Parents, when you think of children taking part in music and movement, your initial thoughts might be of children running around, singing at the top of their lungs or banging noisily on an instrument. Many don’t realize that just like math, science, reading or writing, dance and movement play an important role in a child’s development and have many benefits.
Most of the children naturally enjoy dance and will be responsive to dance at an early age. As they get older, their love for dance and music will bring one of the most obvious benefits i:e the release of energy.
When children take part in music and movement activities, they are allowed to have fun, be creative and dance around and burn off some energy. When children participate in music and movement activities in a group, they also develop and refine their social skills. They learn to work as a team, they learn to share and they learn how to be creative in a group environment.
Dance and Movement play a vital role to enhance emotions, behaviour and motor skills. People with autism are often not aware of their mind and body and dance uses various bodily sensations to stimulate and re- establish the mind- body connection.
Activities that help build expressive skills through Dance
Mirroring, as the term suggests means copying or imitating. We learn many of our behaviours/ skills through imitation. Dance provides us a fun way to pick the skill of imitation and generalize it to other areas. So play some soft music or song of their choice and encourage them to imitate your actions or vice versa.
Tap and Dance
In this fun activity all you need to do is set aside some fun dancing time with your family or your child. Play an upbeat song and when you tap on an individual it is their turn to move while the rest remain motionless like statues. This activity builds on turn taking and learning to wait.
Touch a body part and dance
Through this activity you can teach different body parts, builds turn taking, wait time and improves flexibility. It also gives an opportunity to be creative. Just play some groovy music, tap on any body part and you have to use that body part to create different movements. For e:g if you touch your shoulders you could move them up and down or round and round.
Props again are a great medium to showcase one’s creativity and encourage pretend play in children. Using different props during a dancing session at home is helpful as they give individuals opportunities to explore their creativity.
Doing Animal crawls and Sounds
Teaching the names of animals through actually imitating sounds and movements provides a good learning pathway for children. In addition these activities also build muscle strength and improve flexibility.
What better medium to express emotions than Dance. Explore with your child or individual their expression of emotion. This can be through play where you say “I feel happy” show a card and do a movement while saying the sentence. Encourage your child to do the same. Play some happy upbeat music and continue doing that movement while saying the statement aloud. This also encourages children to draw an understanding of how to communicate their emotions in an appropriate manner.
Encouraging Eye contact and eye movements
Dance helps us improve flexibility of different parts of our body. People with autism often struggle with eye contact, which can in turn affect their ability to read facial expressions and communication through eye movements. Through movement we can encourage children to maintain eye contact by using props and eventually generalising it to other situations.