Daily Dance Parties: Brain Play™ for Toddlers and Preschoolers

This version of the Brain Play™ can be used with children ages 2-5. These activities are based on research in early brain development, inspiration from other movement educators such as Anne Green Gilbert's Brain Dance and Beverly Stokes' Amazing Babies, and the joy I saw that these activities brought my girls and the dancers at my studio. These activities are designed to foster body awareness, integrate the brain and body to help focus learning, and warm up the body from head to toe. Brain Play™ can take as little as 10 minutes to complete or take your time repeating favourite sections or adding movements concepts for a longer more varied experience.

The 8 activities in Brain Play™ are based on the 8 movement patterns all humans will experience in the first year of life. These movement patterns develop the foundation of all human movement and hardwire the brain for future learning. Moving through these patterns on a daily basis after the first year of life continues to support brain and body development in the areas of:

  • Sensory-Motor Development- eye tracking, balance, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, focus, sensory integration, and memory.
  • Increased flow of blood and oxygen to the brain.
  • Increased core strength, postural strength, and coordination.

Brain Play™ is a fun easy way to start the day or a great way to re-energize throughout the day! Make the Brain Play part of your child's daily routine! Although ideally all activities would be completed in the same session, breaking up the play into smaller sections throughout the day can be beneficial for children with sensory stimulation sensitivities, for busy toddlers with shorter attention spans, or just to add fun to day-to-day activities. Most important: Have fun moving and exploring with your child daily!

1. Breath:  Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum

Breath is life. Deep breathing allows for a fully functioning brain and body. Slow, sustained diaphragmic breathing (belly breathing) can also be used to calm an anxious or upset child. 

“Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum in a dish,

How many bubbles do my dancers wish?” 

2. Tactile: Hickory Dickory Dock

Skin to skin touch throughout the early years is critical to healthy social and emotional development.  Experiencing a variety of tactile sensations allows children to avoid sensory over stimulation issues. 

“Hickory Dickory Dock,

the Mouse tapped up the clock.

The clock struck 1 (clap once),

the mouse tapped down,

Hickory Dickory Dock”

“Hickory Dickory Dock,

the Mouse squeezed up the clock.

The clock struck 2 (clap twice),

the mouse squeezed down,

Hickory Dickory Dock”

“Hickory Dickory Dock,

the Mouse brushed up the clock.

The clock struck 3 (clap three times),

the mouse said “weeeee!”(tickles all the way down the body),

Hickory Dickory Dock”

“Hickory Dickory Dock,

the Mouse poked up the clock.

The clock struck 4 (clap four times),

the mouse said “no more!”

Hickory Dickory Dock”

 
3. Core-Distal: Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

 This movement pattern develops your child's awareness of his body in space and develops his confidence as a mover. Your child will engage her core muscles as she curls into herself and then extend her body into the space around her (distal). 

"Twinkle twinkle little star (reaching out to distal)

How I wonder what you are? (curling into core)

Up above the word so high,(reaching out to distal)

Like a diamond in the sky (curling into core, finger in diamond shape),

Twinkle twinkle little star (reaching out to distal)

How I wonder what you are? (curling into core)”

4. Head/Tail: Hey Diddle Diddle

Head tail brings your child's awareness to the connectivity of the extremities his spine. This movement pattern support postural strength and spinal alignment. Being on hands and knees also increases strength in muscles required for fine motor skills such as writing, buttons, zippers, and scissor skills. 

5. Upper/Lower: Itsy Bitsy Spider

The ability to move the upper and lower body independently improves your child's coordination skills for gross motor movements.

6. Body sides: London Bridge

Moving the left and right sides of the body independently improves your child's coordination skills for gross motor movements. This movement pattern also supports vertical eye tracking. 

"London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down.

London Bridge is falling down,

My fair dancer.

Build it up with love and hugs loves and hugs loves and hugs.

Build it up love and hugs, my fair dancer."

7. Cross Lateral: Shoe a Little Horse

 Cross lateral patterning is needed for developing mastery of skills such as walking, running, skipping, leaping or any movement where the opposite hand/arm and foot/leg work together.  This pattern also combines vertical and horizontal eye tracking which is needed for successful eye tracking in reading and writing.  

"Shoe a little horse,

Shoe a little mare,

With a tap, tap here

and a tap, tap there." Repeat.

8.Vestibular: Twisting in the Washing Machine

The vestibular system first begins to develop while your child is in the womb and continues throughout her first 5 years of life. The vestibular system helps your child analyze where she is in space as well as the relations between her body parts and movements in relation to one another. This is important for developing body awareness and balance as well as processing sensory information.  

“Twist, twist, twist in the washing machine,

twist, twist, twist, until we're clean.

Spin and stop!"  Repeat