by Teacher Terrel | Terrel Lefferts is an award-winning, covid-sidelined ballet teacher, partnered with her ballerina daughter to form Once Upon a Dance. Their mission is to keep kids moving at home during these difficult days. They’ve published seventeen children’s dance and movement books during the pandemic, and they donate all sales to non-profits. Visit www.OnceUponADance.com for information or follow @Once_UponADance or www.facebook.com/OnceUponADanceViralDancing to catch up with Teacher Terrel and Ballerina Konora.
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All children need some family fun in their lives and what better way to enjoy family time than some indoor, dance based activities!
Here are some great ideas for dance based activities for preschool and kindergarten children, based on dance concepts and techniques. These are kid approved over decades of dance classes, early childhood and parent education, and work in schools.
Identifying different parts and exploring how components coordinate is vital to dance technique. Kids also love developing their sense of self.
• One favorite way to do this is to trace hands, feet, and whole bodies in different poses. What touches the ground when they tiptoe? What does their outline look like if they bend a leg? Choose a picture off the internet (there are several on the Once Upon a Dance website that would work) and see if they can recreate the shape lying down. Trace the outline and compare with the original picture.
• Gather up your child’s shoes and put them in a line in unique positions (use single shoes too for a balance challenge). Have your child move next to the line and position their bodies as if they were standing in the shoes.
• Identify body parts with a “Good morning (child’s) thumbs. Good morning (child’s) neck,” etc., touching each part gently as you name it. Or have them put their teddy bear, bunny, etc. on their different parts: Can you balance teddy on your head? On your elbow? On your back?
• Isolate individual body parts to create specific movements by taking turns mirroring each other: wiggle your pinkie, stick out your tongue, twist your upper body, lift your toes up, bend your knees, turn your head, tilt your head, lift your elbow, etc.
• Ask your child if they can touch their wrist to their ear, their knee to their forehead, their big toe to their elbow, etc. Mix in something impossible or super-duper challenging if you think they are up for it.
• Blow bubbles and pop them with thumbs, elbows, toes, nose, etc.
Combining movement of multiple and simultaneous body parts will often take practice. Having and meeting a challenge is a wonderful precedent for future perseverance. Leaping over objects, tiptoeing over a balance beam (a rolled-up towel), or crawling through a tunnel (under a chair) without touching the object are all great challenge exercises.
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Another achievable goal is to set is a balance challenge. See how high they can count while standing on one leg. Or how long they can dance with one foot in the air. Practice until they meet set a record.
Memorizing helps organize the brain; by applying movement to sequenced actions, there are multiple benefits. Songs and finger plays are a great source of sequenced movements. In my classes, we enjoyed taking traditional finger plays like Open, Shut Them and turning them into full body songs. The Tiny Tim Turtle Song (search online and you’ll find this song) was another that got us using our full bodies.
Obstacle courses are a great way to help cue and remember movement:
• jump up high to grab some stars on a star (kids love to answer “How many did you get?”)
• twirl around a circle
• bend knees with toes and knees to the side on a diamond
• bear crawl or tiptoe along tape or ribbon
• balance inside a big shoe and count to ten
• gallop around a hoop, rug, or bowl
Concepts Beyond Dance
Concepts such as opposites like wide/narrow, levels, quality of movement, shapes, storytelling, emotions, and body language are all explored through movement. Pretend to dance and act out a story. We loved this one so much, we created our own series of Creative Movement Stories, but you can pick up almost any story and create a few related actions. A resource for great movement books is Books For Dancing Bookshop.
Exploring the idea that music can be quantified, patterned, and anticipated is useful training. Find a song with an even 8-count.
• Have your child do a certain action (clap, jump, spin, kick, stomp) on a number each time. Start with 1 as that’s the easiest to hear.
• Shake instruments up high for eight counts, then down low for eight, or loud/soft, in front/back of you.
• Que up a few different genres or musical moods. Play a short snippet and see how it feels to dance to each song.
Fostering Joy in Movement
Cultivating a love of movement doesn’t take much effort. Making time to share dance and music not only creates exercise, personal expression, and positive memories but also reinforces the concepts of exercise and socializing as positive experiences. For extra fun:
• Freeze Dance: Randomly pause the music and try to only move if music is playing
• Scarf or Blanket Connection: Each of you hold one end. Step over it; shake it up and down—you could toss in and bounce small stuff animals; wrap the scarf around each other or have one person twirl in and wrap themselves; hide underneath together; throw it up in the air; etc.
• Pick your child up to dance.
• Grab stuffed animal as dancing partners.
• Put on silly hats, sunglasses, or bring out some props like glow sticks, fake tea lights, ribbons, balls, etc.
These are just a few tips to help you inject more fun into your indoor family activities. While these dance based activities are geared towards ages 3 to 5 year olds, you can modify them to fit any age range. And remember, things will go best if you keep things light, fun, and child-driven. Enjoy!
Terrel Lefferts, Author and Co-Founder of Once Upon A Dance
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