The photo above features one of my preschool-aged Skaterina students. She is currently a United States Figure Skating Association (USFSA) Basic 2 skater. This little one recently began private ballet lessons in order to complement her artistry in skating competitions. We have had loads of fun playing games that foster early concepts of body awareness, alignment, creativity, flexibility, and musicality.
Playing and learning go hand-in-hand for preschoolers. Children this age are often enthusiastic to interact with props like silk scarves, hula hoops, balls, wands, streamers, fairy wings, stickers, dance-themed books, or anything else that might spark creativity.
A popular activity for this age group involves holding wands or pom-poms and tapping them together to the beat of songs used in classical ballets. If the child is a figure skater and has a skate program, use their program music in addition. This activity introduces the fundamentals of musicality.
Another popular activity involves music and a large colored circle (or a hula hoop, or a stuffed animal). Have the preschooler run to the circle, hop on or over it, and then skitter away. After a few turns, perhaps the child can walk slowly toward the circle, hop on the circle, and then quickly dash or skip to the other side of the studio. To further build upon this activity, teachers may place down a hula hoop, step inside, and model a turn or a spin with airplane arms that rotate toward stage-right. After the child gets the hang of it, model arms that rotate toward stage-left. Children also love hopping or leaping over circles or small stuffed animals while holding streamers, wands, or silk scarves. These types of games target spacial awareness, direction, movement patterns, and memory.
Anne Green Gilbert, Director of Creative Dance Center, notes that quality preschool dance instruction seeks to develop strong and healthy bodies and brains via movement and exercise. Emphasis is on body awareness, control, balance, and coordination. Physical energy is positively released through physical activity. Social skills are nurtured with directives like:
"Look for the empty space as you dance in general space with other dancers,” and/or "Move strongly and powerfully when the music is loud, lightly and delicately when the music is soft."
During lessons, it's important to gauge a preschooler's interest and to always be ready to switch things up. I continuously ask myself:
In moments where preschool-aged students exhibit especially deep focus and concentration, I take lightning quick advantage (who knows how long it will last!) and use it to teach something age appropriate, yet challenging. On the other hand, when a child is much more active and antsy, I tend to stick to the center of the studio and build upon/switch up active games and jumping exercises. Matching a child's level of energy often goes a long way toward a successful lesson.
Having a child enrolled in both dance and skating is a big commitment, especially for a preschooler. It's a good idea for parents and teachers to continuously assess and gauge a child's level of excitement and ability to focus. For example, if you are questioning if dance and skating might be too much for your preschooler, observe their behavior. Do they hop up and show eagerness to get dressed for skating and/or dance? Do they skip or run to their lesson when they arrive? Do they practice things they have learned at home? Do they search for willing "audiences" to watch them? Do you hear, "Mommy [or Daddy], watch this!" These are all signs that your child is enjoying their lessons and that they are at a stage of physical and cognitive readiness.
While some figure skating coaches advise their students to delay cross-training in dance until they graduate from basic skills levels, other coaches feel that the earlier the better. Though this is not a hard-and-fast rule, skaters who demonstrate a high level of interest, discipline, and talent are often strong candidates for early cross-training. Learning and practicing the concepts of body awareness, alignment, artistry, flexibility, and musicality during formative years, often translates to little to no time devoted in the future to correcting and managing bad habits and poor understanding of presentation and body lines, especially where it really counts in performances and competitions.
Skating and dance benefit preschoolers by supporting communication and social skills, building confidence, introducing discipline and tenacity, and serving as a fantastic option for creativity, movement, and exercise.
What are your favorite dance and/or skate activities for preschoolers?