Categotry Archives: Health and Wellbeing

Dance Ideas for PSHE

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As a subject, the content, aims and reasons for PSHE change often. It has changed names multiple times since I was at school and most schools have different approaches to it. However, at it’s core, PSHE in primary schools, generally always covers similar values and subjects.  

PSHE stands for Personal, Social and Health Education. Sometimes it is taught to a whole class in a normal setting or in circle time, sometimes it is taught it small groups. It is also taught all of the time in terms of personal development, values and general knowledge. This means it is an excellent subject for a cross-curricular dance class. Dance also teaches many of the life skills found in PSHE without the teacher having to focus on a particular aspect. For example, team work and friendships are seen in all dance classes.

In this blog I’m going to share a few dance ideas for just a few of the subjects covered by PSHE. These could be put towards a dance class or used as stand alone fun.

Friendship

Dance About You – Put children into partners. Start with someone they know well, you can repeat the task with someone they don’t know at another time. Put a short piece of music on (about 2 minutes, Come on Everybody or Blue Suede Shoes are good) and let the children ask each other questions until they find out a new thing (3 things if able) about each other. Now they work alone for a few minutes to make up a movement or sequence about the new fact(s) they’ve learnt. Share the moves with partners and then the whole class. All the movements or sequences could be strung together and performed by the whole class as a team and this would be nice at the start of the year with a new class or if more togetherness or team building is needed within a class.

Teamwork

The Spider Web – Everyone holds onto the giant elastic in a circle. Teacher says a name and that person moves across the circle. This repeats with dancers going over and under the elastic in different ways until it is a big web. Now they have to undo the web! This is a dance class though so everything needs to be done with an interesting way of moving.

The Mexican Wave – you don’t just have to do this the traditional way, other movements can be performed in a similar way and in dance we call this is cannon.

Country Dancing – As a whole dance style, country dancing is great for teamwork. A do-si-do (moving back to back around your partner) is a well known example. A Grand Chain (Holding hands) or Weave The Ring (Not holding hands) are excellent whole class team work based country dance elements that could be used in a dance or as an exercise. All stand in a circle face your partner next to you, holding right hand. Move past your partner and towards the next person and hold left hands. Keep passing holding right then left hands as you go.

Trust

There are a lot of dance and drama trust exercises such as trust falls and trust walks and they are well documented. The following idea is just for dance though and it is also great for teamwork.

Trust Motif Development – teach a simple motif or allow the dancers to choreograph one. It must all be standing up. Once they’ve learnt the motif they have to partner up and choose a prop. Things that work well are solid, about half a metre in length and are not heavy. For example, scarves or giant pipe cleaners. To simplify, the teacher can give everyone the same prop. The partners hold the prop between them and have to perform the motif again, but with the prop connecting them. The motif might develop in various ways, it might be slowed down or one person might use the opposite side of the body, for example. To make things more exciting, the partners could unknowingly choose how to hold the prop. They choose from the options hand or foot, face front or face back and right or left. Then, once the teacher has explained, they hold the prop between them. For example, hand, facing each other, left hands.

Confidence and Honesty

Telling the truth is often about having self confidence and that’s why I’ve put these two together. It’s also about how truth and lies feel to other people. It is quite a concept to grasp and from around Year 2 as it becomes more complicated than just, telling the truth is the right thing to do. You could use a story to support learning around telling the truth and use a cross-curricular approach in the dance class. The Truth Pixie by Matt Haig or, of course, the very famous, Pinnochio might be helpful

Peer feedback is good way to encourage positive, helpful, constructive truth telling. Ask for Nice and Helpful feedback, You did this and now you could try…

To encourage confidence in dance class I try to find an opportunity for every young dance to do a movement or shape on their own near the start of class. This could be during the register or part of name and shape. It’s important thay there is a ‘way out’ if they don’t know what to do. This could be by copying someone else’s idea or the teacher using whatever position they’re standing in as their shape or a move such as a shoulder shrug or head shake if they have indicated they don’t know what to do in this way. Either way, they have taken part and got through it.

Respect and Anti Bullying

Your Daily Dance has lists of music by theme, including one for songs about bullying. Appropriate versions would need to be sought for many of the song, but the list is a very useful starting point.  https://www.yourdailydance.com/songs-about-bullying/

Greetings Warm Up with a difference – Everyone walks around the space and, when teacher calls a number or colour, or holds up a sign or makes an instrument noise (there are lots of options!), they perform an action. Here are some examples.

– High five the nearest person
– Hand shake with the nearest person
– Fold arms and stop in front of the nearest person then turn away
– Stand in front of the nearest person with your arms and legs out stretched (open and vulnerable)
– Loop arms, link together

Afterwards, talk about how the actions made you feel. Progress this further in other lessons by asking the dancers for their own ideas, perhaps focusing on things that make them happy or things they think will make others happy.

 

I’ve just scratched the surface of how dance and pshe go hand in hand. Other aspects such as Golden Rules, worry and internet safety could all be explored using a cross-curricular approach and the things I have covered could be part of a lesson or scheme of work. As always with our work in Educating Dance, the options are endless!

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Guest Post – The Parent Dance

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Why Every Parent Should Learn To Dance

Author Bio: Ryan Howard runs SmartParentAdvice, a site that provides parenting advice for moms and dads. Ryan writes about all of the different ups and downs of parenting, provides solutions to common challenges, and reviews products that parents need to purchase for babies and toddlers.

 

Parenthood is all about new experiences. Once your baby arrives, you are thrown right into the deep end and have to learn to take care of a new human being. As soon as you figure out how to a care for a baby, toddlerdom arrives with a whole new set of challenges. Then, before you know it, they are off to preschool, elementary school and beyond.

While you’re learning all of the new things that come along with parenthood, I would encourage you to learn to dance as well. Why do I say this? Read on to find out.

Dancing Is A Good Skill To Have In Life

There are all sorts of occasions that are a lot more fun if you know how to dance. Taking your kids to see a musician? Breaking out a few patented steps would be a blast.

Heading to a wedding? It would be fun to hit the dance floor with the family.

Dancing is just one of those things that’s a lot of fun if you can do it, and really awkward if you can’t. So, it pays to take a little time to learn at some point in your life.

Good Role Model For Kids

Kids learn so much by watching their parents. You can always tell them what you think they should do, but they will often do what you do rather than what you say.

If your kids see you dancing and having fun, they’ll want to get in on the action. On the other hand, if they see you start shifting uncomfortably once the music starts and other people start showing their stuff, they just might do the same.

Get Your Kids Into Music

Music is something that your kids might be able to enjoy over a lifetime, and dancing is a great way to help them cultivate an appreciation for music. If you know how to dance, you might just throw on Spotify and have a family dance party at home.

Once they start to enjoy music, you never know where it might lead. Maybe they will decide they want to take up piano or some other instrument. Once they can carry a tune, you might even have fun dancing while they make some music.

It’s Great Exercise

Being active is good for people of all ages. What could be more fun than getting a little exercise with your spouse on the dance floor?

It’s great exercise for your kids as well. Maybe one day, they go for a bike ride, another day they go for a swim, and then another day they do a little dancing. All of these things can be a lot of fun in their own right, but also offer huge benefits as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Final Thoughts

Some people are naturals when it comes to dancing. For others, it takes a little more effort. If you’re in the latter camp, I think it’s definitely worth taking the time to learn a few basic steps. You might even find that it’s more fun than you realized or that you have a hidden talent that you didn’t know about.

Enhance – The Story So Far

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For those of you who are new to the TRS blog, welcome. To those who visit regularly,  I’m so excited to have this new strand for you!!

We have officially announced our brand new and exciting project, Enhance, although it’s been in the planning stages for over a year now. The team and I will be writing blogs throughout the project and I thought I’d start with an intro about what we’ve been doing so far. It’s been a journey with many twists and surprising turns that have lead us to something that Alice and I never expected when she first said to me, “I’ll do some Active Armchairs research.”

The very first step on this journey was to speak to the TRS Teachers. Alice and I chose the All Hands Meeting for this and we all mind mapped, drew, talked and got enthusiastic. The most important thing to come from this was that the participants should always be considered first because their well being is at the centre of everything we do. We talked about what is important to participants of Active Armchairs and ways in which we could carry out tests that would be most appropriate to them.

As I had a lot of experience with dance and project management, but little with research, I felt it would be a good idea to speak to some experts. I also went along to some events to find out more. Places and people who have influenced the project along the way include Medway Healthy Weight Summit 2018, Scott Elliot (Head of Medway Health and Wellbeing Services), Patricia Vella-Burrows (Pricipal Research Fellow, Sidney De Hann Research Centre), various staff members at University of Kent, Medway Dance Network and Medway and Kent Dance, Arts, Culture Health and Wellbeing Symposium. Without all of this input the project wouldn’t be what it is today.
 
Alongside this, Alice and I set about working out exactly what we wanted to ask. We settled upon the following questions.
 

I also decided to make the study as ‘robust’ as possible. I’ve become very used to the word, robust, as researchers use it a lot when they’re doing high quality research! It is important. The NESTA standards of evidence were recommended to me and I thought this was a great way to ensure people could trust the outcomes of the project. I’m hoping we will reach the very highest standard.

It also became apparent that there is a surprising amount of dance research out there, but it isn’t easy to find. I want the outcomes of the project to be easily found, understood and utilised, and I have some ideas in mind. As well as the report being available to all, we are also going to have a training day for Active Armchairs facilitators. This will be an unusual opportunity for everyone to get together, discuss, develop ideas and share practice. Alice and I will also be sharing how the results will influence Active Armchairs.

Somewhere in amongst all of this I met with Ian Farr, PhD Student at University of Kent. His work allies beautifully with our research aims and this was when the project began to swell and strengthen. Ian has an academic interest in the health and well being of older adults and how psychosocial factors may influence physical performance. His research will be completely independent of anything The Right Step do to ensure objectivity and to avoid bias. Simply put, we run classes and he does research about it. I won’t be there when he carries out any aspect of the study and he won’t be attending any classes.
 
After this we needed to find suitable care homes. They had to meet a few different criteria, but long story short, the chosen 5, who are kindly giving time and energy to make this happen are Ashley Gardens, Barton Court, Little Court, Warwick House and Woodstock. I’m sure their staff and residents will love the 20 Active Armchairs sessions we have planned for them!

We also have 3 facilitators, Steph, Becca G and I will be visiting on a weekly basis, except on testing weeks, and we can’t wait to get started. We’ll be planning sessions together and adapting them to the group each week.

We have a detailed plan,  we have the right people and we have the places. Next we will start the project. Research has just begun and sessions begin soon. We’ll keep you up dated, but do let us know what aspects of the project you want to hear about.

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Arts 4 Dementia Conference

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Yesterday I attended the Arts 4 Dementia Best Practice Conference, “Towards Social Prescribing (Arts & Heritage) for the dementias”. It was jam pack day that left me thinking. There were also a huge amount of important thoughts and ideas shared by speakers so I thought I would share some aspects of the experience. 

We were welcomed by Veronica Franklin Gould who was the driving force behind the day and who is clearly extremely well-respected by her colleagues, I can see why. Immediately she left us with actions to complete… Providers of relevant activities should sign up to the Arts 4 Dementia website and notify the local NHS social prescribers. A clear message… share information and start a conversation. 

We not only heard from professionals working in the field, but also from Christine Maddocks about her experience living with vascular dementia. In Alexandra Coulter’s words she was “the voice of the individual in the system”. She inspired everyone and was an instant reminder to all of why we were there. 

One of the most relevant sections of the day for me was when two outstanding academics, Dr Daisy Fancourt and Professor Sebastian Crutch spoke. Relevant because we are about to run our own research into Active Armchairs, but also because the studies that have already been carried out can influence our provision and teaching.

Daisy talked about how the arts are multi modal (they have lots of components at play) so there are a wide variety of outcomes. She said “The more people engaged with these [arts] activities, the better their memory was years on.” A fact that can boost all providers of arts activities to anyone, if they are living with dementia or not. As dance artists and arts providers, we can also take other things from her speech. For example, we should try to include lots of different elements and approaches such as song, dance, conversation. Theses are already all important elements of Active Armchairs, but perhaps we can develop this further.

Having taken part in the Created Out of Mind training and I’ve also read about his research, I was keen to hear what Professor Sebastian Crutch had to say. He encouraged us to bring in people with a lived experience and find what works for them. The slide in the photo shows how different people are affected in different ways with different dementias. In summary, everyone is different and so the effect of the dementia is different too. 

He said “What people really need is continuity of support” and I would whole heartedly agree with this. I’ve seen the disappointment when a fantastic arts intervention has to end due to funding. It will be a difficult hurdle to jump. One that those spearheading social prescription seem to think will be solved by volunteers, but that’s another story. 

Sebastian also talked about the importance of support and community. Care is varied across the country, but he encourages people to learn about online support such as Facebook groups and said “Nothing local is not the same as nothing available.”

The comment that resonated with me most was when he said “The fact that it’s in the moment, or short-term, doesn’t make it irrelevant.” He was referring to the various graphs showing short-term and long-term improvements, some of which are only present during a session. I have always considered that, when working with anyone, the moment is just as important as the outcome. In fact, in dance, working to an outcome such as a performance can be stressful. A participatory project often has more benefits to health and well-being and the journey is key. 

After refreshments, we heard from Dr Michael Dixon, OBE GP. He speaks very highly of social prescription and is extremely positive about the initiative. He was inspiring. He said we’re “caught in the scissors of doom” (increasing costs and a reduction in funding), sees social prescription as a way out and believes that prevention is critical to the survival of our health services. I believe that it’s not only that we should think of; If we can prevent illness, we also prevent pain and suffering. 

The thinking is changing, why wait.
Dr Michael Dixon, OBE GP

The keynote speech was given by Baroness Greengross, a lady whose prestigious achievements, when listed, take up a lot of space. She clearly has a passion and knowledge for the subject and believes “The key is timing. We must guide people to the arts at the earliest stages.”

 

 


In plenary debate, chaired by Dr Marie Polley, we heard from six people (see list in photo) for five minutes each. Various points of views were heard and it was concluded that there was more conversation to be had and that a group for Arts and Dementia must be created as part of the network. I would go further in suggesting that, a group representing the artists should be created too. Social prescription will not work without them. 

“Where people’s’ souls are nurtured as well as their bodies.”
Professor Martin Green OBE FIAM FInstLM, FRSA, FIPSM, Cheif Executive Care England

“It really should be about conversation”
Georgia Chimbani, Dementia Lead, Association of Directors of Adult Social Services

“Biggest thing to happen in the arts for some time.”
Dr Richard Ings, Arts in Health, Wellbeing and Criminal Justice lead, Arts Council England.

Ian McCreath summed up in a way that I recognise as the approach used by many arts organisations and individuals to deliver their services, “Universal, but recognising that some people require additional support.” I agree, sessions only for those living with dementia and their carers have a place, but I believe in an inclusive approach whenever possible and appropriate. 

The afternoon was split into two sections of relevant examples. The first was entitled Arts for People Affected by Early-Stage Dementia, chaired by Dr Patricia Vella-Burrows who I’ve been lucky enough to hear speak and learn from a several times now. Examples from poetry and music were, of course of interest, especially Gemma Dixon’s story of Bob who played the organ before class. “His confidence was boosted, he had ability to speak in full sentences where he couldn’t before”.

 

 

The section about dance was most relevant though and it was a delight to hear from Dr Sophia Hulbert and neurophysiotherapist who has a love of dance. It was boosting for me that many of the things Sophia attributed to the success of her sessions (including items in the photo of ‘Conceptual Underpinning) are also found within Active Armchairs.

 

Sophia also did a quick demonstration. This was a fantastic way to get everyone reawakened after lunch and demonstrated how “Imagery can really empower movement”. In this case the imagery was also uplifting as it was about flying in a hot air balloon. I always enjoy seeing a conference of people who usually sit at a desk dancing! 

 

 

The second section in the afternoon gave everyone a better understanding about how Social Prescription can, and does, work. Nicky Taylor talked about how working in partnership has more impact, Dr Richard Hooker encouraged us to always remember the carers, Wendy Gallagher told us about the Handbook for engagement with people living with dementia and Bogdan Chiva Giurca, an extremely inspiring young man said that “One step is to bridge the inter generational gap”. Kathryn Gilfoy, Director at Resonate Arts, had many examples of different activities to share and I enjoyed her slide about the benefits of arts and person centred care.

Following this Professor Helen Chatterjee MBE discussed social isolation and how museums can help combat it. Her points about the research already carried out motivate artists to provide deep level cognitive stimulation to ensure that activities are truly engaging. I also picked up some more thoughts for the up coming Active Armchairs research project. 

Nigel Franklin, Chief Executive, Arts 4 Dementia, closed the day. In just a few minutes he left us with actions and inspirations.

“There are more people living with dementia now that ever have before.”
Nigel Franklin, Chief Executive, Arts 4 Dementia

It was one of those days that leaves your brain fuzzed with thoughts and ideas. I will act on them.

In terms of practical application, I believe there are some gaps that still need exploring, transport and fair payment for artists for example, but as an overall ideal for shifting prescription to preventative measures, I’m completely on board. Not just for people living with dementia though, if done well, Social Prescription could help everyone with their health and well-being and provide a cultural shift. We will see.

I do hope The Right Step will be found delivering prescribed dance activity, especially as what we currently offer is already of high quality and always developing to suit the needs of participants, but we will have to see how the commissioning side evolves and how we are able to be included.

I will conclude with an open invitation for anyone working in social prescribing to contact me. We must open conversation about how we can bring dance with a health and well-being agenda to the masses.

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For Body and For Brain

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Written by Georgia Smith, Adult Dance Co-ordinator, TRS Teacher and Active Armchairs Facilitator.

We see it everywhere these days, on social media, in the newspapers, on the TV. It seems like the world is pushing a health and wellbeing agenda which can only be a good thing, but what does this mean for the older generation?

As part of our ‘Pull Up a Chair’ campaign this January, we have been thinking about the benefits of dance to older adults. Here at The Right Step we take a holistic approach and always create our sessions with the body and the mind taken in to account. Over the past few weeks, we have talked about the benefits of dance on our social media channels and through a series of blogs including Rebecca’s three part series about motor skills. For this blog, I would like to share some benefits of dance, For the Body and For the Mind. Of course, this is a huge subject and there is a lot of literature out there so this is a summary and specific to Active Armchairs.

Starting with the body, a common symptom for older adults is stiff joints and decreased muscle mass which can make individuals weak and seem frailer. Dance and movement can help to mobilise joints and retain muscle mass as a dance class is a great way to move all different parts of the body rather than focusing on just one joint or muscle. It can strengthen all areas. This can help individuals to retain their independence as they would have the strength to continue to do tasks for themselves.

They say that music and song lyrics are the last to go from someone’s memories so a dance class is perfect for those that are living with Dementia. Recently the Guardian reported:

“Moving more might help to keep people’s brains sharp as they age – even in the face of dementia, researchers have said. Scientists have found older adults fared better when it came to cognitive tasks if they clocked up higher levels of daily activity”

With a focus on enjoyment also, The Right Step aims to lead classes that not only included exercises for the body but also include conversation and creative tasks to help older adults to think and engage physically, mentally and emotionally.

Dance is one of the most social activities we can do so a huge benefit of Active Armchairs is that is brings people together, especially those that may be socially isolated. A dance class can combat loneliness and bring back the sense of belonging to those that may now be living in a different environment or away from a spouse or loved ones.

The Guardian’s article also stated,

“previous work has shown that moving more is linked to a lower risk of dementia, and slows the decline in thinking and memory skills in older adults as they age – but the latest research goes further.”

Please click here for the full article: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/jan/16/activity-sharpens-even-dementia-affected-brains-report-suggests?CMP=share_btn_tw

We don’t allow the participants to feel childish in our classes (although play and silliness is part of the fun!). A large part of how we do this is discussion about why we are dancing. The benefits above are often talked about. In her class at Valley View recently, Active Armchairs Facilitator, Becca, had the following experience.

‘When I arrived at Valley View Care Home Derek asked me if we were going to fly away because he remembered that we’ve been doing some songs by Frank Sinatra. When we were using the pom poms I could guess which movement Derek would do and we had a giggle about it. I asked him if he remembers what it does for him and he said ‘it helps loosen our joints’. The care worker there was very impressed.

Seeing Derek have fun and learn about why we do these things lets me know I’m having a positive impact. I like it when people improve and remember things.’
Becca

Although the Active Armchairs Facilitators are artists and not necessarily medically trained in any way, they are keen to maintain and develop participants’ bodies and brain and do all they can to follow the latest research in to do so. The majority of the benefits happen accidentally because dance, and art in general, are therapeutic and physically beneficial without having to force it. 

Above are just some of the benefits of participating in a dance class but let’s not forget the most important thing… Dance is fun and can bring happiness whether that happiness is through the music, the dance moves, the social interaction and conversation, or just enjoying the atmosphere of the room. So ‘Pull Up a Chair’, it’s time to dance!

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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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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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Proprioception and Vestibular Sense

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Proprioception is the body’s unconscious ability to sense the position, location and movement of the body and it’s parts. In dance this is often referred to as spatial awareness. In ‘Every Child a Mover’, Jan White describes it as “An awareness of the body, knowing where our limbs and ‘edges’ are and where our body is in space.”
 
The Vestibular Sense refers to the body’s vestibular sensory system that monitors and adjusts it’s sense of balance and orientation to the world. This sense is what keeps the us upright while standing, sitting or walking and it is primarily located in the inner ear.
 
Together proprioception and the vestibular sense allow us to move purpose, grace and without knocking into things (sometimes!), but as with all our senses and most bodily functions, we have to learn how to use them and they can be developed and improved slightly throughout life. Babies and toddlers, have to develop these skills from scratch and they are still developing through primary school. Young people, teenagers through adolescence, often suffer temporary loss or impairment of proprioception and the vestibular sense.
 
In general, for young children developing these areas of body awareness is achieved by doing as many different movements in as many different ways as possible. This blog post will explore some specific ways in which we can support these areas of development and changing needs within our dance classes. This blog post does not refer to when there is a medical need for improvement. For these times professional medical advice should be sought. This blog post is designed to support those who work with children and young people.

Mariinsky’s Swan Lake The corps de ballet must be keenly aware of where their bodies are in space.

Balancing
Balance is associated with the vestibular system as well as the motor and visual systems more so than with proprioception, but they still work in tandem.
 

Travel stop is a good game to improve balance. The participants move around the room in a way that relates to the class theme or using a travelling movement such as a gallop. When the teacher shouts stop and/or holds up a sign to signify stop, the participants hold a still position in a similar way to musical statues. The next stage of this game is to call out a position for participants to get into. For example, in an opposites theme you might ask them to make a low shape and the next time a high shape. This is where the balance comes in, state that they need to be on one leg or show them the balance position you want them to do.

You can use balance to bring everyone back to focus anytime during the school day or at the end of a cool down as a calming item. Just ask the group to stand with their feet slightly apart (in ‘place’) and the  slowly rise up onto the balls of their feet. They could hold their arms out to the side or on the hips to help them. Closing eyes emphasises the affect on their balance development  as well as their focus.
 
Another fun balance game is sitting on a ball. This works with balls of lots of different sizes, but they can’t be spongey because then they squash flat. Ask the children to pick a ball and take it to their space. The aim is to sit on the ball for the duration of the song. If they find it easy the task can be developed for body parts or types of balance. This is great for a creative dance class where balls are used as a prop or for one of our ball skills classes (all sorts of ball props and creative dance coming together! Imagine soft squishy snowballs, shakey cat bells and giant balloon balls all in one very fun class for under 5s!).
 
Bare feet!
Have you ever wondered why babies prefer to be in bare feet? My daughter spends a great deal of time removing shoes and socks and she was one of the reasons I began learning more about the vestibular sense and proprioception because refereed to a lot when researching physical development in babies.
 

Going barefoot helps to map the body and, although many dance styles require shoes to be worn in class, tap, character and street come to mind, we can help children in their development by encouraging them to move barefoot in creative dance or for sections of a dance class.
 
 
Part of a creative dance class could explore different ways the feet come into contact with the floor… stamping, jumping, sliding, tip toes, feet edges (being extra careful!), light taps and stronger taps etc. Barefoot races with different forms of travelling such as running, hopping, galloping or slime slid
es (when the floor is covered in slime and you have to get through it but sometimes it’s slippery and then suddenly it’s sticky and then it’s back to slippery again).
 
Going barefoot can also apply to our Active Armchairs sessions with older adults, many of whom spend most of their lives in slippers or shoes. Perhaps we could organise a barefoot class with sensory boxes for the feet (sand or tiny fluffy pom poms), a giant elastic to signify the edge of the sea for dipping toes in and a ball to try and keep under the foot.
 
For a little bit more about Barefoot Babies you can read Dr Kacie Flegal’s article: 
http://www.naturalchildmagazine.com/1210/barefoot-babies.htm
 

Body pressure

This involves stimulating the receptors in the skin and is great for developing an inner ‘map’ of the body. Movements like rolling, crawling like a baby or a bear, army crawling, crab walking or being a worm or snake are great. All you need is an empty space like a dance studio or school hall!

Props can also help. Games with lycra such as when the group holds the lycra and an individual makes shapes underneath or all sitting around the lycra pushing the feet and hands up to make shapes.
 

 
Move With Others
As well as moving by themselves, children develop their vestibular sense by being moved by others. This includes everything from being thrown in the air by a fun uncle to giving and / or receiving a great big bear hug! This links in with body pressure (above).
 
Some rhymes and games can be done with a friend or as a group and these make a great brain break during the school day or a quick, related or unrelated section in a dance class. Some to try include Row, Row,Row Your Boat, Ring a Roses, In and Out The Dusky Bluebells and many of the songs that involve horses, but performed with a partner or sitting on an adults lap (perfect for our TRS Tots classes!). Try Mother, Father and Uncle John, This is the Way The Lady Rides or Horsey Horsey. 
 
Be Creative
In our school staff training programme, Dance: A Cross-curricular Approach, we teach staff how to give ownership of the movement to their pupils. Although this does make it a lot easier and more enjoyable for school staff who are teaching dance as a subject, it is also very beneficial for the pupils. It has been established that children learn through play and at their own pace. When developing body awareness, children have to go through a process in their own time.  A creative dance class supports this order of development because it both gives young children the opportunity to move in the way their body needs to move on that day and also includes sections of taught movement that provide examples of other things they could do.
 
 
 

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