s coming next. Make a private plan with this child. Ex: Agree on ‘reset’ cues: a shoulder squeeze or subtle visual signal that indicates ‘time to watch and listen.’ Be aware that touch, loud sounds and bright light may be an irritant. Be patient, kind and flexible.
For more good ideas….. see work by Eve Kodiak who had developed movement exercises that help children with mind-body integration.
I suggest “Rappin’ on the Reflexes” from her work – a CD/book combination. Read more about it on her website and order the material.
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?
This is the third and final post in this Lesson Plan Series.
Notice these things:
- Simplify more complex activities to make them age appropriate.
- Teach a skill, then apply it in the following activity.
- Use visual supports to teach, empower and improve memory.
Simplify more complex activities to make them age appropriate.
For Here We Go Round and Round, I adapted a circle dance that is usually done holding hands, traveling around the circle line.
Since the concept was ‘Body Parts.’ I made the circling into ‘circle one body part, one way and the other.’ The sequence of the dance remained the same except for that. I posted the downloadable visual support for this dance, found on the Songs for Dancing CD, so we could use it as a visual reference. See my post called What to do with…. Here We Go Round and Round for more details on that.
Teach a skill, then apply it in the following activity.
See my post called Using Galloping Song to teach Apples and Oranges for more details on that!
Use visual supports to teach, empower and improve memory.
Use the letter “S” to teach qualities: smooth, sharp, shaky and swinging. You can even use letter blends – sh, and sw – if you want to up the challenge level. Use the “S” visual for review, to check for understanding.
See my post called What to do with….Imaginary Journey to download the visuals for that activity. Use the visuals before you teach, while you are teaching, and when you review. Very powerful and empowering for the children.
Finally, use your collection of visuals as an archive.
When it’s free choice time, I place three pictures in front of a child and ask him/her to choose which activity we will do. If there’s time, pick another child to choose another activity after you’ve done the first one. There are all kinds of methods you can use to select and sequence free choice activities when the visual supports are available. I keep my visual supports in page protectors in a binder. I either put the ones I’m offering for free choice on a 1″ book ring for ease of flipping pages, post them on the board, or lay them out on the floor.
Here are the last 5 lessons in this series.
Enjoy your time with the children!
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?