Creative dance means creative teaching, too. Though leading a class of 3-year-olds may sound like fun and games to the uninitiated, there's a serious side to early childhood dance education. Each activity has a purpose: to develop cognitive, social and physical abilities. There are also specific teaching strategies for working with this age group. “It's important to understand how children think," says Rima Faber, who developed The Primary Movers, a curriculum for early childhood. “They don't think abstractly the way adults do. Children have to experience, to know what it feels like. They don't understand if you're telling them to feel this muscle or that one. You have to provide images that they have experienced." For example, she says, “In second-position plié, I tell them, 'You're like a park bench.' They already know a park bench is wide and open, so you give them that picture, then they can internalize it."
Dance Teacher asked Faber and four other early childhood dance specialists to share their favorite tools and advice for success with pre-K children—an age group that is increasingly regarded as key for the growth of any dance studio.
Rachael Carnes Sparkplug Dance Educational Resources Eugene, Oregon
Photo by Joy Taubner, courtesy of Rachael Carnes
I try to bring into the classroom environment a sense of joy and wonder, even after all these years. Although I've maybe pretended to be a balloon 5 million times, for my little students, it's new—and their curiosity and excitement deserve space to grow. The biggest mistake teachers make with this age group is talking too much. Learn to say what you need to say in few words, with great enthusiasm, and you'll do better with this crowd. Overexplaining, being unclear or muddled are great moments for kids to tune out, and you've lost them.
When I was first starting out, I really had to learn to teach to the positive, engaging and rewarding the behaviors you want to see. It's hard for new teachers to see that by paying attention to the child who's not participating, you throw everyone else off balance. Over the years, I've just learned to keep dancing, and sure enough, pretty soon everyone is right with me, having a great time.