10 Ways a Dance Party Helps Children Learn

What if a child could learn cursive by writing the letters with her whole body? Or remember the capital of India by doing Bollywood dances? Sounds more fun than sitting behind a desk, right? Turns out it’s also more effective, too.


Studies show that learning by physical movement—implicit learning—sticks with us longer than explicit learning, such as memorizing facts, says Unity Stage’s ArtsAction coordinator Kate Scott, who led a Parent Workshop on the relationship between movement and learning at Jackson Heights’ P.S. 149Q in December. The workshop was one of a series of seven workshops funded by Councilman Danny Dromm and held by Community Education Council District 30.

At the workshop, Scott explained how sitting for long stretches of time increases fatigue, decreases learning ability, and can lead to discipline problems. Taking a break to dance or just move their bodies can help kids refresh their brains and increase their capacity to learn when they return to the lesson, she said. Movement increases blood vessels that allow for the delivery of oxygen, water, and glucose—”brain food”—to the brain. Plus, movement also helps long-term memory, added Scott. The more multi-sensory interactions experienced when learning something, the more synapses are created in the brain.

Scott demonstrated to the parents at the workshop what she and other Unity Stage teaching artists are showing kids in their ArtsAction program by leading them in various dance styles and movement improvisation activities. ArtsAction focuses on fitness through the performing arts in lunch-time or recess sessions combining music and movement—including Bollywood dance, marching band drill-downs, salsa, hip-hop, and body percussion—in public schools in Western Queens. So far, the program is at six schools and helping more than 6,000 students in grades K through 6, many of whom have only one gym period per week and are not able to go outside to play during winter lunchtime recess.

Interested in helping your children learn through movement? To schedule a PTA-meeting demonstration of the ArtsAction program and to discuss your school’s needs, contact Unity Stage Director Sofia Landon Geier at unitystagecompany@gmail.com.

Or, help your children learn at home with these ideas from Scott’s workshop.

1. Develop creative problem solving skills. Challenge your child to get from one side of the room to the other without stepping on any cracks between floor tiles. When reading, ask her movement-related questions, such as, How many different ways can Winnie the Pooh get up the tree to get honey?

2. Learn new vocabulary. Moving their arms side to side while repeating horizontal and moving arms up and down while saying vertical will help kids associate the right term with the right definition. Try the same technique with north, south, east, west, and even left and right.

3. Identify and express emotions. Listen to fast, slow, loud, soft, and more styles of music and ask your child to verbalize how each makes him feel.

4. Remember facts. Show your child how to do native dance styles while memorizing the capitals of various countries, such as doing Bollywood movements while repeating New Delhi, India.

5. Memorize spelling words. Have your child move her arms to write each letter of a word in order to associate the movements with the correct spelling.

6. Learn cursive letters. Tell your child to write each letter of the alphabet with his whole body.

7. Visualize math problems. Physically group people together to solve addition and subtraction problems.

8. Overcome frustration or being “stuck” on a homework problem. Get kids to shake their bodies or take a one-song dance break and they will come back refreshed.

9. Understand different cultures. Tune in to NPR on 90.7 or 93.9 to find world music programs to listen to with your child and let your child try to identify the culture. Discuss what kind of movement could accompany the music.

10. Create social skills. Add music and dance into your everyday lives and special occasions to help children feel like part of a group.

For more information on upcoming Parent Workshops sponsored by Councilman Danny Dromm and held by Community Education Council District 30, contact cec30@schools.nyc.gov.

Ellen Sturm Niz is an editor and writer living, parenting, and working in Jackson Heights, Queens. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Google+.

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