Starting a new dance year brings many challenges.
Especially when you teach young students. One of the biggest challenges for me is children who need to separate from their grown-ups in drop off class. You too?
In New York City, children start nursery school at 2 years old (probably even younger sometimes), so most of the time they are already separated, but it’s still scary to enter a new class with new friends and a new teacher. Over the years I have tried many, many different strategies to make the process easier.
What I know for sure is that once they get in the room and see the class, they will adapt quickly and have a great time!
Here are some creative ideas that have been the most successful for me:
Sit, Watch, Smile
Invite them into class to be your helper. Tell them they can sit on the side and watch. Whenever they see something fun happening in class, they show me a smile! Each transition we make I invite them to join in the class. Usually they will!
Bring a Friend
Sometimes, just having something accompany them to class is all they need. A doll or a stuffed animal sometimes does the trick. The only issue with this idea is then everyone wants to bring something to class and suddenly a whole side of the room is taken up by furry little friends. Use your judgement, but it could just do the trick.
Brave Dust or Bracelets
Brave Bracelets are filled with love and give students the courage to enter class. The significance of the bracelet keeps them close to their grown-up while they are dancing
If they are upset, try pairing them with a buddy in class. I tell them that one is peanut butter, and one is jelly. They have to stick together. Keep in mind of who you are pairing them with. Try to give a leader the chance to be a good friend and help a classmate out.
I have each section of my class on a time-line. I move the dancer as we progress through the class. That way they can visually see how much longer they have until they can see their grown-up again.
Be Positive and Firm
In my case, in the middle of the year students re-register for a new semester of class. One time, I had only one new child join a class of all returning students. Before class started, Mom tells me that her daughter never takes classes and hates separating. She signed her up for the class knowing that it was a separation class. The mom wanted to come and sit in the room. I let her in for the beginning but reminded her that it was a drop off class. Her child laid on the floor tripping other students who were trying to dance across the floor. I gave the student a choice, she had to get up off the floor or she had to leave class. The mom was upset that I gave that choice and she never came back.
My challenge here was that the other children in the class had already separated. I didn’t think it fair to them to have to backtrack. I am all about helping my students separate and feel more comfortable in class, but the student and the parent has to meet us halfway. Don’t you think? It might have been my mistake with this student, but from what I saw while her mom was in the room, she just wasn’t ready for my class.
I think sometimes children just aren’t ready to separate. Even if they go to school and separate with no problem, an extra class might be pushing them over the edge. I also think assuring the parent that the child can do it if they are on board with your ideas is key. Changes in schedule, a new baby in the house, or a family move can all set off separation anxiety in an otherwise well-adjusted student.
I hesitate to let the parents in the room for the first class because then the students will want it to happen every week. Have your rules and stick to them, but remember, every child is different. Use your best judgement when it comes to helping young dancers separate. After the first few weeks, separating is a distant memory!
A happy smile, a hug, and compassion goes a long way!
How do you help your students with separation anxiety? Do you have any creative ideas to add? I would love to hear them in the comments!
A passionate advocate for early childhood dance education, Maria Hanley Blakemore specializes in teaching ages 0 months to 6 years. She left NYC, where she designed and implemented programs at Manhattan’s Jewish Community Center, Dancewave Center and The Mark Morris Dance Group, to teach dancers in the greater Cleveland area. Maria holds a Master’s degree in dance education from New York University (2007) and a Bachelor’s degree in dance performance from Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania (2005). Maria authors the blog Maria’s Movers (www.mariasmovers.com) where she shares creative ideas and strategies for teaching young dancers. Maria served on the Dance/NYC Junior Committee for 2 years and presented at the 2012 Dance USA Conference. She also presents at the Dance Teacher Summit in New York City. Read Maria’s posts.