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.
Anne Green Gilbert Creative Dance Center Seattle, Washington
Photo by Bronwen Houck, courtesy of Anne Green Gilbert
Dancers this age learn best through their visual sense, so I dance with them, then step back to watch and make "Try..." and "I see..." comments. I am always positive and call out students' names frequently during class with a comment such as, "I see Joan moving on a low level"; "I see Elliott dancing backwards"; "Kyung is listening to my directions."
Children can start crying because their parents left them or they fall down or the moon is full! I keep the class going (or toss an engaging prop on the floor with a quick instruction) as I run for an ice pack or give the child a hug and tell them dancing will always make them feel better or hold their hand and keep moving. If the parent is waiting outside, I may hand the child off to the parent. What I do not do is stop the class and give the crier a lot of attention, because then everyone will start to cry.
A child might refuse to dance. If they sit quietly, I go on with class and once or twice invite them to join. After class I will ask the parent in a diplomatic way if the child really wants to be in dance class, if the child is engaged in too many activities, etc. I always welcome the child back because maybe the moon was full that day—and everyone has a bad day!