Starting dance is an exciting and sometimes overwhelming experience for young dancers and their families. Some young dancers will be very eager while others may be tentative. Here are some tips to help make the transition into the dance year positive.
Set expectations in advance
Children become anxious when they do not know what to expect. Start talking to your dancer now about what they can expect when they start dance. Ask your studio to provide you with a brief overview of the routine of the class so you can familiarize your child with this routine prior to classes starting. Let them know when they arrive in the studio they will wait in the lobby until they are greeted and welcomed into the dance space by their teacher. Once the class has started the doors will be closed but reassure them you will be in the lobby waiting for them while they enjoy dance class. By talking about the dance class routine in advanced your dancer will feel more confident and secure at their first class.
Teach your child their teacher’s name
When talking to your child about what to expect in dance class be sure to teach them their teacher’s name. Your child will feel more comfortable communicating their needs to their teacher if they know how to address them. Trust me, if a “potty” accident happens it is generally because the child did now know how to let their teacher know they had to go!
Use the bathroom BEFORE class!
Your child may have gone to the bathroom prior to leaving the house, but when children are feeling anxious they may constrict their bowel muscles and may not fully relieve themselves. Take 10 minutes prior to class as an opportunity to use the bathroom. Nothing creates a more negative experience for a young child than having an accident in class.
Provide your instructor with information about your child’s needs
Every child is different in their needs and they way they respond to new situations. While all early childhood dance instructors should receive training in early childhood development and best teaching practices YOU know your child best. If your child has any very specific needs it can be useful to provide your teacher with a written tips sheet for your child. This should include any information you feel is important for the instructor to know about your child. With this information your teacher will be best equipped to provide your child with the best possible dance experience!
Don’t push or rush your child’s participation
Every child learns and adapts to new situations differently. Some children jump into class right away, while others need time to observe before they will participate. This is often related to their learning style. No learning style is better than the other, just different. It can be frustrating to see your child watching rather than participating but it is best if children are given time to come into the activities in their own time as they will be more successful in the long run. Your child’s teacher should let you know if they have any concerns about your child’s participation in class.
Allow your child the opportunity to express themselves
Freedom of expression is empowering to young children. After each dance class ask your child to share with you what was the best part of class and the worst part of class. Why ask them to share both? Sharing the best part of class allows your child to reflect on what they enjoy about dance and gives you insights into your child’s preferences. Sharing the worst part of class allows your child the opportunity to acknowledge something that is challenging for them and gives you the opportunity to provide them with support if needed. It is OK for your child not to love every minute of class. Even adult dancers have their best and worst parts of class.
It is also important to remember that not all children under the age of 5 are developmentally ready for an unparented dance program. If you child is shy, has limited verbal skills, or difficulty regulating their behaviour or impulses it may be in their best interest to look into a parent and child class. There is no right age to start dance. Providing your child with the support they need will help make dance a positive experience!