Categotry Archives: Schools

Ofsted Influences

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The new Ofsted inspection framework draft was published in January 2019 and is currently in review. I might be getting ahead, but it’s important that we begin to think about how dance in schools can be influenced by it and how our extra curricular, cross-curricular and dance for physical activity classes will support schools on providing excellent dance provision. Although dance is a small part of the many things schools do, we want what we do to make a difference, not just to participants, but to the school as a whole. We are already doing great things within schools in Kent, this is just another way to improve what we do. 

You can find the inspection framework here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/education-inspection-framework-draft-for-consultation

Currently inspections do not focus heavily on sport in general, especially in short inspections, but they do look at cultural development and dance could be an indicator of positive participation in cultural activity. Schools can try international dance styles relating to the diverse backgrounds of pupils within the school (read this blog post about when we went to Greenvale Infants and danced familiar dances for pupils such as traditional Polish and Slavic dances), dance that celebrates National Days such as May Day (May Pole Dance or Morris Dance) or historical dance styles taught within our Educating Dance classes (Tudor Dance for example).

Extra curricular provision is something already considered by inspectors, (normally in relation to Pupil Premium and Sport Premium budgets) and this is something we can easily add to the school day. Dance clubs can be varied and tailored to the specific needs of the school. For example, if girls are not responding to PE within school time or if they have lower attendance of clubs, a confidence building dance club is perfect. Alternatively, if the school wants to encourage creativity, a Creative Dance Club (EYFS – KS2) or Choreography Club (KS3 – 4) would support this aim.

In terms of evidencing value for money, two of our company aims are

  • To provide quality, well organised, accessible dance opportunities for all.
  • To provide paid and voluntary work for dance professionals and to increase the recognition of dance teaching in the community as a career

Our pricing policy reflects this so schools know they can get high quality dance clubs at reasonable prices. We even have deals for long term bookings and MATs who book for multiple schools. Schools are able to make a profit from our classes easily, if they choose to, and this can be put towards other things. For more information about using PE and Sport Premium Funding for dance please read One Dance UK’s funding document, https://www.onedanceuk.org/programme/children-young-people/dance-in-schools/ and, if you would like to know how we can help specifically to make clubs successful, please see our blog post.

In her speech at Youth Sport Trust 2019 Conference, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Speilman, admits that currently inspections are heavily tilted towards data and says that the new framework will look at what matters to children, “What are they being taught and how? How are they being set up to succeed in the next stage of their lives?” Read the transcript here, https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/amanda-spielman-at-the-youth-sport-trust-2019-conference

At TRS, the content of our classes, what children are being taught, has always been extremely important. We plan with the individual participants in mind, use school themes and topics and make sure participants learn best practice and teach safe dance technique that is appropriate to the type of class. Our dance teachers are not observed during Ofsted inspections as they aren’t faculty members, but that doesn’t stop the odd inspector enjoying a moment watching a happy dance class and it doesn’t mean the TRS Teachers aren’t working to high standards all the time. It does mean that our teachers are not teaching for tests and have to freedom to educate the whole child, preparing them for further dance education or life in general. There are a lot of blogs out there about how dance makes great people!

We must also look at how school teachers can provide great dance lessons during school time. Although we provide Educating Dance classes for schools, it is sometimes more appropriate for a school to provide training for their staff so they can deliver appropriate and effective dance classes themselves. In our training, Dance: A Cross-curricular Approach and Dance in the EYFS, we provide school staff with the tools and confidence to do this. Our cross-curricular flow chart gives them the framework they need to design and deliver high quality dance lessons. Dance can be a fantastic tool for improving how the curriculum is taught and is excellent for a thematic, creative approach.

In terms of monitoring, evaluation and impact,  the Educating Dance teachers are always happy to provide feedback and we can support the school on this. We also ask class participants for feedback at least once a year. Our CPD for school staff can also have an additional mentoring side to support staff and the SLT with evaluating progress. All of the TRS Teachers are up to date with the relevant legislation and this makes it easy for schools to ensure they have up to date records as well.

To find out more about the new framework and the EYFS in general, see Nursery World’s review of the plans.

https://www.nurseryworld.co.uk/nursery-world/news/1166634/education-inspection-framework-2019-key-changes-for-early-years

It is no secret that dance classes can provide for broad and rich learning. A varied approach to dance including physical activity, learning and development is key to a quality dance lesson. There are plenty of ideas within our blog, but we are just a phone call or email away if anyone would like advice about dance in schools. I have a passion for excellent dance education for all and, as Director of The Right Step, I’m able to pass this passion and my experience onto the TRS Teachers. We are here to help the schools (inc. EYFS settings), and other organisations, we work with meet the aims set by governing bodies such as Ofsted as well as aims set within schools themselves.

Book Week 2019

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It’ taken a while to get this published because we’ve been collating lots of bits from some of the different TRS Teachers involved. Georgie has very kindly put everything together and here’s what she’s said…

We had some lovely Educating Dance Book Week sessions this year at TRS, they even went over 2 weeks! We went to Balfour Infants School in Rochester and St Michael’s Primary School in Chatham and St Mary’s Primary School in Gillingham. TRS teachers Katie, Steph and I have told us about their time spent at these schools.

St Michael’s Primary

Georgie: I love it when book week comes around each year. It’s always exciting to hear what stories you’ll be telling through dance with the participants. So, when I found out that St Michael’s wanted do Myths and Legends, I was very excited!  I decided to focus on Greek myths and legends, their hero’s, Gods and Goddesses. Especially Hercules! We went around the room and explored 4 different characters, Zeus, Hera, Poseidon and Hercules. Coming up with different movements like showing off our muscles, throwing lightning bolts and going swimming in the sea, for each one. I then taught a short routine where we told a simple story of Hercules through dance which the children picked up really well and really got into character! The last part of the lessons involved the students creating their own myth as a class for us to tell through dance. They chose a main character, a side kick and a villain. We used the likes of Medusa and Cerberus for these, which the children found highly amusing from the pictures I showed. We then put all the movement together to create a whole dance. The children were brilliant, so enthusiastic and it was great to be involved with these classes.

 

Balfour Infants School

Katie: Handa’s Surprise takes you on a delicious and mischievous journey to Kenya, full of colourful fruit and naughty animals! We had fun pretending to be each animal, and the children remembered all of the animals from the book and had some brilliant movements. It was like we were on a real safari! The children enjoyed pretending to be specific animals when they went on a parade wearing different animal masks. With a beanbag on their heads, the children walked to their friends without dropping the beanbag, as they imagined how Handa would carry her basket full of fruit to her friend in Kenya. We learnt some tribal dancing and then made up our own dance to tell the story of all the animals taking the fruit from Handa’s basket. We enjoyed imagining that we had stolen our own favourite fruit at the end! Year R had more energy than all of the animals in the animal kingdom and were an absolute joy to work with!

 

Becca: I took some photos of my classes with Year 1 and 2.

 

St Mary’s Primary

Georgie: I’ve been to St Mary’s Primary a few times now and I couldn’t wait to return this year. It was especially nice as there were 3 TRS teachers going, Steph, Becca and I. Which meant we really got to work together to come up with ideas for the children across years R-6. The theme we were given was space, which is a theme I’ve done before and thoroughly enjoyed so I was looking forward to teaching this subject again.  I taught year 2 first, we used different shapes to for our warm up, big planets, small planets, rockets, shooting starts all while exploring and walking through space. We then created a giant rocket shape using everyone in the class! The children then chose an alien to recreate in their groups, firstly by looking at what they looked like and then copy to create their starting pose. After that they looked at ways their alien could move to create a short phrase with their groups. The children were extremely imaginative with this and really enjoyed it! We then cooled down by travelling back down to earth. The second group I taught was year 5 and we started off with an astronaut narrative, we put on our space suits, went up in the rocket and flew around space before landing. I then gave half the group a paper plate with the planet written on it. They then had to quickly get themselves into the right order from the sun, and start circling around to make the solar system. Once they had started the other half then traveled through space exploring the planets. They then switched over so they could experience both sides. We then looked at constellations and stars. I gave the groups some time to recreate some well known ones, then set them on the task of creating some of their own. They used letters, levels, different body parts, all sorts of ideas to create some really unique looking constellations as a class. Finally we cooled down by using some of the shapes and ideas from both the solar system and the constellations. 5 leaders chose their favourite shape to do in super slow motion. It was a lovely session and the children were so enthusiastic which was great!

 

Steph: I went along to St Mary’s Primary for Book Week 2019. This years theme was Space. In year 1’s classes we took our first steps in space, using the fact that there is no gravity in space so we took very slow large steps around the room. We then discovered Alien’s. Like the very hungry caterpillar the alien’s loved to eat everything in sight too!

In year 4 we stretched into out astronaut suits and checked that they were safe for space and how we would move in the space suits. We looked out of our rocket windows to see what we could find in space, planets, aliens, the moon! We landed on the moon to explore moon dust about how it feels and how we could make the moon dust dance in our hands. We then spotted the different planets and made the shapes of the planets. We orbited around the sun by rolling, turning and spinning! Year 4 then created their own planets in groups deciding whether they were slow or fast planets. From there we also looked at star constellations and recreated a few, and then made our own! The participants used their bodies to connect their stars and they also came up with a name for each one.

For year 5 I made an envelope for each planet and each one contained short facts about the planet. Year 5 then got into groups and using the facts the explored the planets through movement. We discovered that every planet is unique and that meant that each of the dances were just as unique too!

It was a fantastic few days, both myself and the participants thoroughly enjoyed it!

 

 

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Inspiration April

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This months our social media focus is Inspiration. We’re going along the lines of April, new and inspiring things! With this in mind, we thought we’d share what inspiration we use to plan some of our dance classes and Georgie has written a blog about it. It’s just a little introduction to the many things the TRS Teachers get up to, but it might be helpful when planning a dance lesson. Enjoy!

Written by Georgie, Manager of TRS South Kent

There are so many things you can use for your inspiration for dance classes, from the style of dance to the class topic of the term. Here at TRS we follow guidelines to help us both in our Educating Dance classes as well as our usual dance clubs.

 

You can start with the learning styles to develop your inspiration for your class. These include auditory, visual, kinesthetic (practical/learn by doing) and read write. This will help the dance teacher appeal to all pupils and their various learning styles. We also explore social inspiration and tactile inspiration alongside this. 

Visual is a popular one to use in our classes by our TRS facilitators. Using images throughout the lessons allows those who are visual learners to really grasp the idea. You can use images such as the stages of growth for a plant, the water cycle as well as lots more. Also using videos from online can be very useful and participants respond well to them.

 

For auditory inspiration you can use music, perhaps a particular song that you like or think that the participants will respond well too. Sounds like rain forest, the sea etc. would also work or you can even use some of the participants to create the sounds for the dance, using instruments, instruments they’ve made themselves or body parts like in Gumboot Dancing (photo on the right).

Tactile can be very exciting to use as inspiration, especially for younger ones. You can use different materials and express how they feel through movement, furry, shiny, slimy, rugged, squishy and so on. You can also bring in objects for the participants to explore and study like historical artefacts. Props are also used in many TRS classes and can come in all shapes and sizes, whether you buy pompoms or make your own jingle sticks, these are a great to get everyone involved. A TRS favourite is our tactile scarf. It is made from lots of different materials all tied together to make one giant scarf.

There are also a lot of practical ways to find inspiration for your dance class. These are experienced things so they are often things that are experienced elsewhere and brought into class in other ways such as current events. Fireworks (the bonfire flames in the photo on the left) is a fun theme. You may want to use certain holidays like Easter or even what’s happening around us now. For example, when The Greatest Showman came out everyone was so inspired and excited to use the ideas and music.

Styles of dance can be used as inspiration, you maybe looking at a world theme and you could explore different types of dance from around the world such as Latin, line dancing or Bollywood. Practical inspiration can be as closed or open as you want it to be when using it in your lessons or for your inspiration and it can be shown through other sorts of inspiration that is auditory, visual or tactile. 

Book Week is a great opportunity for us to use read/write inspiration. Books are always a useful tool.

Other ways to find inspiration can include things like focusing on a particular area you want to develop with your participants, for example motor skills, balance or extension. 

So as you can see there are so many ways to find inspiration for your dance class. You can also use a combination of these ideas, especially the learning styles as that way you can ensure that all your participants are gaining from the lesson. TRS teachers will always use a combination in their lessons. Start off with a focus and then you can extend and explore further.

We also love hearing your ideas at TRS, they inspire and challenge us as teachers and that always makes our classes interesting and enjoyable.

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Moon Zoom!

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In celebration of Science Week (this week) and Book Week (last week) I’m going to share the ideas behind one of my schemes of work, Moon Zoom! Something helpful and useful for school teachers and dance teachers looking to plan a cross-curricular dance class.

Moon Zoom was designed for Year 1 at Miers Court Primary School. They had been reading ‘Man on the Moon’ by Simon Bartram so this was the inspiration for the dance class. I added jumping as a dance focus and we talked about stamina and various health benefits throughout the term as well. You can read the original blog post here: http://www.therightstepdc.co.uk/2016/12/15/moon-zoom/ 

When planning a cross-curricular dance class, we (the Educating Dance teachers) use a process that’s very similar to that of a school teacher. We do start with a topic brainstorm and some research though. The schools give us such a varied selection of sometimes challenging subjects that we need to make sure we’re on the right track! 

My learning aims and objectives were broken down and differentiated before I continued my plan. It was important to me that I taught the class some facts about travelling to the moon, but I didn’t want to destroy the magic of the story either! I also wanted pupils to learn about choreography, experiment with how their body moves (the different ways to jump!) and to use their imagination. Other outcomes included a class dance that would be performed to friends and family at the end of term. 

Once I had the learning aims and objectives I could get on with piecing together the ideas I’d had in my earlier brain storm. I talk about these in the original blog post so I won’t go into detail, but this is the fun bit for us dance artists and we do often get carried away. To help me I had the TRS cross-curricular flow chart (this helps us structure the plan as a whole), I knew from training years ago how to structure a dance class and I also included starters and plenaries, important elements for lessons in schools. 

The first few lessons were mostly for exploring the theme, but we used almost all of the dance moves learnt and created in these lessons for the final dance as well. One of the things we did was a journey dance. I love improvisation journeys and my blog, Improvisation, says more about them. This improvisation was for our warm up from the second lesson and it was about how Bob (the astronaut) went from his house to the moon. Along the way the dancers had to show how Bob could cycle, click the engine on and move as though it were rumbling beneath them and look out at the stars in all the space. 

As the lessons progressed we included short rehearsal times so that the class could remember what they had done before. As they were year 1 I included a lot of improvisation so rehearsal was mostly to remember sequences rather than movements. 

I also introduced Year 1 to choreography. Although I do choreography from Year R, this group hadn’t done any before. We did alien movements, something deliberately very abstract, and I gave them lots of pictures from the book for inspiration. They only had to choreograph one movement each and I structured the main task (choreograph a motif) into lots of short tasks to make it easier for them. I was very pleased with the result and Year 1 were very proud of themselves. 

The final few sessions were for structuring the dance. This involved putting together all the elements learnt and rehearsed in previous weeks. Each group performed separately, but also as a whole class within the dance. There was even a gigantic rocket shape and a bow to finish! 

As well as teaching cross-curricular dance, we provide CPD for school teachers to give them the confidence and tools to teach really good cross-curricular dance classes themselves. Find out more here: CPD for School Staff

 

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Hoopsiration

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I’ve been looking at Pinterest a bit more recently and I stumbled upon lots of ideas for using hoops for movement play and dance. You might think that hoops are just for swinging around your hips or limbs, but there are lots of things to be done with them. Not just big, gross motor skills movements, there are a few ideas for more intricate movements and team building too! Hoops are not just for children and some of the ideas below can be adapted for our Active Armchairs classes. Hoops were very popular in the past and this could be a nostalgic prop that leads to lots of great conversation.

You can get hoops online and in many toy shops. They range in price and some of the more expensive ones even count how many times you swing it around. For the following ideas you just need simple circles, but do try and get some variation (different colours and sizes are great for tactile stimulation) and, if you’re using them with lots of children a lot of the time I’d recommend sturdy ones or you will end up replacing them very soon when they bend. If you want to be extra exciting you could get light up hoops, glow in the dark hoops or glitter hoops (Amazon). You can also buy travel hoops. I’ve not tried them myself, but they might be useful for a traveling dance teacher who already has a lot of props in the car!
 

Hoops and Tape

You can make hoops into all sorts of shapes, both on the floor or standing up, and you can keep them there by using tape. A wobbly climbing frame can be good for an adventure dance (see my improvisation blog for more on this) and has an extra element to the ones played with outside as they have to be careful not to squash it or wobble it too much. Tape the hoops together in a few places and use one on the floor to keep it sturdy for something 3d or make patterns on the floor for games like hop scotch, Lilly pads or islands.

Magic Doors

I love a magic door adventure… they can go anywhere and any when, they can go to real or imaginary places, they can take you through as you or someone/thing else and they can take one person or a team. You can use lots of different things to make a magic door because you just need to create a shape to walk through. Hoops are great if you want to send the whole class through because the teacher can hold them on their own and send themselves through afterwards. You could use a hoop as a floor magic door or a standing one. You could have a different colour hoop for a different adventure.

A similar idea for a circus theme that I just found on Pinterest… Fire Hoops! Decorate the hoop with fire shaped paper and dancers climb, jump or squeeze through. https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/222224562848847865/ 

Pick Up Hoop

This is good for in a classroom, during Active Armchairs, in small group time or in a hall based dance class because it’s very adaptable. It is also good for all ages and abilities. Each pair or group has a hoop and they sit cross legged around it. The dancers have to work together to lift the hoop, stand and end with the hoop above their heads. This can be made more difficult by using fewer and fewer fingers, starting from laying down or using a time limit to speed them up. It can be made simpler by starting from a crouch or chair and using more fingers.

Hoola Circuits

Create stations around the room as you would in ‘normal’ circuits. Different hoops could mean different things and you can position the hoops on lots of ways to signify what needs to be done at each station. Here are a few ideas to get you started, but circuits is always easily adapted to the class theme.
 
Mini lilly pads, excellent for core strength and gross motor skills (position the hoops on the floor and dancers frog hopfrom one to the other)
Hoop spin, great for hand eye co-ordination and fine motor skis (dancers hold hoops in one hand and stand back, spin the hoops and try to keep them upright)
Climb through, good for co-ordination and heart rate excitment (how many times can the dancer climb through their hoop)

Hungry Hippos or Blackhole Rescue, use this for core strength and co-ordination (put a pile of bean bags or similar objects/toys into the hoop that lies on the floor, put some tape on the floor a little way away. Dancers put their feet on the tape, crawl out to plank to collect a bean bag one at a time and put each bean behind them.)

Circle Dance

Not the circle dance we offer to care homes, this is literally choreograph a dance about circles! This idea can also be used at any age, for any ability. Use various techniques to help the dancers create movements that are circular both with and without the hoops, in them and around them, holding onto them and not. The circular movements are likely to be large and therefore developing gross motor skills. This is great for improving muscles needed for writing.
 

Try sequencing the movements into a motif and then developing them into a full choreography. The hoops make great backdrops and can be positioned on the floor to encourage interesting ways of travelling between motifs. There is a lot of fun to be had with this idea and all the ideas above could be used yo influence he choreography.

I’m going to be writing more blogs about props ideas, but in the meantime, if you want to read more about props you can see our Facebook page (Each month we share some ideas about props on Facebook) or click on the ‘props’ link below and it will show all of our blogs relating to props.

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Motor Skills Part Three

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The third and final blog post in my motor skills series… a few things to try!  If you missed them, please check out the previous blogs posts…
 
Section One: Gross Motor Skills 
Section Two: Fine Motor Skills
Section Three: How to Maintain and Improve Motor Skills With Dance (this section)
 
Some things to try! 
 

Use a giant elastic in a circle. The fact that you’re dancing as a team gets everyone excited and they forget themselves. This generally increases the size of movement at any age or ability and therefore is great for gross motor skills. The fact you’re also holding onto the elastic is great for strengthening fingers and, therefore, fine motor skills too. 

 
There are plenty of things to do with a giant elastic, but for this purpose you could put some music on with a simple beat. Gently bounce the elastic to the beat as a group, as you continue change the movement you’re doing. You could try up, down, up, down, bicycle arms, swaying side to side and much more. The picture is of some of the TRS Teachers in Educating Dance training using the giant elastic to create large shapes. 
 

Swap hands! In dance class we always do things both sides. It often feels odd not to because one side will be stronger or more flexible than the other. With the hands this is known as Bilateral Integration and this can be improved by doing a prop exercise with the other hand too! For example, if you’re using scarves, encourage the group to swap hands half way through.
 
Lycra is great for resistance. A fun game for children and able adults… as a group, hold the lycra at the edges and pull it taught, but not completely tight. One person goes underneath and stretches the lycra in interesting shapes. You can also do a similar thing as a group sitting on the floor and making shapes with legs. 
 
The Smallest Movement Counts  in Active Armchairs and this is applicable whenever you’re working on fine motor skills. Small movements and gestures are great for brain breaks in the classroom at school or for a few minutes of hand training in a care home. I mentioned finger counts in my second blog post, but there are plenty of other things that can be done. You can try tapping each of the fingers on the thumb, putting songs on with simple rhythms and moving fingers in different ways or remembering and talking about signifying gestures such as pointing and waving. 

Egg and Spoon races can be achieved whilst standing or sitting. It just takes some imagination. The idea for egg and spoon races in Active Armchairs came from Steph during the Age of Creativity Festival last year. The theme was partnership and the egg and spoon passing sprung from that. 

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these ideas and have learnt at least a little something. The plan is for 2019 to be the year of useful, informative and inspiring blog posts so please keep an eye out and see our News Page for more. 

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Motor Skills Part Two

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The second part in the motor skills blog series, fine motor skills. If you’re behind here are some links…

Section One: Intro and Gross Motor Skills
Section Two: Fine Motor Skills (This section)
Section Three: How to Maintain and Improve Motor Skills With Dance

Fine Motor Skills: these are smaller movements making use of smaller muscles, most commonly in the hands. Movement examples would include clenching a fist, wiggling toes or using tools such as cutlery or a computer mouse and keyboard.

In dance props are our main source of support in fine motor skill development and maintenance, but there are things that can be done without. When working with children in an Educating Dance (cross-curricular) class small gestures are wonderful at conveying meaning. I used them in our Dinosaurs themed classes when doing a warm up about excavation and fossils (see photo below). A dance club as a whole can also be a good opportunity for practice as participants often have to get changed and therefore use buttons, buckles and laces.

In our Active Armchairs classes we do the finger count in our first warm up dance. This is predominantly about the opening the  lungs (we shout our counts as the fingers open), but it is also great for fine motor skills, the circulatory system and generally waking bodies and minds for the class. It is one of the few essential movements that are found in Active Armchairs sessions, though the TRS Teachers still put their own spin on it.

Props make development and maintenance of fine motor skills much easier. Simply holding a relatively small object is beneficial.  Squeezing balls or egg shakers (the TRS Teachers have hundreds of these between them) takes the benefit to the next stage. I have a fun trick with scarfs where by you screw it up into one hand, hiding it away, then slowly open it to make a rose.

Fine motor skills, like gross motor skills, are key to freedom and self worth, but in different ways. Fine motor skills allow someone to press buttons, write and draw, point and make signifying gestures or sign. Without them, as with gross motor skills the ability to perform simple tasks is lost.  Children have a sense of excitement and pride when they receive a pen licence. An adult who can write down or draw their thoughts is able to express themselves artistically.

The next section is How to Maintain and Improve Motor Skills With Dance.

Motor Skills Part One

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Our ‘Pull up a chair’ campaign is in full swing. It’s January so, on social media, we’re exploring the benefits of dance for older adults. As part of that I though I’d share the motor skills blog that’s been in the pipeline for a while now. Not just about adults, but it is about a huge benefit of dance…

Motor skills involve actions using muscles and, as this is an inherent part of dance, it is important that we know about them and how our teaching can affect them. There are two types of motor skill and both are very important for development and maintaining freedom. In this blog I’m going to explore each type, how we use them and how props can be used to great effect. It got a little bit detailed so I’ve split the post into three sections.

Section One: Gross Motor Skills (this section)
Section Two: Fine Motor Skills
Section Three: How to Maintain and Improve Motor Skills With Dance

 

Gross Motor Skills: these require the larger muscles, whole body movements and core stabilising. Movement examples include walking, jumping and rolling as well as hand eye co-ordination such as throwing or catching.

The gross motor skills are easily developed in a dance class with children and young people and when our youngest participants are left to move as they choose (see my improvisation blog), they will naturally choose to move in a way that develops their movements in the way they need. For example, 2 and 3 year olds can often be found with their heads on the floor whilst standing. This is a key part of their development and they do it without encouragement.

In Active Armchairs we need to give a little encouragement and provide opportunities for gross motor skill use. This is because the majority of our participants have reduced mobility, they might be nervous to produce large movements or they don’t believe they can do any large movements. A key part of Active Armchairs is that the smallest movement counts, but we still give everyone the choice to use larger movements if they feel able that day. For the majority of movements choices and alternatives are given. For example, an arm circle can be performed from the elbow or wrists. Some people prefer to just use the shoulders, but not the arm.

We use props to encourage people to do larger movements and develop their gross motor skills. For example, when giving someone a scarf they almost always wave it. This is a movement that involves the larger muscles of the arm and, even when sitting, core muscles are needed for stabilisation as well. The scarf often makes people do larger movements than they would without it and they rarely realise this is the case because they are enjoying themselves. We are always careful to keep an eye out for fatigue though because using props for gross motor skills is tiring. 

Other examples of props that have a similar effect are large pieces of material used for partner work (see photo), giant elastics, balls and bean bags (for throwing and catching rather than hand work), rhythm sticks and parachutes (see photo above of Active Armchairs at Age UK Folkestone).

Why are gross motor skills important?

They are needed for everyday movements such as standing, walking, getting dressed and lifting a kettle. These are known as Activities for Daily Living (ADLs) and are essential to keeping freedom. As someone’s ability to undertake the ADLs decreases, so often does their freedom. This can be devastating as it can affect choice, individuality, self care and self confidence. Gross motor skill maintenance is a key part of our social dance classes. Often, by the time we are in Active Armchairs, much of this ability has been lost. There are fun things that can be done though. The third section of this motor skills series has lots more ideas for you.

Gross motor skills are also key for some things that might be a little more unexpected such as writing (click to read my blog about ‘The Dancing Day’ for more about sky writing), screwing a lid on a jar or using scissors. This is because it is important to maintain the correct posture when completing these tasks. If gross motor skills aren’t developed early on, problems with writing and therefore academia can follow. At the same time, gross motor skill development can have a positive affect on handwriting.

The next section of my blog will be about Fine Motor Skills.

 

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2018 Roundup

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We have been busy bees in the office in the run up to Christmas. As well as celebrations taking place, we’ve had newsletters and Christmas cards to design, print and send. We’re feeling very Christmassy already and can’t wait for Christmas jumper day on Monday (look out for the photos!)

Our newsletter has been going out in all of our classes recently and is also found in the many Christmas cards that Becca and I sent on Monday. We hope everyone who has had the chance has enjoyed reading it, but I’m sure there are others out there who don’t have one so… we have included a copy below for everyone can have a read. Enjoy! Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year!

 

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Improvisation

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The TRS Teachers are always excited by new ideas and trying new things. We recently had our sharing days and the TRS Teachers met for the All Hands Meeting on Monday too so this has been even more apparent.
 
Improvisation is the term used for spontaneously moving. The movement isn’t choreographed, it is usually very creative and it almost always leads to an unexpected and exciting outcome.

Why Use Improvisation?

Improvisation can be used just for fun. In our Educating Dance and creative dance classes we often use improvisation to help find movements around a theme that can be used later in choreography. We can also use improvisation or brain health.
 
It has been proven in both recent and quite old studies that dance is great for brain health. I think the first time I realised just how good dance is for the brain was when I read ‘Use it or Lose it: Dance Makes you Smarter’ by Richard Powers. A fascinating article about a major study that found dance questioned whether physical and/or cognitive recreational activities were affective in protecting against dementia. The only physical activity that proved affective was dance.

The article (read it here: http://socialdance.stanford.edu/syllabi/smarter.htm) goes into greater depth and there is a lot to be said on this subject, but for the purpose of this blog post I will focus on one element… I believe that one of the reasons for the protection dance offers against dementia is the fact that improvisation often plays a key role in dance. Thinking on your feet whilst also taking part in physical activity and, therefore, with the respiratory system working harder seems to have great benefits. Quick thinking, random thinking and making decisions that are not carefully planned whilst the body is also physically moving seems to be excellent for the brain and neural pathways.

The Different Types of Improvisation

In our training for school staff we teach how to give ownership of the movement to the participants. By ensuring they know there is no wrong outcome because they are being creative, the dancers can choreograph themselves and can achieve extraordinary outcomes when supported in the right way. Improvisation to explore a theme and experiment with movement is a great way to do this. Teachers can support students in free improvisation that is often very personal and always open ended or in closed improvisation that has a much more specific aim. 

Ideas for Improvisation

Improvisation Journies are great fun and very exploratory. The teacher has a pre-planned and very simple journey Just a few lines with lots of description ideas. The journey could take place in multiple settings such as for an around the world theme (home to hot air balloon with words such as high, free and clouds, to jungle with words like trees, vines, logs to go under and over or animals. Back to the hot air balloon with the same or different adjectives and onto the desert with ideas such as hot sand under foot, quick skittish lizards and sand dunes and so on.) 
 
If the journey takes place in one setting you can go into more detail. This is great for a topic like Habitats. For a jungle theme the teacher can describe the habitat in much more detail. There are tall trees with branches that spread wide. Vines from the branches for monkeys to swing on. The playful monkeys are jumping, climbing, swinging and picking flies from each other. The flies move from giant plant to plant. There are some fallen trees and you have to go over some and under others.
 
The teacher has the option to be as specific or vague as they like and can alter their words each time they do the journey depending on how the group are responding or if they have done it before. 
 
Improvisation stories are a great way to include the class topic in a cross-curricular dance class and we use it a lot in Educating Dance. In our training, Dance: A Cross-curricular Approach, one of the first journies Sophie (our first ever TRS Teacher) and I did was Water’s Journey. The improvisation can be undertaken as a whole class moving as particles (as one, slowly and quickly etc. depending on the water’s current state), as an individual moving as the water moves through a story that can begin at any point (basically ice to sea to river to water system to tap etc. but this can and should be expanded upon) and can even include a staff member or guest as the sunshine (we always had Sunshine Sophie!) or within small groups with each group having previously been given the water state they will move as. It is a hugely diverse topic!
 
Story improvisation can become a great game for exploring a theme (such as Dinosaur Excavation), as a way to close a session (line up as a…) or as a cool down (Astronaut Suits). It could also be used within the school day if the story is appropriate. Please see my ‘Dancing Day’ blog post for more on that.
 
The first ever story improv I wrote was one I use just for fun as a game in dance clubs, but that is also great for gross motor skills development… I invented Pumpkin Soup whilst sitting on a train because there was a cafe at the station that had a similar name. Whilst the teacher says the story (and hopefully moves a little themselves as well) the children improvise. It’s quite a closed improvisation and due to that can be done with a whole class. I will create a full download for the story and instructions soon (in our new section of the website), but for now suffice to say that there’s a bowl of soup, a sudden mess and some sliding, tip toeing and sticky feet followed by a big clean up operation.
 
Carnival Dance is a wonderful way to inject colour and excitment into a class and works especially well within Active Armchairs. It can also be easily adapted for different themes. This is basically when the whole group moves, everyone is moving individually, but is occasionally inspired by someone else in the room. For carnival dance we would all have colourful feathers or scarves to dance with. When the facilitator sees something they particularly like they can commend the person who created it and incorporate it into their own movements. This also means that those who are shy, new to improvisation or struggle to improvise can still join in because ‘copying’ is welcomed and encouraged. An extension to this is when the facilitator begins to pick some of the movements and sequences them to choreograph a motif (small section of dance).
 
Although this is called carnival dance, the theme doesn’t have to be carnival. At Christmas I’ve used tinsle, jingle bells or silly hat voguing for a similar affect. 
 
Strike a Pose is a way to introduce a moment of improvisation into lots of different aspects of the dance class or school day in general. They could strike a pose at the end of a dance or exercise (you could give warning or spring it upon them depending on the group) or and the start before the music begins (this is a great way to get a group of young children to stay still!). 

It is an important part of travel / stop games (where the teacher shouts travel and then, after a while, stop and the participants move within a theme). It can also be done when improvising with props. It is very exciting when done with a giant elastic! 
 
 

Partner Improvisation is great for relationship building. Of course it can be done in schools and is brilliant for PSHE themed dance lessons, but my two favourite examples of partner improv are found in Active Armchairs, the dance together (holding hands as the participant leads the facilitator) and the Floating Material (a person at each end of a long piece of material wafting it in various ways). 

 

The photo on the left is of spontaneous improvisation with a participant who asked me to dance during Active Armchairs. We were supposed to be copying Georgie (leading her warm up in the background), but this particular lady became so excited by the class that she just got up and went for it! She led me and I had to follow. This is the best type of improvisation, when some one lets go and just goes for it. 

 
Improvisation is clearly a subject that excites me and I could go on and on about things we can do, but my biggest tip is to just give it a try. You’ll never guess what the group will come up with and in the highly unlikely event that they don’t know what to do, you can always move to the next bit more quickly or change tact slightly so the theme changes.

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