Teaching the Tiniest
As an instructor of 2- to 3-year-olds, I use music, movement, and routine to draw these very young students in and share the beauty of dance with them. But there is more to teach than dance steps. I add basic educational concepts and everyday values to my dance curriculum; each complements the other.
When passing out props like scarves, beanbags, and rhythm sticks, I emphasize numbers, colors, size, and shape. I count the items as I pass them out and have the class tell me the number and name of the prop we’re using once they’re distributed. We look at size and shape and identify colors. We also compare what is similar and what is different.
I also stress good “dance manners.” We talk about our “listening ears,” and I gently remind the children that they must keep their hands to themselves. The words please and thank you are considered essential in my classroom. Children are praised when they exhibit good manners.
Routine and consistency are very important for very young children. I make a different music playlist each month but keep the order of class the same. I begin with an intro to class, followed by ballet, then tumbling. I end with tap and group goodbyes.
The beginning and end of class are particularly important. I start my baby classes in a circle, with the children sitting on foam mats singing a song. This draws their attention away from parents and gets them focused on the class. We end each class back in our circle. I pass out a simple reward like stickers or coloring sheets as we sing our school’s special “goodbye song.” Finally, we use sign language to say thank you and dance.
Games for the Preschool Set
When it comes to teaching preschoolers, you can never have too many tricks up your sleeve. Here are three games to help refocus little ones’ attention.
1. The Fairies and the Sleeping Dolls
Split the class in two. Give half the students “magic” wands (you can use substitutes like pencils)—these are the fairies. Place the other half randomly around the room, standing in first position with arms in first, head tilted and eyes closed. These are the sleeping dolls. To the sounds of a lullaby or gentle ballet music, have the fairies tiptoe randomly from one doll to another, tapping each with her wand. When tapped, each doll opens her eyes, raises her arms to fifth, does a single bourrée turn, then falls asleep again. After a minute or two, have the two groups switch places.
2. Easter Bunnies
Give everyone small Easter baskets. Have the children line up, then place six plastic eggs in the basket of every other student. Spread six carpet squares (or stickers) around the room. The first child hops from square to square, leaving an egg on each, followed by one of the students with an empty basket, who hops to each square, picks up each egg, and places it in her basket. Reverse roles.
3. At the Ball
Place a half-dozen or so empty boxes around the room. Explain that we are all dancing princesses preparing for a ball, and that each box contains something very special that we need. Ask, “What do we need?” and choose one of the answers they shout out—gloves, jewelry, shoes, makeup, tiaras, etc. Students do a ballet walk to each box and mime taking out the specified item, placing it where it belongs (for example, they mime putting shoes on their feet). Everyone “shows off” the item (port de bras to show off gloves, tendus to show off shoes, etc.). Once all the items are collected, everyone dances at the ball.