Connie Bergstein Dow’s Creative Movement Series—Part 1: Seven Important Benefits of Movement for Young Children

SpecialGuestBloggerWe’re very happy to welcome back guest blogger and Redleaf Press® author Connie Bergstein Dow. Connie is a source of endless ideas that not only get children moving, but also help to get them excited about physical activity. Connie has returned with the first entry of a three-part blog series on creative movement and dance with children. This week, she shares information on the benefits of dance in early childhood. Make sure to check back here next week for her tips for introducing creative movement activities, and later, a special Chinese New Year dance activity.

During my long career as a dance educator, parents and teachers have often asked me about how movement can benefit young children. I touched briefly on this subject in my first Redleaf Blog entry, but I wanted to go into more detail on this subject, so here we go!

Seven Important Benefits of Movement for Young Children

1: Body Awareness and Classroom Management

As children develop body awareness, teachers can use these skills for better classroom management. One of the gifts of structured movement — for both student and the adults who guide them — is that it helps children develop body awareness and control, which can be incorporated into the rest of the child’s daily routine. Moving is what children are already doing the minute they walk into a learning environment. Why not pick up on that and transition them right into learning? For example, make a game out of fidgeting! Here are three different ideas:

  1. Address numbers and counting
    “Let’s count together to ten while we fidget, then freeze! Now, let’s count to seven and freeze. Let’s count to two and freeze,” etc.
  2. Teach the concept of opposites kinesthetically
    “Can we fidget fast, slow, high, low, big, little, forward, backward, right-side-up, upside-down?”
  3. Teach a vocabulary lesson
    “Can you think of another word for fidget? How about shake? Wiggle? Jiggle? Squiggle? Show me how your body looks when it squiggles!”

As you become more comfortable with guiding movement activities, these are some of the skills children will develop:

  • Body Awareness (range of motion, balance, shape)
  • Control of Speed (tempo, stop/start, responding to cues for stopping)
  • Control of Direction (level, direction, floor pattern, size, spatial orientation)
  • Control of Energy (use of energy and flow to create a specific movement quality)
  • Listening to and following movement instructions
  • Awareness of personal space and shared space

These skills will benefit both students and teachers in your early childhood environment.

2: Curriculum Enrichment

Through movement, children can experience a concept (such as opposites) in their bodies and learn that concept kinesthetically. Movement activities are the perfect forum for imaginative play and individual and group problem-solving tasks.

Early Learning Content Standards can also easily be addressed through movement. Movement time is learning time, and can be used to teach virtually any subject, crossing all learning domains. Movement can supplement another lesson and can be used in short bursts, in transitions, and in games to get the children settled down for a quieter activity, as well as an entire lesson built around a theme.

In addition, movement time is a perfect opportunity to integrate other arts, such as music, visual art, drama, and writing. Simple and inexpensive props, such as streamers, scarves, costumes, musical instruments, and stories can be used to liven up any subject.

Children making letter shapes!

Children making letter shapes!

3: Physical Development

Movement development in young children mirrors brain development in infants.  There is a body of work on this subject called Brain Dance, which is being developed in Seattle by Ann Green Gilbert. Her basic premise is that through a specific series of simple movements, we can tap into the parts of the brain that are stimulated in the same order and patterns as they were during brain development. Green Gilbert is a proponent of using these movements as a kind of brain/body warm up, one or more times a day, before a test, when children need a break, etc., and as a way to get the brain stimulated and the body moving.

Movement activities can make the learning of motor skills, such as marching, hopping, jumping, galloping, sliding (sideways galloping), and balancing fun and enriching. Once the children have mastered a skill, such as marching, you can use the elements of dance (the body, time, space, and energy) to create playful tasks around that motor skill, which helps reinforce the skill, and taps into the imagination as well.

Using the simple movement of marching as an example, and incorporating elements of dance, you can say, “Can you march backwards, sideways, low, high, in a circle, swinging your arms? Could you march with only one foot? What is that called? Can you lie on your back and march with your feet? Your arms? Can you march making lots of noise with your feet? Can you march looking like you are making a lot of noise, but being as quiet as a mouse?”

Guided movement fosters total body fitness. Young children are naturally active, but directed movement activities present opportunities to expand and explore movement possibilities and skills. In addition, physical activity is always part of programs in the campaign against obesity, such as the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” initiative.

According to the National Parent Teacher Association’s website: “Despite mounting evidence that kids need an outlet to blow off steam, learn to interact with others and get the exercise they need, nearly 40 percent of American elementary schools have either eliminated or are considering eliminating recess.”

Also from the National PTA website: “Research shows that when children are fit and receive the proper amount of exercise, they perform better in school and are able to learn at a higher level. Unfortunately, the trend is not toward physical fitness. Parents must work with schools to establish physical education as a priority. Children must be given opportunities to be physically active throughout the day.”

4: Social Development

From NDEO (the National Dance Education Organization): “Movement is a good arena for children to work on problem-solving skills, cooperation and taking turns, listening and understanding, and working together as a group. Dance fosters social encounter, interaction, and cooperation. Children quickly learn to work within a group dynamic. Movement is communication, and many children may find movement time as their time to shine.”

5: Emotional Growth

Also from NDEO: “Dance promotes psychological health and maturity. Children enjoy the opportunity to express their emotions and become aware of themselves and others through creative movement. A pre-school child enters a dance class or classroom with a history of emotional experiences. Movement within a class offers a structured outlet for physical release while gaining awareness and appreciation of oneself and others. Dance fosters social encounter, interaction, and cooperation.”

Now — before you look at the next benefit — here is a pop quiz: In a 2010 Global CEO survey, of more than 1500 CEOs from 60 countries and 33 industries worldwide, what do you think was the one quality cited as the most important factor for future success?

Answer: Creativity!

The CEOs stated that more than rigor, management discipline, integrity, or even vision, successfully navigating an increasingly complex world will require creativity.

6: Creativity

Could nurturing the creative side of our children be a key to the future success of the United States? There is no question that education in the U.S. is in need of some serious revamping. As stated in the 2007 report of a comprehensive study of the American workforce, Tough Choices or Tough Times: The Report of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, by the National Center of Education and the Economy, whereas for most of the 20th century the U.S. could take pride in having the best-educated workforce in the world, that is no longer true. In proposing solutions, the authors of the study point to the development of creative thinkers as one of the keys to success: “Seeing new patterns and possibilities is the essence of creativity . . . and creativity, innovation, and flexibility will not be the special province of an elite. It will be demanded of virtually everyone who is making a decent living, from graphic artists to assembly line workers, from insurance brokers to home builders.”

The creative arts, by definition, nurture this aspect of the developing child.  Movement specifically allows students to approach tasks “through the body, or kinesthetically,” and come up with new ways of thinking, approaching, and solving problems.

7: The Brain/Body Connection

A number of researchers have found that regular physical activity contributes to improved school performance. As neurophysiologist Carla Hannaford states in her book Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head, “Movement activates the neural wiring throughout the body, the whole body, and not just the brain, is an instrument of learning.”

John Ratey (in his book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science, of Exercise and the Brain) of Harvard University says, “Building muscles and conditioning the heart and lungs are essentially side effects. I often tell my patients that the point of exercise is to build and condition the brain.”

I will end with this powerful statement from Carla Hannaford: “Movement, a natural process of life, is now understood to be essential to learning, creative thought, and high level formal reasoning. It is time to consciously bring integrative movement back into every aspect of our lives and realize, as I have, that something this simple and natural can be the source of miracles.”

I hope this blog entry has provided lots of food for thought, and reinforced your instincts to bring the delightful art of creative movement to your learning environment!

You’ve learned about the many ways creative movement benefits young children. Now, put that knowledge into action with Connie’s books, One, Two, What Can I Do? Dance and Music for the Whole Day and Dance, Turn, Hop, Learn! Enriching Movement Activities for Preschoolers. You can also catch up with her at PreK + Sharing, a collaborative blog for early childhood professionals. Stay tuned for more from Connie.

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