Dancing to Learn: Teaching children to learn numbers through movement and build self-esteem

In this blog entry, Teresa Benzwie, author of Numbers on the Move and Alphabet Movers talks about using creative movement to teach young children numbers and control while helping them feel good about themselves and one another.

Watch Temple University Dance students perform Teresa Benzwie’s Numbers on the Move! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_UVVhiUG0sg&feature=plcp

I walked into my grandson’s kindergarten classroom and was immediately taken by the relaxing and gentle atmosphere. No florescent lights, just fun looking lamps giving the environment a feeling of home, children’s art work all over the walls and ceilings and happy children chatting in conversational tones. Their teacher Bruce was smiling and welcoming.  What a wonderful place to spend a school day! I had been invited to give a workshop in learning numbers through movement with my book Numbers on the Move: 1-2-3 Dance and Count with Me.  I was introduced to the children as Misha’s grandmother who wrote a book and was going to share it with them. Picture a group of adorable children immediately finding a seat on the floor right in front of you. They are all looking up at you wide-eyed with expectant expressions on their sweet little faces. I took a few moments to drink in the magic of this scene.

I began by saying, “I would like to learn your names. We will all say our name and use a movement for each sound. I will begin”. Ter-es-a, clapping my hands 3 times. How many sounds did my name have? “Three”, they all called out in unison: “Good” I say. “Let’s go to the next one. Can you move a different part of your body to the sounds of your name?”  John-ny, as he punched the air two times. We all repeated Johnny’s name and did his movement and called out “two” for the 2 sounds in Johnny. We thus went around the circle of children until all had a turn. One little girl, Sally, was shy. She whispered her name and didn’t want to share a movement. Thus she shrugged as in, “I don’t know”. Encouraging all to participate we used that shrug as her movement while we all said Sal-ly. A smile crept over Sally’s face as she slowly lifted her head to acknowledge our support.  It is not unusual for some children not to want to participate, however, it is almost impossible for them not to move in some way. Whatever small gesture is offered is what we use as their movement.

This simple activity of saying their names in syllables with movement has many advantages such as building self-esteem. Each child gets his or her place in the sun when recognized. Physically they are inventing how to move different parts of their body. Socially, they are cooperating and acknowledging each other when they listen and repeat a child’s name and movement. Academically they are learning syllables, counting, and categorizing. Children may separate into groups. All children with 3 syllables, 2 syllables and 1 syllable will be in three different groups. Creative movement isn’t only about movement. It is also about control. To count to five and take only five steps is difficult for many. Learning how to stop moving at a certain number takes conscious control. Children’s self-regulation blossoms without their even realizing it!

   We have seen children who have been doing this exercise over time increase their movement vocabulary and actively share their creative ideas. After only three sessions, one classroom teacher where my dance students teach excitedly told us that her children were becoming more focused and participated more actively in lessons throughout the school day. Creative movement helps children integrate abstract symbols and ideas in concrete ways helping them learn.

These days there are so many children who find it difficult to sit quietly so why not use their natural energy constructively. Children have so much to share and are happy to do so when encouraged. When their ideas and contributions are incorporated into the lessons they feel appreciated and accepted and learning becomes fun and meaningful.

Teresa Benzwie, Ed.D. mentors dance students from Temple University in the use of creative movement in the early childhood curriculum at the Barclay School in Cherry Hill, NJ. Her books  and/or videos include:  A Moving Experience: Dance for Lovers of Children and the Child Within, More Moving Experiences: Connecting the Arts, Feelings and Imagination,  as well as Alphabet Movers and Numbers on the Move: 1-2-3, Dance and Count with Me.


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