Today one of my preschool students brought her grandparents to class for the first time. When class was over the grandfather first remarked at how cute the students were and how fun the class was to watch. Then he joked, “I guess you are expecting incremental progress.”
I knew he was joking, however that comment really made me think about “progress” in a preschool ballet class. Of course I have goals for my students and I hope they do learn, however those goals are not just about steps and an outsider may not be able to measure all that is being learned by observing one class.
Most of my class sessions are six to seven weeks long and we have five to six sessions per year depending on each location in which we offer classes. Some students take multiple sessions and some only take one to try it out. This class was week five out of six. At this point in the session I hope the students can recognize first position, plié, relevé, and tendu. Maybe a few extra steps such as chassé as well. However some students at this age learn faster than others and if they don’t remember all the steps it is really not a big deal.
Learning ballet steps is just one element of a larger picture. What are the other things a preschooler should learn in a ballet class? When we think of progress, what else is measured?
In my Wish Upon a Ballet™ program ballet is taught through storytelling and creativity. I believe that in order for a preschooler to learn ballet it needs to be presented in a creative way. This is not only because preschoolers are not ready for real technique but it is because preschoolers actually need creativity to learn.
Each of my ballet sessions is all about a particular ballet or story. This session, for example, is about Cinderella. Once class begins I will read a little bit from my Cinderella book each class. Then we will warm up, learn dances and creative movement activities all about the story of Cinderella. We dance and act out parts of the story. This way we are not only learning dance steps but I am having the students think about themselves in the story. I also ask them questions about certain aspects of the story. What would they like to add? Can they tell me about their dress or the horse that pulls the carriage? How would Cinderella dance at the ball? We are now dancing and exploring at the same time. I am giving the students permission to start to think for themselves and create with me.
There are times when I don’t instruct the students how to move. Then not only are their minds exploring but they are exploring what their bodies are capable of as well. Creative thinking and exploration are highly encouraged.
To be honest, and something I talk about in my book, How to Teach Preschool Ballet, is that we are also teaching preschoolers how to simply be in a class. It is difficult to have a class when all the students are running around and not listening to the teacher. Preschoolers need to learn to sit still when asked, take turns, raise their hands and say please and thank you when it is appropriate. When you see a class of preschoolers sitting down and listening, that is progress!
Sometimes children as well as adults need permission to take a class just for fun! We don’t always need to progress. I believe fun is often left out of our children’s lives and playing and having fun are important elements too. This should also be encouraged.
If you really want your child to progress in an activity it really should be fun first. Your child is not going to want to spend the time it takes to really be successful at something unless they love it. That is also why I try to make my classes super fun. If my students love my ballet class they are more likely to want to pursue dance. If dance is not for them they will at least have fond memories of dance class and have an appreciation of the art.
As a preschool ballet teacher I believe it is my responsibility to teach ballet steps, choreographed dances, warm ups, creative movement, creative thinking, life skills and how to have fun doing all those things. I think I am planting seeds in my class and then I have the privilege to watch what grows! That is definitely progress!