A few years ago, Nichelle wrote this popular article on teaching tots. Because of your encouraging response to the material, she asked me to expand on some of the headlines. Over the next few months I am going to write about the ones that I think will help you the most.
Green or blue? Dance or sit? High or low?
The reason I love teaching creative dance to young children so much is because I get to witness my students develop personalities and become independent in their own way. I am not sure if there is anything more amazing than witnessing young minds and bodies flourish.
Allowing my students to choose and make decisions on their own is “life lessons” I believe dance class offers. Throughout the entire 45 minutes class and spanning across all age groups, I give what I like to call direct choices and free choices.
Direct choices: I say “would you like a blue spot or a green spot.” Direct, it’s this or it’s that.
Free choices: I say “come in and choose a spot”or “in this dance you choose to dance either high or low.” It’s free, there are still boundaries but they get to choose how they want do it.
Here are a few ways to incorporate direct and free choice into your preschool classes:
Allow Independent Decisions
When students enter my class they see a bunch of spots in a circle. They get to choose where to sit. Right at the start I allow them to choose the color they want to sit on and where in the room they feel comfortable. I have taken notice that most dancers sit in a new spot every week. I love that! I can see them all, and they can see me no matter where they sit. Any spot they choose is a good one.
You know that saying “you get what you get and you don’t get upset?” I am not fond of it AT ALL. Do you use it?
I think it’s a way of getting around teaching a real life lesson. When passing a prop out I give the students a choice of the color they want. But, before I do that I give the boundaries.
“When you hear your name you can choose the color you want. If I don’t have the color you want, what do you do?” And they all say (or scream!), “choose another color.” I show with my fingers and say, “We are only going to use it for a short time.”
I find this much easier than the “don’t get upset” saying and everyone seems much happier too.
Offer Whole Class Choices
“Put a foot in the air if you want to dance under the sea.” Put a foot in the air if you want to dance through the woods” Many times they vote for them both but the point is that I gave them a choice.
I also model “good” and “bad” choices or decisions. If we are holding hands in a circle and I say “do you think pulling your friends is a good idea?” If it’s not such a great decision, I speak those words. They become aware of what is a good and bad decision in the context of dance class, and I can only hope that it will help as they grow up into the real world.
Give Specific Choices In Discipline
If a dancer is feeling “off” I simply give choices instead of giving negative attention. “Your choice is to either stand up and dance or sit on the wall.” Guess what they do? It makes more sense for me to say that than “stand up, stand up, stand up” like a broken record. Readers, it totally works! It takes so much patience and extra effort but thinking of choices on your feet will get easier as you practice.
Say Yes As Much As You Can
I have read this advice in parenting magazines and it holds true here too. When my students request a dance they want to do I always make time for it. Need to practice the show dance? Only do it once, and then make time for their ideas. Yes, the recital dance is important, but they will see it as much more important if you give them the space to shape part of the class. If I always shut their ideas down they won’t ever share them and that’s not the atmosphere I want to set up.
Children are told what to do all day long, almost every second. I believe in giving them some freedom to make good decisions of their own and also carving out the space make mistakes. I hope this post encourages you to add a little more choice into your preschool dance class. It’s your choice to do so!
What choices do you give students? Do you allow them to make decisions of their own? I would love to hear your ideas!
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.