One of the best parts of my job is seeing how dance and movement can connect ideas and people in ways they never before thought possible.
One program that does this is PBT’s PreK Creative Movement program. Through generous funding from PNC’s Grow Up Great program, we have served almost 2,000 children and 100 teachers in the Pittsburgh Public School system since 2007. The model of the program has evolved over time. Currently, there are three main components of the PreK Creative Movement program:
- Professional Development for classroom teachers
- Creative Movement Residency
- Culminating Family Program: “Barnyard Dance Party”
For professional development, we focus on teaching classroom educators how to facilitate movement and dance education (MADE) with their students. While kinesthetic learning is so important for 3-5-year-olds, most educators aren’t trained to effectively incorporate it into their classrooms or feel uncomfortable facilitating it. Before the residency, I take them through a two-hour workshop where they try some of MADE activities that our teaching artists (TAs) do.
But the professional development doesn’t stop there. Teachers then get to decide themselves how they want to learn to facilitate. For instance, do they want to investigate how to use MADE in small spaces or with literacy education? We then have the teachers collaborate with our TAs throughout the duration of the residency to co-teach and finally experiment facilitating several MADE activities on their own, which often pushes teachers outside of their comfort zone.
During the nine-week residency, a TA and percussionist lead a 30-minute class once a week. In addition to the teachers learning how to facilitate MADE, the students explore the four basic elements of movement and dance: body, energy, space, and time (BEST). They begin to build concepts of self-space and group space, appropriate physical contact, and self-control. Flyers are sent home announcing the program, and every three weeks students wore a sticker home with prompts for the parent that use MADE vocabulary.
This year, we instituted a culminating family engagement event called “Barnyard Dance Party.” It is based on the book Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton. At these events, we lead children and their parents through a mini-creative movement lesson to demonstrate what their child had been doing during the residency. It includes a few warm-up activities and then everyone “Dances the Story” of Barnyard Dance. Afterwards, parents and kids receive healthy themed snacks, like “chicken feed” (make-your-own trail mix), and related art activities, such as farm animal puppets. Finally, every child also gets to take home their very own copy of Barnyard Dance!
I’ll be honest—I was skeptical that parents were going to get up and dance with their kids. But the children’s enthusiastic smiles and excitement for movement was infectious. Parents were on the floor with their kids doing stretches, promenading around the room like farm animals, and connecting with their child through physical activity. In those moments, we provided families with not only a new way of reading—with their bodies!—but a new way to engage with each other and their world. While I can’t say for certain that they continued to dance together at home, I like to think that every time they open Barnyard Dance they will be reminded of the fun and meaningful time they had with PBT!
Top: PreK Creative Movement Class
Bottom: Parents and children enjoy Barnyard Dance Party