Choosing a Creative Movement Class for your Child
What exactly IS creative movement?
How can it benefit my young child?
What should I look for in a creative movement class?
Over the years, many parents and teachers have asked me these and similar questions.
And they are important questions. There are so many activities available for young children. Parents must be choosy, given time constraints, expense, and overall benefits, when looking for classes for their young children. I would like to give my perspective from my long career of teaching dance to young children.
Creative movement serves many of the important developmental needs of children ages 3-6. Children love and need to move. Children's imaginations should be allowed to roam freely and not be constrained by too much structure at this age. A movement class may be one of the first times a child is in a class with peers, and many times it is their first experience without a parent with them in the classroom. The teacher must be aware of how to help ease little ones through this transition.
My definition of creative movement (or creative dance; the terms are interchangeable) starts with my definition of dance:
DANCE is an art form whose medium is the body in motion and stillness. Dance crosses many boundaries; it is a creative art as well as a performing art. It is also a visual art. It is an athletic endeavor as well as an artistic pursuit.
CREATIVE MOVEMENT embodies a little bit of all of these wonderful aspects of dance. It centers on the fact that dance is a creative art, and its medium is the body in motion.
Here are my Top 15 (I just couldn't keep it to 10!) reasons that I advocate for every child to have the opportunity to experience creative movement:
1. Nurturing the imagination
2. Working on basic locomotor skills, such as hopping, marching, galloping, tiptoeing, skipping, turning, crawling . . . while developing strength, flexibility, and body control
3. Learning to be aware of and control the speed at which they move; learning to slow down and stop
4. Awareness of direction and level in space
5. Learning to solve movement problems individually
6. Learning to solve movement problems as part of a group
7. Moving to rhythms, music, and sound
8. Learning the concept of personal versus shared space
9. Becoming aware of the idea of taking turns, and other classroom etiquette
10. Opportunities for dramatic play
11. Learning early literacy skills (dancing to stories, learning new vocabulary words, sequencing)
12. Learning early math skills (patterns, counting, number sense)
13. Developing the skill of listening to instructions
14. Following those instructions and responding through movement
15. Being part of an experience where the important thing is the process, not the finished product
I could go on for quite a while, but I think this gives a good glimpse into the many joys and benefits of a creative movement class.
So, how does one go about choosing a quality creative movement class for children ages 3-6?
Here are the Top 8 things to keep in mind when choosing a creative movement class:
1. Teacher Background
Does the teacher have a solid dance background (at least several years of training)?
Does the teacher have experience working with young children?
Does the teacher have a college degree in dance education or some other dance education certification? (For example, NDEO, the National Dance Education Organization, gives courses that lead toward dance teacher certification. They are a great resource)
At least two out of three of the above are highly recommended.
Is the space for the class free of obstacles? Is it big enough for the children to move around freely?
3. Number of students
I have found that no more than 12 young children in a class is optimum. If there are more than 12, the teacher will often have an assistant or co-teacher. I have had more than 12 in my classes over the years, and many teachers do a good job with more, but I think it is best to have 12 or less per teacher.
4. Mix of ages
I have had experience with some older two-year-olds wanting to join the class for three-year-olds. Generally, this is not a good idea. At this age range, even a few months can make a big difference. I would look for a class that sticks to a minimum age requirement, so that a child is three years by the time the session for three-year-olds begins.
Three and four-year olds do well together in a creative dance class. As the children get older and approach age six, the mix of older fours, fives, and six-year-olds is usually fine. They learn from each other, share ideas, and interchange leadership roles throughout the weeks of classes.
5. Length of class
For children who have just turned three, a class that lasts 1/2 hour is plenty. As children get older and more comfortable with the class, four, five, and six year-olds can easily handle a 45-minute class.
6. Length of Session
There are many different settings for creative movement classes (private dance studios, recreation departments, YMCA's, summer dance camps, etc.) , and each will have different session lengths. In order for your child to really get a feel for the class, I would recommend at least a six-week session. I have had many students in my classes who are reluctant at first, and it takes several classes for them to feel comfortable participating. And often the ones who are most reluctant are the ones who are the most enthusiastic by the end of the session. So make sure to give the teacher, the class, and your child a chance to become familiar with each other!
7. Sample a Class
If this is an option, it is a great way to go. You can keep this checklist in mind as your child tries the class. However, remember what I said in #6 above. Your child may be reluctant at first. If you are happy with the general feel of the class, encourage your child to try a few more.
8. Parent Observation
Parents should be allowed to view the class, but it is better if they are not physically present in the classroom once the class gets underway. Doing so divides the child's attention and distracts him or her (as well as the other children) from the activities and learning that is happening in the classroom. The best possible situation is a window so that the parents can peek in from time to time.
Most teachers will invite parents to attend observation days scattered throughout the session, when parents and friends are invited to visit the class. The children are told ahead of time that they will be dancing for guests. This is a fun chance for children to get their first taste of performing!
I hope I have answered many of the questions and addressed some of the concerns parents have when looking for activities and lessons for their children.
And, I hope you will give creative movement a try!