Movement is one of the most powerful and natural forms of discovery, learning and self-expression.
Telling an audience of 150 preschool and kindergarten teachers, “We’ve got a real treat in store for you today,” Superintendent Michael Watkins opened the 8th annual Together for Kindergarten Forum by introducing Tandy Beal, one of Santa Cruz County’s most articulate and accomplished advocates for movement education. Spearheaded by the Santa Cruz County Office of Education to assist the transition from preschool to kindergarten, Together for Kindergarten has tackled a broad range of topics presented by world renowned experts, from nutrition with author Gary Taubes, to the social emotional foundations for early learning with Linda Brault.
This year’s choice of themes made perfect sense for this group of early educators because movement fosters brain development. From the first time a child grasps your finger in a fist that hasn’t learned to let go, to the crawling and first steps and later the running, climbing, jumping and spinning that we know are critical to cognitive development. The more a child wants to know about the world around them, the more that child needs to move. And with every movement, the developing child forms a more confident and connected picture of the world around them.
Children use movement naturally long before language develops. Movement provides mobility, helps satisfy curiosity, and offers a way to express powerful thoughts and feelings. When children use movement to consciously respond to music, solve problems, play with others, and express their personal and unique take on the world around them, movement becomes dance.
Borrowing a quote from The National Dance Education Organization, Watkins said,
“Dance is a powerful ally for developing many of the attributes of a growing child. Dance helps children mature physically, emotionally, socially, and cognitively. The physical benefits of dance are widely accepted, but the emotional, social and cognitive attributes have only recently begun to be appreciated. Dance is one of the most basic and primal forms of individual and cultural expression. It is a deeply personal and pre-verbal language, able to express a child’s innate and constantly changing connection to the physical world.“
Movement is the most natural and heathy way for a child to satisfy an inborn need to explore. When we allow children to move, we are saying they are safe to engage with the world around them, and we are allowing them to be fully mobilized to form an understanding of the world that is deeply personal because it grows out of their own sense of curiosity. When movement is joyful, imaginative, emotionally expressive and consciously structured, it becomes dance. And when all these rich elements of dance become part of the classroom environment, it enhances and fortifies every aspect of learning and growing, for the child as well as for the teacher.
In welcoming Tandy to the stage, Superintendent Watkins concluded his remarks by saying, “Today we’ll have an incredible opportunity to see how dance can foster social interaction and cooperation, help us learn to express ourselves without language, and hopefully, have a whole lot of fun in the process.”
A gifted dancer, choreographer, film producer, educator and lecturer, Beal prepared the audience for the day’s activities. “Dance connects the body, the mind and the heart in the gift of dance. We are built to move, and yet our education system is set up, especially in the higher grades, for us to stay still at our desk.”
Beal went on to explain how non-verbal forms of expression can help early care educators make sure every child is included. “In the non-verbal art form of dance, an English language learner can excel in front of peers and teachers, thus raising confidence and setting the stage for future successes, as we have witnessed many times. Teachers often comment to us how they did not realize how capable certain children were until they saw them problem-solve without words. How a student is differently abled determines the ways of inclusion.”
After her introductory remarks, Beal got everyone up and moving in a series of fun, non-threatening activities that encouraged collaboration, as well as sensory and spatial awareness. Each problem-solving exercise offered both pre-school and kindergarten teachers specific ideas and activities to take back to their classrooms.
As imagination and individual expression were set free, even the shyest felt themselves opening to new possibilities, not only for themselves as educators, but also for the children they work with, whose instinct and desire to move is one of the most powerful and natural forms of discovery, learning and self-expression.
Watch for Tandy Beal and Company’s ArtSmart coming to a school near you!
ArtSmart brings music, dance and circus to underserved areas in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. Building on 40 years of work with schools, ArtSmart supports teachers with practical tools for collaboration, creativity and communication while building on a child’s innate capacity to expand their awareness through movement. A champion of ArtSmart’s vision of igniting the imaginations of students and teachers, Michael Watkins says “Through arts in education, students develop the creative thinking and problem solving skills that are crucial to successful life and work in the 21st century.”
Read about the Together for Kindergarten Community Forum 2016.