By Connie Bergstein Dow, author of From A to Z with Energy! 26 Ways to Move and Play
One way to help children feel comfortable and make new friends at the beginning of the school year is to present opportunities to work on activities together. You can try this fun, dance-based activity that involves cooperation, teamwork, and creativity with kids in grades K–3. Although the overall activity is goal oriented, the tasks are open ended and allow a variety of solutions. It’s also a great way to give children a break from sitting and working on fine-motor skills.
Like other art forms, dance has some basic elements. These are:
- The dancer’s body and its shape in space
- Action, or all the movements the body can do, in place or traveling
- Time, which includes speed, rhythm, tempo, and accent
- Space, which includes direction, level, pathway, size of the movement, and the relation to others who are moving about in the same space
- Energy and flow which create the movement’s quality
The manipulation of these elements is how choreographers create dances. I have used these same elements to create this cooperative learning game.
In part 1, children will use the movements listed below as the starting point for the activity. Each child will have one movement card, and then the group will work together to combine the steps into a movement sentence. They will need to work cooperatively as they try out each other’s movements, decide how best to combine them, and then perform the phrase together.
Part 2 offers ideas for expanding the activity. These suggestions include doing the phrase at different levels, at different speeds, in different directions, and adding an emotion or quality.
Mix and Match Movements Activity
- Part 1 only: Approximately 15–20 minutes
- Parts 1 and 2 together: 45 minutes to one hour
- Movement Words (see below)
- A large open space
- Optional music
Before you begin, write the following Movement Words on flash cards or index cards:
balance on one foot
- In a large space, divide children into groups of three or four.
- Give each child a movement card.
- Invite them to try their own movement a few times, and then ask them to share their movement with their small group, allowing everyone to try all the movements.
- Explain that for this game, they will think of the individual movements as words and will put their movements together into a sentence. They can try the movements in different orders and then, as a group, choose the order they like best.
- Encourage them to practice the movement sentence a few times.
- Ask them to come up with a good starting position. For example, a starting position on the floor would be helpful if their first movement is a crawl, but not if their first movement is a jump.
- Ask them to think of a good ending position, like a period or exclamation point on their dance sentence.
- Invite them to practice their starting position, their sentence, and then their ending position several times until they can perform it smoothly. They will go from the starting position, through the movement words, and then hold the ending position for a few beats—this is their movement phrase.
- Have each small group perform their movement phrase for the larger group.
- Play different music selections and have the groups perform their compositions together or individually.
Here is a list of prompts to help you enhance and expand the activity. The groups can all try these variations of their movement sentences, or each group can be assigned one or more. Children will use their original movement sentences and work together to change them.
- Try the phrase in slow motion, and then do it as fast as you can.
- Try doing the phrase four times in a row, changing the direction you’re facing each time (i.e., start facing front, then turn to face a side wall, then face the back, then the other side).
- Perform the phrase as if you are surprised.
- Perform it as if you are bored.
- Try doing the phrase in an extremely small space.
- Try doing all the movements backwards.
- Try doing the phrase only moving sideways.
- Try doing the phrase as softly as possible, then again very loudly.
- Try doing the phrase as if you are carrying a very heavy load.
- Perform your phrase as if you are very tired, then do it again with high energy.
- Do your phrase once very jerkily, and then do it again as smoothly as possible.
- Try the phrase as if the ceiling is so low it touches your head.
- Try doing the phrase using as much space as possible.
- Combine two or more groups. Ask them to teach each other their movement sentences, and then create one long movement sentence.
- Invite the children to invent their own variations.
Conclude the Activity
Ask each group to decide which variation of their phrase they like the best. Play different selections of music while they perform their sentences, either all together or in their individual groups.
The last time they perform their compositions, have children hold the ending positions. Then ask them to melt to the floor in that position. Once they reach the floor, they can relax and take a few slow breaths to bring the activity to a quiet finish.
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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