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.
Rima Faber National Dance Education Organization Emerita, Joy of Motion Dance Center Washington, DC
Photo courtesy of Rima Faber
One of the activities children adore is what I call the "box dance." I bring a big box to class and have one of the students start inside it. I've told them a kind of animal to be, and they come out as that animal and dance, and then go back into the box. Then the rest of class tries to guess what animal it is. You have to give us a quality of movement—if you're a bunny rabbit, you're not going to be slow like a turtle, so it also teaches them about what qualities they need.
For the 3-year-olds, it's teaching beginning, middle and end—they come out of the box, move and go back into the box. The 4-year-olds will come out and dance a story, so we're developing the idea of narrative. For the 5-year-olds, something will happen to put them back in the box—they might see something scary that chases them back into the box. By the time they're 6 years old, they're more developed in their thoughts or feelings, so we look at what happens when something chases them. They will react, express fear, fight with it, try to be brave, so they are expressing their relationship with the external.
Through this exercise, we're teaching so many things at the same time. We're teaching the structure of choreography and teaching them to perform. We're teaching the class to be an audience and helping with their cognitive development. And we're working on communication, whether through the movement or with the class afterward.