Exploring Movement With Toddlers and Dance

Toddler girl dancing in living room with other kids

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Toddlers feel music in ways it seems some of us adults have forgotten. They use their bodies to express emotion and explore the ways their bodies can move. Here are some ideas to help you explore dance with your toddler.

Give Your Toddler Access to Music and See What Happens

You may have noticed that it doesn't take much at all to get your toddler dancing. Just put on a catchy tune with a decent rhythm and they'll start moving. They may not even realize that their legs are bouncing to the beat in their car seat as you drive along with the music going in the car.

Even very young toddlers are aware of different rhythms and the feelings they elicit. You can see this in action if you put on some slow, classical music and ask your toddler to dance (they might slowly sway or spin) versus rocking out to something with a fast beat.

A good place to start, then, is to make sure your child has access to many different types of music throughout the day. They will probably do a fair amount of dancing on their own.

How Parents With Two Left Feet Can Explore Dance With Their Child

If you are an adult that enjoys music and dancing, it's probably not too much of a stretch when it comes to planning and implementing dance activities with your toddler. But many adults may feel clumsy or uncomfortable with dancing and find it hard to get in touch with that part of themselves.

If that's you, then try not to focus on any formal type of dance but concentrate rather on the silly aspect of just moving to music. Try to remember what it was like when you were a child. Do you remember all the silly songs and movements that went with them?

Start out with common nursery rhymes that have simple dance-like movements with them. Don't worry about doing it perfectly, of course. (That's one of the many great things about toddlers. They never know just how bad a singer or dancer you really are.)

For example, "London Bridge" is a song that nearly everyone remembers from their childhood. It's easy to improvise even if it's just you and your toddler. Just hold hands and raise them to make a bridge and sway as you sing. If you add a third party to the mix, then you can take turns traveling around and under the bridge and, of course, the locking up of the fair lady (or lad as the case may be).

Shouldn't Kids Just Listen to and Dance to Kid's Music?

There are also plenty of great music CDs and DVDs to explore for children. For the best dancing, go for silly, nonsensical children's songs or expose your child to the music that you like best right now or even music you enjoyed when you were younger.

It's not a bad thing to let toddlers listen to rock, country, metal or rap. Just use your best judgment when it comes to exposing your child to explicit lyrics or other content that isn't in alignment with your family's values. Your child will let you know soon enough if they hate what you're playing. You might be surprised when you see them thrashing out to some punk rock.

Extending Your Toddler's Fun With Dance

Did you ever let your baby sit on the kitchen floor with some wooden spoons and pots and pans? Without any encouragement from a parent, a baby can turn a few simple objects into a full-on jam session. How do babies know how to do this? Give a toddler a toy guitar and put on some music and see if they don't start to pretend to play along.

Props can add a lot of joy to dancing. Consider giving your child access to musical instruments (nothing fancy at first, you can even make musical instruments at home), fun clothing (like skirts that flare when your toddler spins or shoes that make lots of noise on a hard floor), a microphone and—best of all—a full-length mirror so they can check out their moves.

Don't stop brainstorming ideas on how to make the most of your child's natural inclination to dance. Find some music played by a marching band and stage a parade in the backyard. Play a game where your child dances while the music is on and then freezes when you stop the music. Keep starting and stopping the music and laugh at the funny positions you both end up in. As long as you've got music, there's no limit to the fun you can have dancing.

By Stephanie Brown
Stephanie Brown is a parenting writer with experience in the Head Start program and in NAEYC accredited child care centers.