Social skills, such as empathy, sharing, taking turns and cooperating with others, are important attributes for the development of happy and successful relationships and lifelong learning in all subjects. Social relations affect children's cognitive and emotional development, says Carol Seefeldt, author of "Early Education: Three-, Four- and Five-Year-Olds Go to School." Young children typically respond with energy and enthusiasm to dance, music and movement sessions. Cross-curricular links that incorporate social development learning objectives into planned dance activities nurture children's creativity and physical skills, while encouraging self-awareness and awareness of others.
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Young children, such as preschool kids, learn easily through enjoyable activities that encourage hands-on learning or full physical involvement. Dance sessions require mental concentration and active participation. Dance and movement activities help children become more aware of their bodies and learn gross motor skills of coordination and control. Increased self-awareness and improved physical skills promote confidence and a raised sense of self-esteem. These attributes are "critically important to future success in school and in life," says Susan Jindrich of the Global Development Research Center. Confident children participate fully in classroom activities, learn to solve conflicts by using words and accept that making mistakes is part of the learning process, says Jindrich.
Find a Space
Spatial awareness skills are essential for successful social encounters. Preschool children are typically egocentric and tend to invade the space of others without regard for social niceties. Lack of spatial awareness can lead to social conflict when children start playing together in relatively confined spaces, such as classrooms. For example, a child who is spatially unaware may inadvertently knock other children over as he moves around the classroom or playground, and may experience social isolation when other children subsequently try to avoid him. Dance activities help children develop spatial awareness skills. For instance, practitioners may begin movement activities with the instruction that children find a suitable space in the room by holding out their arms to the side to ensure they are not touching anyone.
Music and movement games such as copy me activities encourage children to copy movements and gestures of the session leader and of each other, which supports development of social awareness skills, like spatial awareness and awareness of body language cues. Children begin to acquire social confidence by taking turns to lead others. Children become the leader who responds to the music by creating spontaneous movements and by using props such as scarves. Dance practitioners may also develop skills of miming of body language and facial expressions to suggest emotions, such as shyness, sadness and joy, to help children develop empathy toward others.
Children's play typically develops through stages of "playing alone, playing near others but not with them, playing with others but not sharing, playing and sharing, playing with a purpose and organized games," says Jindrich. Music and movement games and dance activities support progression through these stages by enabling children to learn social skills such as taking turns and cooperating with others. Circle dances and movement games help children learn skills of cooperation and sharing. For example, The Farmer's in His Den is a movement game where children cooperate in choosing others to share the space inside a circle of children, who hold hands and walk or skip in the same direction.