Because there is so much to think about ensuring movement is available for all children, this month, I will cover ‘making movement engaging for all children’ and next month, I will look at sensory activities.
I have spent many years teaching creative dance and movement in different early years settings and schools and have always been passionate that movement classes are fully inclusive for all children, no matter what their physical and emotional needs. Years ago, I attended the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) dance teacher training courses at LABAN Conservatoire of Music and Dance and more recently, attended the ‘Teaching dance to children with special needs’ at the Royal Academy of Dance in 2019. I have taught children with SEND in mainstream settings, private dance schools and on the Royal Ballet School’s ‘Primary Steps’ programme. All this experience was so helpful when I started at Kingfisher School in Abingdon. Kingfisher is a wonderful school that caters for young people who have severe, complex or profound needs, including autism, aged between 2 and 19 years.
I have to admit, I spent the first few weeks at Kingfisher running to keep up! I started the sessions without any expectations of outcomes, as I didn’t know how the children would respond to me, the music, or the session. This allowed me to very rapidly evaluate and adapt the sessions to their abilities to engage them. With the mobile children with mixed physical abilities, I initially kept the pace fast, with different types of music styles and rhythms. I ensured it wasn’t too loud and didn’t over stimulate them while using different movements and props to engage them. For the children with complex physical needs, I focused on sensory with make-believe and illustrations for engagement. This allowed me create plans for future sessions, while catering for the mood and needs of the children on the day.
These sessions have changed as I have learnt so much since I first started at Kingfisher. I have experimented to find the best way to engage the children, whilst being sensitive to their needs and feelings on the day.
My takeaways from this are that you need to be flexible on the day as you may have planned A, but the mood of the day is B.
The combination of make-believe with music and movement really helps all children’s engagement and participation. All children are able to focus, point (with help when required) at the illustrations and engage physically, or with the use of sensory props in the role-play of becoming trains, sharks and many different animals.
The importance of movement
Movement is vital for all children, no matter what their physical abilities. Movement helps all children develop the large body movements known as gross motor skills. These movements help build and develop the muscles needed to stabilise their core. Gross motor skills need to be mastered before they can refine their fine motor skills. Developing their gross motor skills develops physical literacy and gets them ready to write. Movement and dance develop the key ‘school readiness’ skills that are needed for writing and drawing. Movement and dance improve concentration, listening and attention skills, core control through the development of their gross and fine motor skills. There are so many benefits for all children no matter what their physical and emotional abilities.
To help children develop their skills, teach movements in small bites. Repeat the movements, at the speed and pace that is best for them, by revisiting the movements through role play and make-believe.
This repetition enables you to continually assess and differentiate as you scaffold their learning using the Vygotsky theory, the ‘Zone of Proximal Development’. Scaffolding will be vital in your strategy to help the children with the tasks by simplifying the movement to fit their current ability. It is important to maintain motivation while managing any frustration they may feel as they try to master the movement, ensuring at all times you demonstrate the idealised version of what you want them to achieve at that stage of their learning. The use of make-believe and imagination really helps, as you can revisit the movement in so many different ways through new storylines and music.
Repetition is not just about building the connections in the brain, it is also about the pathways being set with the myelin wrapping around the nerve fibres. Myelin is the key to increasing the speed of processing and accuracy of movements. I recommend the book ‘The talent code’ by Daniel Coyle for more information on the importance of myelin in children’s development.
Remember to manage your expectations and allow the children to achieve their own potential and progress in the time that they need.
The biggest hinderance to children’s movement is adults. Adults bring in their own assumptions to the class of children’s abilities and potential to progress and develop.
Make movement engaging
A fun and engaging way to help children engage and want to join in is through the combination of make-believe, music and movement.
Make-believe (role-play) helps children build relationships with each other, Improve their speech and language, communication and listening skills. To encourage this, the use of illustrations is really helpful. They capture the children’s imagination and give you many opportunities for additional learning.
Role-play brings the movements you want to focus on to develop gross motor skills, to life. I have listed a just a few ideas and the storylines I use, that can be linked to the movement.
Diving ‘Under the sea’ to find your very own turtle shell or crawling along the seabed as turtle, on your hands and knees, looking for some yummy seaweed sandwiches.
Go on an ‘African safari’ and put on your zebra stripes and run as fast as you can from the lions.
Put on baby bear’s wellies in ‘Visiting the bears’ and see how many puddles you can jump in.
Reaching up high, on tiptoe, putting the washing on the line in our adventure ‘Teatime’.
Join the flamingo on a ‘Visit to the zoo’ and see if you can balance on one leg.
Importance of the right music
I have been very fortunate as I have had music created for my sessions and styled to fit the stories and characters with added layers of musical interest. We have a large range of styles, tempos, metres, different instruments and dynamics. In the music you will find jazz waltzes, polkas jigs, threes, fours and sixes. We have a twisting jellyfish, galloping horse, sarabanding turtle and even a jiving kangaroo. You will hear a kazoo played like a squirrel and a theremin, Otamatone, windchimes and sound effects that have taken a lot of time getting just right.
Use different styles of music to engage and motivate your children. We have used influences and styles ranging from opera, heavy metal, Scottish folk to Motown.
Gina’s background was originally ballet, but she has spent the last 27 years teaching movement and dance in mainstream, early years and SEND settings as well as dance schools.
Whilst teaching, Gina found the time to has create the ‘Hi-5’ dance programme to run alongside the Australian Children’s TV series and the Angelina Ballerina Dance Academy for Hit Entertainment.
Her proudest achievement to date is her baby Littlemagictrain. She created this specifically to help children learn through make-believe, music and movement. One of the highlights has been seeing Littlemagictrain delivered by Butlin’s famous Redcoats with the gorgeous ‘Bonnie Bear’ on the Skyline stage.
Gina has qualifications of teaching movement and dance from the Royal Ballet School, Trinity College and Royal Academy of Dance.