"Why should I choose a creative dance program for my preschooler?" Over the years, I've found parents asking this same question in a variety of ways. I've gathered information from three studies to show the importance of creative dance in acquiring and retaining new movement skills, developing tools for dealing with emotions, and improving social competence. All of these benefits not only help a child excel in the dance studio but in everyday life, and later in the traditional classroom setting.
"Young children sense, move and respond within the context of the moment. Reaching, jumping, balancing, and hopping are experiences that teach children how to understand and negotiate the world. Movement experiences that are layered with creative, cognitive, social and emotional experiences facilitate children's understanding that movement has meaning, intention and expression" (Lorenzo-Lasa., R. Ideishi, S. Ideishi 25).
In this introduction to the article "Facilitating Preschool Learning and Movement through Dance," the authors summarize the importance and effectiveness of an early childhood movement program that incorporates pretend play to engage a child's attention and enhance his or her experience.
"Young children sense, move and respond within the context of the moment," meaning that context is the key to eliciting the desired response from a child. Let's imagine that you want your child to follow closely behind you. Ask him to stay right behind you as you walk from place to place. Does he comply? Perhaps. Now, ask him to get on your train, call out "all aboard," and make the sound of an engine. Did he follow you? Almost certainly. By providing your child with a context, you gave him a reason to move in a specific way and he responded by complying with your request. Creating and using this type of imagery provides preschool aged children with added motivation to follow directions and increases their desire to perform. Once I have explained to a group of 4 year olds that the flamingo stands on only one leg as it sleeps, they not only balance more easily in a parallel passé position but are encouraged and excited to practice this skill.
In a study entitled "Effects of Pretend Imagery on Learning Dance in Preschool Children," Tori Sacha and Sandra Russ divided 32 children aged 3-6 into four dance classes. Two groups were taught in the traditional way and two groups were taught through pretend play and creative imagery. Although more research is required to validate their findings, "results found that children in the pretend imagery group had significantly better visual fixation on the instructor, engagement in and enjoyment during the task, and needed less prompting and time to recall and a shorter amount of time to learn the skill than children in the traditional teaching group" (341). What does that mean for us as teachers? The children focused on the teacher, engaged in class, and had a great time doing it.
In addition to providing physical benefits, early childhood dance programs using creative play also help to develop greater emotional understanding and improved social skills. Through creative movement activities, children learn to express emotions through their body's movements (including facial expressions) and this, in turn, allows them to more easily identify these emotions in others. In a study comparing the socio-emotional development of children exposed to creative dance versus those not exposed, scientists found that the parents, caregivers, and teachers of the children exposed to creative dance rated them as being more socially competent and having fewer behavioral problems after exposure to the program. Following the results, the scientists hypothesized that "Creative dance/movement lessons may have provided the children with additional means of expression, using their bodies to communicate their ideas, thoughts, emotions and feelings" (Lobo and Winsler 514). Through the use of pretend play, children are able to express their feelings through the creation of movement, and this is beneficial not only in dance but in life and in school.
According to Lorenzo-Lasa., Ideishi, and Ideishi, "Dance provides opportunities for children to create movements as an expression of idea or thought thereby expanding their imagination and ideation of their body in space" (29). By engaging in pretend play within a controlled environment, children are able to experiment with concepts like emotional expression, interpersonal relationships, and personal space without the consequences of real world life. Not only do they enjoy the freedom of moving through space, they learn how to deal with situations that will be encountered outside the studio walls.
For these reasons and many more, I support programs which engage the imaginations of our students and provide the benefits of pretend play and creative imagery, while still teaching proper technique and terminology. Provide imaginative contexts, evocative imagery and creative movement in your classrooms to keep children working hard and having fun.
For more information, see:
- "The Effects of a Creative Dance and Movement Program on the Social Competence of Head Start Preschoolers" by Yovanka B. Lobo and Adam Winsler.
- "Effects of Pretend Imagery on Learning Dance in Preschool Children" by Tori Sacha and Sandra Russ.
- "Facilitating Preschool Learning and Movement through Dance" by Rioloama Lorenzo-Lasa., Roger Ideishi, and Siobhan Ideishi.