Just the musings of a small-town professional ballerina, business owner, wife, and beagle mama as she attempts to make it through this thing called life.

Oct 13, 2015

teacher hacks for tots

I teach dance at my local studio on Monday and Wednesday evenings for four hours. It's the same amount of time and you would think the same amount of work. I walk inside and set my bags down on Monday night feeling accomplished and excited about my job. I like working,  I love teaching, and I'm really glad that after 4-5 years of working in dance classrooms I still feel that way.

Yet, for some reason, when I walk inside on Wednesday evenings I feel drained. My throat is dry from hours of straight talking, my body is weary, and I am usually starving. I had to wonder why there was such a drastic difference between the two workdays; then the primary difference between the two dawned on me.

On Monday I primarily teach children between the ages of nine and fourteen. This age requires slightly less demonstrating on the teacher's part and not really any of what I like to call my "teacher voice." You know the one: high pitched, twinkly, and abundant with dramatized glee. On Wednesdays, 90% of my students are all under the age of ten. Now, I'm not saying that teaching younger kids is more of a burden, because it's not. But I am saying that conducting a classroom full of three to eight-year-olds requires much more energy. Here are five tricks of the trade I picked up from coworkers, mentors, and things I remember enjoying when I was the age of my students.


1. Layout the dots.

Do a little online shopping and get your studio a couple of these, you'll thank me for it later.

"Why would I need a variety pack of rubber can openers?" you ask. Allow me to explain.

At the beginning of class assign each student a dot. This is their dot. Having ownership of an object captures the kids' attention and allows visual cues for where to stand. I find it easiest to have them stand on the tape that runs down the marley and place the dot a foot in front of them. It's their job to stand behind the dot as we do our shuffles, plies, tendus, or other exercises at the beginning of the day. Say goodbye to little ones skipping around the room when they lose focus. I'm not sure why it works as well as it does, but I'm not going to question it!

2. Perfect the teacher voice.

Every teacher has one and kids respond to it. Perhaps it's reminiscent of all the Disney movies they're watching with melodious heroine vocals, but I find as soon as I turn the teacher voice on, they're more likely to listen.


3. Incorporate props.

It's always their favorite part of the day. Having something tangible to keep their attention works wonders. For the fall season I throw on the Sesame Street "Batty Bat" song, give them each two scarves as wings and have them fly (A.K.A. bourre) back and forth during the chorus. This is definitely a favorite!


4. Keep the class moving.

A 5-6 year old's average attention span can attend an activity of interest to them for about 10-15 minutes. So spending more than that on any single activity or piece of information is a recipe for some restless little ones. I usually start them with warmups standing in one long line behind their individual dots, then bring them across the floor for some exercises, next I lead them into a circle for imaginative stretches and combinations, and lastly we have games and interactive activities.


5. Always plan a few more activities

than you will have time for.

Every now and then, there are those days when you plough through the warmups and across the floor exercises, and you're stuck wondering what to do next. I find myself in this situation especially before we start working on the recital. Have a few activities in your back pocket. Some long-time favorites in my classroom are freeze dance in which I tell them what motion to do before the music stops, and the "corner game."
The corner game is very similar to freeze dance. You give them a step or motion to perform, play the music, and they dance all around the room. The difference comes in with one student who sits in the middle of the room and closes their eyes as soon as the music stops. The kids then run to either corner 1, 2, 3, or 4 of the room. This presents the perfect opportunity to teach them which one is which. The student in the middle of the room then randomly selects a corner, and everyone in it is now out. Do this until only one student remains. The remaining student will be the next one to sit in the middle. I don't love that the student in the middle simply sits while the music is playing, so I usually give them a specific stationary step separate from the other students like sautes or jumping jacks.

The kids love this game, it really makes them feel like they've been up and moving and tuckers them right out before the end of class.

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Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for my recount of the recent wild west adventures. Peter and the Wolf and Western Roundup opened last weekend and closes on Saturday!

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