By Connie Bergstein Dow, author of From A to Z with Energy! 26 Ways to Move and Play
No matter where you live, there are days when it becomes difficult to take young children outside or to another place where they can get their energy out. As a dance educator, I like to show parents and teachers that, although a wide-open space for large-motor activity is ideal, with a little creativity, moving around in a small space can be a thorough and fun workout.
The following activity is a full-body warm up and a playful movement exploration. Dance the Alphabet also supports early literacy efforts, as you correlate each letter of the alphabet to specific movements. It is structured to start with smaller movements, build to larger full-body movements, and then gradually end, bringing children’s energy level down. There is a full dance with music, the “Macarena” for the letter M, right in the middle of the activity. I have included instructions and teaching tips below.
Time: 30–45 minutes from start to finish. You might find children like and want to further explore specific parts of the activity. You can use any part of the activity as a starting point for creative movement/exercise sessions.
Materials: Music for the “Macarena” (by Los Del Rio); song and dance are easily found online.
Spacing: Each child should have a designated spot where they will stay throughout the activity.
Call out the movement prompts one-by-one, allowing plenty of time in between for the children to explore each idea.
How many ways can you move your arms (hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders)?
Bend your knees and gently bounce, keeping your heels on the floor. Count to twenty as you bounce!
Clap your hands in front of you, behind you, over your head, behind one knee as you lift your leg and then the other.
A simple cross-lateral activity to activate both sides of the brain: Gently pat one arm with the other, from shoulder to hand and back up a couple of times, then change arms. Do the same with one leg from the thigh down to the foot and back up, using the right arm with the left leg, and then the left arm with the right leg.
Try to move just your eyes, up, down, side to side, to the upper and lower diagonals.
Make the following expressions one by one: happy, sad, shy, mad, scared, surprised. Now give yourself a big hug and make a happy face again.
Clap the gallop rhythm: one quiet, quick clap and one big, accented clap. Then gallop in place starting with one foot doing a light, unaccented step, and an accented step on the other foot. Then change feet, so the pattern starts on the other foot.
Hop on one foot while counting to six, then the other foot. Then try balancing for as long as you can on each foot.
I—Individual free movement
Slowly count to fifteen together, and each person will move however they wish, staying in their spot.
Jump in place, jump while turning in one direction, then jump in the other direction.
K and L—Kick your Legs
Kick one leg several times to the front, side, and back and swing your leg back and forth several times. Then do the same with the other leg.
Here we are, right in the middle of the alphabet. Let’s do a dance—follow me!
Turn your head to one side and then the other (or left and right, to work on directional words), then up and down, then slowly rolling in a full circle, and to the other side.
Let’s explore some opposites!:
Forward and Backward: Turn away from front of the room, then toward the front. Repeat several times: back, front, back, front.
Wide and Narrow: Make your body into a narrow shape, then a wide shape.
Straight and Curvy: Make your body into a straight shape, then a curvy one.
Slow and Fast: Walk in place in slow motion, then run in place as fast as you can!
High and Low: Reach up to the ceiling, then crouch and touch your hands to the floor. Do that several times in a row, getting faster each time. Finish in a high shape. Can you balance on your tiptoes?
Prance in place like a horse. Try to point your toes as you lift your feet!
Move in place as quickly as you can, moving as many body parts as you can at the same time. Now freeze! Do that several more times: move quickly, freeze, move quickly, freeze.
Run in place. Now run for 10 counts facing each wall: turn to face the side wall for 10 counts, back wall, side wall, and then finish when you return to the front.
First shake your head, then shake your shoulders, then arms and hands, upper body, your lower torso and hips, one leg and foot, the other leg and foot. Now shake everything all at once!
Standing with your feet slightly apart, rise up onto your tiptoes. Can you hold and balance for a few seconds? Try to come down softly back to your starting position. Do that a few more times. Now try tiptoeing in a small circle around yourself, then tiptoe in a small circle in the other direction.
Gently stretch one side of your upper torso by reaching one arm overhead and stretching to the side as you bend at the waist. Return to center and do the same to the other side, then repeat to each side four more times.
Add your voice to our alphabet dance. Open your mouth and make a soft sound with your voice. Now make a louder sound. Everyone put your hands over your ears, and we will say “ALPHABET” as loudly as we can.
Wave with one hand, then the other. Now wave with your elbows, your shoulders, eyelids, legs, feet, toes. Wave good-bye with your hands again—we are almost finished!
X—Make an X shape
Stretch out both your arms and legs to make a large X shape with your body.
Y—Yawn and stretch
Give a great big yawn and stretch your arms over head. Stretch your back and legs.
Take a rest! Sit down, close your eyes, relax, and listen to your breathing.
How to do the Macarena:
Beat 1: One arm goes straight out in front of you with the palm down.
Beat 2: The other arm goes straight out in front of you with the palm down.
Beat 3: Turn the palm of one hand up, rotating the arm.
Beat 4: Turn the palm of the other hand up.
Beat 5: One hand touches the opposite shoulder; leave it there.
Beat 6: Do the same with the other hand.
Beat 7: One hand touches the back of neck; leave it there.
Beat 8: Do the same with the other hand.
Beat 9: One hand touches opposite hip bone; leave it there.
Beat 10: Do the same with the other hand.
Beat 11: One hand touches where a back pants pocket would be on the same side, leave it there.
Beat 12: Do the same with the other hand, leave it there.
Beat 13: Bend your knees and move your hips to one side.
Beat 14: Move your hips to the other side.
Beat 15: Move your hips to the other side.
Beat 16: Clap and take a small jump.
Tips for teaching the Macarena:
This dance is a fun break to do anytime, with lots of learning built right into it: rhythm, body and spatial awareness, memorizing movements and counts, and eventually learning about left and right. Here are three suggestions when first teaching this dance to young children:
- Teach and practice this dance a few times before incorporating it into the larger Dance the Alphabet activity. That way, you don’t have to stop the flow—you can play the music and go right into the dance.
- Instead of using right and left, say “one arm, then the other” as I have written in the instructions. Once children become more familiar with dancing the Macarena, then it becomes a good way to teach and reinforce the concept of right and left. In the original dance, the right arm always goes first, then the left.
- In the original dance, a quarter turn (ninety degrees) is performed with the jump on the last beat, so that the front changes each time. After the fourth repetition, the dance starts again, facing the original front. I have written the directions for the dance so that you stay facing forward as you do the small jump, so the orientation is always to the front. This way children can continue to follow your movements as they learn the dance. Once children are more familiar with the dance, you can add the ninety-degree turn to the right on the last beat.
Connie Bergstein Dow took her first dance class when she was four years old and has been dancing ever since. After attending Denison University and earning an MFA from the University of Michigan, she danced professionally in the United States, Venezuela, and Guatemala. Connie has had a long career as a dance educator and has written two books for teachers about integrating movement into the early childhood classroom, articles for magazines and journals, and verses for Highlights. She shares her passion for dance by writing, teaching, volunteering, visiting schools and libraries, and offering movement workshops to early childhood professionals. Visit Connie at www.movingislearning.com.
Connie is the author of From A to Z with Energy! 26 Ways to Move and Play
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