Creative Movement for Busy Bodies in 3 Easy Steps

Creative dance is a great way to engage your little one in a movement-based activity, all while encouraging them to explore another means of communication. And you don’t have to be a professional dance teacher! When you’re tired of crafts and ready for something that gets your child moving and grooving and shaking off all that extra energy, here is a creative dance exercise in three parts to try at home. It’s ideal for children ages 2 – 6; for older kids you can skip straight to Part Two.

PART ONE: EXPRESSIONS

Take your tot and have him or her sit on the floor facing you, each with your own scarf. (Feel free to use a dishcloth or handkerchief. I suggest something lightweight, like chiffon, because its transparency allows younger kids the thrill of hiding, while still being able to see you and follow your lead.) Like peek-a-boo, hide your faces behind your scarves, then on the count of three, lower the scarves and peek at each other. When you reveal your faces, make different expressions each time to represent emotions. Say “Happy!” and show your smiles. Hide behind the scarves again, count to three once more, and call out, “Angry!” showing a frown. Do this with shy, surprised, tired, etc.

PART TWO: MOVE TO THE MUSIC

For this part you’ll need to prepare a few songs in advance. Ideally, you want to find music that clearly evokes different emotions. Making a playlist on iTunes is helpful. Once you find the right track, label each happy / sad / angry / tired / surprised /shy—making it way easier to stay engaged in the activity. (It only takes a few seconds of searching for a song before you’ve lost your little one’s attention.) From there, hide your face, count to three, and choose an emotion. Press play on the appropriate song and encourage your child to show the emotion with their face and body by moving to the music. If it’s happy, then perhaps skip around the room for 20 seconds before pausing and moving on to the next. Remember, your wee dancer will take cues from you whether to fully express themselves. If you show embarrassment or reluctance, they will feel that and follow suit. So let loose, get down, and be silly!

Some emotions are more complicated than others. Sad and angry, for example, can be hard to immediately translate into movements, even though children show these emotions through physicality on a daily basis. They may need some guidance. For sad, I like to use my scarf to dry my tears or use my hands to cover my face. I move slowly with slumped shoulders or sit down with my head hung low. For angry, I do marching, jumping, stomping, and wave the scarf around more frenetically. I cross my arms or turn my back away. With older children you can explore the difference between emotions that may have similar physicality, for example tired, sad, and shy.

PART THREE: FUN & GAMES

Once you’ve done this exercise multiple times, you can turn it into a guessing game. This works best when kids are 4 years and older. Suggest your child choose an emotion to “act out.” Ask them not to tell you what that emotion is and let them move for as long as they seem to be enjoying it, then guess how they are “feeling.” You’ve just become the audience and they are taking their first steps toward telling a story through movement and sharing emotion as a performer on stage. Give them your undivided attention and be sure to show lots of encouragement. Don’t force the matter, either. It may take time for them to feel comfortable ‘performing’ and that is totally normal. You can go back to Part Two, or act out an emotion and let them guess until they’re ready to take a turn.

Katie Van Camp is a professionally trained ballet dancer who has been teaching early childhood creative dance and ballet for more than 15 years.