• Jessica Strong

How to Create Educational, Engaging and Enriching Lesson Plans for your Dance Classes each Week!

Listen to this Episode on the Dance to Learn® Podcast

Creating my weekly lesson plans is the most tedious part of being a dance teacher. I have to ensure that my lesson plans are whole child appropriate, follow a theme, and are focused on a dance concept. Today I am discussing the individualized Lesson Plans and how you can Plan each part of your class to ensure that it is Educational - your students are learning. Engaging - your students are listening, responding well and excited for the class. And Enriching - your students and families leave class each week excited to come back for more!

Why is Creating an Educational, Engaging and Enriching Lesson Plan each week important?

If you’ve joined me on my podcast, or on my YouTube channel in the past, you’ve heard me say this. Your Preschool Program is the backbone of your studio. You must nurture your youngest dancers, instill in them the love of dance, and make them fall in love with your studio so they come back year after year after year. Building your studio from the bottom up should begin with the youngest dancers - as 90% of these dancers and their families will have their first dance studio experience with you so you want to be sure you are setting yourself apart from the other studios in your area by providing an experience that is Educational, Engaging and Enriching - not just for your students but their families as well.

:Let’s breakdown each of the 3 E’s that I refer to. The first is Educational. What makes an Educational curriculum? In the Dance to Learn® Curriculum we focus on 5 pillars of Education. These pillars focus on the whole child and their development. Maria Montessori defines whole child education as an approach that values the human spirit and the development of the whole child—physical, social, emotional, cognitive. Dr Montessori studied not only the physical development of children, but also their intellectual and social development. We ensure our curriculum grows right along with our students. To know this, means we understand our students’ and each stage of their development. We’ve focused our Pillars of Education on 5 key stages of Childhood Development

The first Pillar is Discovery - this focuses on the Child’s Cognitive Development. Cognitive development means how children think, explore and figure things out. It is the development of knowledge, skills, problem solving and dispositions, which help children to think about and understand the world around them. Brain development is part of cognitive development.

The Second Pillar is Expression - This focuses on the Child’s Emotional Development. To tap into each student’s emotional development we include exercises where students get to express themselves through creation, free dance, or supplying their own insights and ideas throughout the class.

The Third Pillar is Acceptance - Acceptance focuses on Social Development and how the students interact with others in the class, their instructors and their environment. Dance is social, and therefore teaching our students how to interact with others in and through space with movement is a key part of dance education.

The fourth Pillar is Creation - Like expression, Creation tap’s into each child’s individual psyche and allows them to create processes within class that allow them to express themselves through movement.

The Last Pillar is Movement - Movement focuses on a our student’s Physical Development and ensuring that our classes are progressive and designed for mastery of movements and technique taught. This focuses our teaching to ensure we don’t skip important steps in these early years of dance education.

Once you’ve focused your attention on your students and how they grow and develop, now you can really focus and hone in on the “what” or the content that you should include in each and every lesson plan to ensure each part of the whole child is nurtured and engaged.

I really dive deep into the Educational part of creating a Curriculum in my YouTube video “How to create a Preschool Dance Curriculum” as well as Episode 3 of the Dance to Learn® Podcast.

The second of the 3 E’s is Engagement. Engagement focuses on the “how” you teach your preschoolers - and is probably the most difficult of the 3 E’s to master. If you don’t know how to teach your preschoolers, it won’t matter what you teach them. If they aren’t engaged, focused or excited to learn what you are teaching, you won’t be successful with this age group.

Engagement focuses on Classroom Management and Routines that help inspire and motivate your students to listen, follow directions, interact with the instructor and other students in a positive way that progresses the learning experience and rather than hindering it.

When thinking about the best way to engage your students you want to think about Rules, Routines, Transitions and Active Listening Phrases.

Rules are your classroom expectations. How do you expect your students to behave throughout class? It’s important that your students know what is expected of them. If they don’t know how to behave, they will take liberty in their actions and do what they want to do. Rules don’t have to feel like a burden. You can make them fun when you provide rewards for positive behaviors, or congratulate your dancers when they behave in appropriate ways. Be sure your expectations are explained in a way that your preschoolers can understand. Concrete, short and to the point is easier than explaining rules that are abstract. Also asking them to take an action using “show me phrases” can help establish your expectations in a positive way. For example instead of saying “Don’t run.” You can say “Show me you know how to have walking feet.”

Routines - Preschoolers love routines. Have you ever noticed how a young child can watch the same movie repeatedly and never get bored with it. That’s because they seek comfort in routine. It makes them feel in control of their surroundings. Therefore setting your classroom up with the same routine each week is going to help your students feel safe and at ease.

In our program we call our Routine the Class Flow. How each part of class flows into the next - almost like a choreographed dance. While we may teach a different theme or concept each week to change the material we learn, the overall flow of class is the same. For example we always begin in our learner’s circle where we explore our concept. Next we stretch and warm up our muscles. Then we stand and explore stationary movements in our self-space. After that we transition to traveling movements across the floor as we develop skills. Next we combine those skills together as we do our obstacle course. Then finish class with a free dance activity or learn choreography for a showcase. We always end class with a sticker on our sticker charts.

Let’s talk about Transitions. Transitions, I believe, is where we as instructors fail and forget to think about how we move from one activity to the next smoothly. If you have moments throughout your class where you are reminding your students to sit on a spot, or wait their turn, or use quiet mouths. You may have forgotten about your transitions. A few key transitional moments in a dance class that you don’t want to forget:

  1. Entering your classroom- How should students enter the classroom. It doesn’t seem that important until you find your class running around the classroom for 20 minutes before you can get them settled on a spot so you can begin your stretches. Create a fun routine as they enter the classroom. Maybe they curtsy and then have to show you a dance move like a curtsy or arabesque. Then they tip toe walk to their spot. Maybe you take a minute to ask each dancer as they come in to tell you something fun they did that week so they spend less time talking at the start of class. Maybe you create a prop distribution game where as they enter they must pick a prop and then sit quietly with their prop until everyone arrives.

  2. Spots - Do you find your class has a hard time keeping spatial distance among themselves. Even before social distancing was a requirement, kids as old as 8 can have a hard time understanding space and leaving a proper amount of space between themselves and other dancers. Therefore, you may want to consider using some type of spot to mark where students should position themselves in the classroom. Polydots, tape, stickers, whatever you use - be sure that your students know what the spots are for and what they are expected to do on the spots. For example - should they be wearing their Polydots on their head or sitting on their Polydots?

  3. Moving the troops - Explaining to your dancers what they should do when it’s time to move is really important. If you say okay kids let’s go across the floor and just let them stand up, run around for a couple minutes before lining up - that can not only appear chaotic but it can also take a good amount of time out of your lesson plan as you coral everyone. It’s better to clearly explain your expectations. I can give you an example. My favorite transition is in my ballet tap combo classes. I can have up to 30 little tap shoes at one time in my weekly ballet tap classes. The last thing I want is everyone running, stomping, jumping and tapping those shoes and then try to quiet them down afterwards. So instead we catch magic fairies. How it works - we have a magic wall where all the magic fairies live. We don’t want to run because that will scare them away and we don’t want to be loud because that will also scare them away so instead we stand up, put on our tip toes and we quietly tip toe walk to the wall. When we get there we all reach up high and catch a magic fairy then sit with the magic fairy in our pocket (criss-cross applesauce hands in our laps). It works wonders.

  4. Waiting turns - now that you have your dancers moved, how do you teach them to wait their turns? Using the same magic fairy example, I explain that they must keep their magic fairies in their pockets until it’s their turn. If they move too soon, their magic fairy flies away and they may have to catch a new one. I’ve also used the magic super glue trick. I give each dancer pretend super glue of their color choice then they rub their super glue all over their hands, back legs, etc. Then they are stuck until it’s their turn.

The last area of Engagement is using Active Listening Phrases that require your students to take action when they lose focus. To keep your students engaged and focused you may find moments throughout class where they forget what they should be doing and you need to call attention back to you. Using phrases that require action like a call and response technique can be great for this age group. I just shared a YouTube video this week with 25 Call and Response phrases that I have used in my classes that encourage active listening. You can also download a printable with all 25 phrases to keep on hand. I’ve found that asking them to take action for their behaviors rather than just telling them what to do really helps keep them engaged and focused on me throughout the class. For example instead of saying “‘let’s be quiet.” I will say let’s Lock our mouths and throw away the key with subsequent hand motions. Or “Quick Copy Me!” when I see a child who may be doing their own interpretive dance rather than the one I would like them to be learning. Check out that video and printable for more on Active Listening phrases.

Download your Free 25 Active Listening Phrases Printable:

The last E in my 3 E’s is Enrichment. What is Enrichment? And How can we apply Enrichment into each and every lesson plan? The definition of Enrichment is

the action of improving or enhancing the quality or value of something.

How can we make each and every lesson plan more valuable?

These are the little moments that make your dancers keep coming back for more each and every week. We want to brighten their day with dance and be sure that they sign up for dance over gymnastics or soccer.

In our program we do this with our Dance to Learn® at Home with Me Program. This is a free service we provide to all of our classes and is a way to engage the parents of our students so they can actively be involved with their child’s learning each week. We send a weekly email with a run down of what we are learning. We include photos and videos taken from within class so parents can see what their child is learning. Remember they don’t always get an opportunity to watch each week. So allowing them a peek inside the classroom is going to go a long way for them. Especially right now with corona virus restrictions in play for many studios. The last item we include in their weekly email is a game or activity that the family can play with their child outside of class. Research has shown that children are more likely to retain what they are learning when parents continue the learning at home. So creating a Family Engagement program that involves your family’s in their child’s dance education is going to be the cherry on top of your preschool program.

I hope this helps you as you begin planning your lesson plans for this session! Let us know in the comments your greatest take away from this article!

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