“What changes do I need to make to my early childhood dance and music classes as I move into physically distanced classes?”
So glad you asked!
While your first step should be to look into your locally mandated government policies and protocols, these are my top 5 Positive Reopening Strategies for Early Childhood Dance and Music programs!
Strategy #1: Create a Social Script!
A social “script” is a way of describing the knowledge a person must have in order to understand the social expectations in specific situations and the appropriate behavioural responses.
Social scripts are very supportive of young children when they move into new situations, as they reduce anxieties due to the child being able to anticipate the demands they will face and understand the desired response.
To help reduce stress as you move into restarting your classes, create a social script story or video for your students!
Your social script should go over the routines and expectations in the dance/music studio while physically distancing. Create it using a story structure in the first person to engage the children.
E.g. “When I get to dance class, I know the first thing I need to do is use the hand sanitizer to clean my hands.”
Provide caregivers with your social script in advance and provide them with instructions on how they can use the social script and role play to support their child in learning and understanding the new guidelines and routines for class.
E.g. After reading/watching your studio social script, caregivers can have their child act out the social script using a favourite doll or toy.
This type of guided play allows children to practice new routines in a safe space at home to supports positive associations with new social skillsbefore arriving to your studio.
This practice will increase confidence and reduce anxiety about returning to class for both children and caregivers!
Strategy #2: Caregivers in the Classroom
The truth is, developmentally, most young children are not ready to follow the required new additional Covid protocols successfully without the 1-on-1 assistance of a caregiver.
Young children naturally test boundaries and make mistakes in the classroom. This is to be expected and is developmentally normal in early childhood!
As teachers, our job is to TEACH children these important social skills/classroom skills during the preschool years. However, Covid adds significant health risks to our classrooms.
I generally recommend early childhood teachers to use the, “Age Minus 2 Rule” for the number of instructions children can independently follow/remember. This means the majority of 2 year olds developmentally need 1-on-1 assistance to participate in activities successfully.
Teachers also have to expect that many children will have regressed a bit developmentally based on the impacts of lock down. Children may display behaviours we don’t normally see in class or certain behaviours will occur at an increased rate/heightened state.
It is unfair to the children and the teacher to only have one adult in the classroom supporting all the children’s needs.
This is why I recommend having caregivers stay and participate in classes with their children ages 2-5, particularly the first few weeks back to programming.
You may find in a few classes your 4 and 5 year olds are ready to be in class independently again once the new routines have been established and the children feel “safe”. We MUST honour children’s emotional needs first and foremost during this time.
Another bonus of having the caregivers in the classroom with you is they learn the new expectations and routines with their child, which allows them to become your partner in teaching their child the new routines/expectations and reviewing them at home.
Having caregivers in class also protects you from having to discipline/correct a child who does not follow the expectations.
Children often naturally push boundaries when they don’t feel safe, so we must expect these behaviours in our classroom during Covid. Children also tend to feel safer when their primary caregiver implements boundaries.Again, this supports you in remaining a positive role model in their life and being a teaching team with your caregivers.
Strategy #3: Protocols & Policies
Be sure you have considered what you will do when a child breaks a protocol (it’s going to happen) and communicate this clearly to caregivers.
All of us are going back into reopening with a heightened level of anxiety.
Fight or flight responses with be increased for ALL teachers, caregivers, and children.
While you will need to address any violations of protocols swiftly and consistently (like you would any behaviour issue in a preschool class) be sure YOU have scripted and practiced your own responses so you can remain calm and positive in the moment.
By practicing this yourself, you will ensure you ACT positively and kindly and do not REACT and potentially come down too hard on a child.
Also be sure you have clear policies on what will happen when a child break protocol. I would advise communicating this to caregivers not as an “if” but a “when” (it is going to happen, everyone needs to accept that). Ensure caregivers understand this is normal for this age group.
It is imperative to avoid punishing a child, as this will only traumatize the child and they may begin to fear your class. Consistent actions need to be taken each time, but delivered in a gentle way, that acknowledges young children take time to learn new social skills.
Once you have your new policies in place, I would advise having caregivers sign off that they agree to these policies and understand if their child simply is not able/ready to follow new protocols they will need to either move into a parented class or wait a while longer for their child to return to your program. Again, we want to avoid negative re-entry experiences for children as much as possible.
This is also why I also recommend having some pre-recorded classes or continue to offer a small number of zoom classes for children who are just not going to be successful at physical distancing in the classroom.
Strategy #4: Repeat, Repeat, Repeat!
As you move back into physically distanced preschool classes repetition is going to be your BEST FRIEND!
Repetition is always needed in early childhood classes to support learning and success, but right now in particular you are going to want to ensure you have astrong, clear, consistent routine each class that children can easily follow.
I recommend creating a visual schedule for little ones to have in the classroom and to send a copy home.
Visual Schedules are a great reminder to your students of where you are going and what to expect/is expected.
Check back later this month for a NEW Early Childhood Dance Resource Package I am launching in partnership with Dance Ed Tips that will include a variety of early childhood teaching resources, including a visual schedule!
Try to keep your lesson plans consistent for 3-4 weeks at a time, with small amounts of novelty added each week to keep the little ones engaged. It’s okay if you repeat Freeze Dance each class! Just try to add a new variation to continue to the fun and learning.
If you are looking for some new freeze dance variations, check out the Intellidance® Freeze Dance Favorites Playlist over on Spotify!
Be sure you are directly teaching to your new class routines at the beginning of the session.
“All right friends, we have completed our warm up. I saw all of you really focusing on staying in your own dance space. Great work! I know that is takes a lot of effort. Who can tell me, what do we do next in dance class? Look at our picture schedule to give you a clue…”
A lot of specific praise needs to be given that lets the children know HOW they are doing a great job following new routines. Acknowledge the effort this requires!
“Wow! I saw all my dancers walk directly to their own dance bubble quickly and quietly without touching anything! That takes a lot of focus. Great job dancers!”
Finally, use strategic questioning to help children become active participants in learning your new classroom routines.
“Dancers, now that we have finished dancing with our scarves, where do we need to put them?” (Answer: Back in my own prop bin!)
Strategy #5: Focus on FUN!
As you move back into physically distanced classes with young children keep it FUN and keep the learning PLAY based!
The wonderful thing about children is they tend to be completely content to follow along and meet our expectations when we can allow them to respond at their preferred modality of expression…PLAY!
Think of playful games and imagery you can use to keep your little ones in their physically distanced spaces in the classroom.
Maybe you can create a series of Island themed lesson plans with each child dancing, singing, and playing on their own special island! Maybe next you are all astronauts, each with their own special dancing planet!
Physically distanced boxes only become burdensome when we narrow our minds and imaginations to be as small as a 6-foot box. Challenge yourself to look at your curriculum creatively and playfully when creating physically distanced adaptations of favourite activities!
Play will also be key to helping your little ones deal with their grief related to the changes they have experienced the last few months, but don’t really understand.
Play is not only the way children learn, but it is also how they heal.
In fact, I believe that play and JOY will be key to our own healing process and the resilience as early childhood educators as we adapt and evolve our practices to a new normal.
Make time to laugh. Make time to play. Focus on FUN!