What some people don’t necessarily know about movement activities is that they not only aid fine and gross motor development, but also stimulate attention, cooperation, sensory processing, visual skills, speech and language development, and impulse control. For a parent of a special needs child, you know it is important to integrate all of these skills and help your child be the best he can be, and it’s incredible to know that rhythm and movement activities can help aid your child in so many areas.
Dance can be structured or free-form, and both styles have their own benefits. Free form allows for more creativity and self-expression, while structured dances work on following directions, listening skills, cooperation with the other dancers, and decreasing impulse control. Dances should be kept age appropriate and should always be fun and something a child can achieve. Spinning, jumping, hopping, tip-toe-ing, or galloping are great dance moves for a toddler, while an infant might benefit more from a Hokey Pokey variation in which the parents move the child’s limbs. Older children and adolescents might benefit from a dance to their favorite song.
Feeling a strong pulse is important for children, and enhancing movement activities with music is a great way to get kids motivated. Steady pulses encourage a regular gait. Children can clap or play an instrument to the beat to reinforce that rhythm. Rhythms also help establish routines, and children begin to know what to expect. Practice breaks in the rhythm by doing start and stop movement activities, such as a freeze dance. Rhythm also helps children establish the connection between sound and the vibration of movement, which is also great for sensory integration.
When doing movement activities for kids, using props is a great way to stimulate children and get them motivated. Use a parachute for large groups and help children move the parachute up and down. Add some soft balls on top of the parachute to make “popcorn” or watch them bounce. Children will likely want to grab the balls, so it is important to teach children order of routines and impulse control; after the parachute, let the children share the balls. Use scarves, musical instruments such as shakers or drums, hand puppets, ribbons, pom-poms, and other age-appropriate tools.