My Thursday evening ballerinas (ages 6–7) are the most sponge-like students I’ve encountered. Eager to learn everything I share, they are energetic, joyful and an absolute blast to work with. The hour-long classes speed by. I realize an hour is a long time, but all students remain attentive and present. My students are so focused, however, that I tend to get carried away, and some days I fear I throw too many concepts at them—more than they can handle.
So in each class I aim to introduce only three new ideas. I break up the class into sections: the warm-up, technique, across the floor and game time. I relate each section to the overall theme of class (whether it's jumping coordination, arm movement, alignment, etc.) and give only one new idea or step per section. We repeat the same exercises (plus or minus a couple) every class, but I limit and target the brand new information.
My Saturday class (ages 5–6) is totally opposite. It’s astonishing the difference one year makes in a child's development. While I initially set goals similar to my Thursday class, I keep in mind I won’t get through everything I plan. I like to have a few go-to Plan Bs and Cs; it’s much easier to switch activities than it is to try wrangling in students’ attention. In most cases, they’re just tired, and we play my audience game:
Students sit in a row, pretzel style—they are the audience members. Students offer characteristics of an audience member: She's respectful, she does not talk, and after a performance, she applauds or says “Great job.” Next, I’ll ask two students to come to the front, face the audience and perform something we’ve been working on (usually some kind of jump). Everyone gets a turn. Dancers love getting the individual attention, and it boosts their self-confidence. The audience learns how to learn by observation, and the tuckered out tots stay quiet.
How do you prevent information overload? What’s one of your go-to games when your littlest students need a break? What works, what doesn't? Please leave comments below; let's start a conversation and share ideas!