Singing, Dancing, and Playing: Two-Year-Olds Make the Leap

By Kitti Pecka, Head Teacher

Two-year-olds enter the classroom uniquely poised for development. The growth that unfolds in this year is tremendous and multifaceted. They are eager to be with peers and eager to play, but interacting cooperatively is a challenge. Many children in preschool are just learning to share, especially the youngest. How does a teacher prepare for this and direct the children’s energy to interact in a way that encourages cooperation and accesses individual talents and abilities? A mix of singing, dancing and playing with an adult guide provides the model.

Children come to the Two’s room with many capacities. They are talking, walking and absorbing the sensory stimulation. They are often skilled in using art materials, puzzles, play dough and manipulatives of all sorts. But often they play in a parallel fashion, side by side, engaging with the material but not with the people. Even during interactions with a teacher, the focus is often on their own work.

It is the role of the teacher to encourage the children to be aware of others. And though these first explorations seldom involve cooperative work, a vast segment of the curriculum is cooperative. It is the time spent in singing all together, dancing as a group and play-acting that carries the spirit of cohesion and is so important in helping the classroom community to form and flourish.

Two-year-olds are social. The company of their peers motivates them. They are not yet a member of a group outside of their family, but they are interested. How are they introduced into a group of like-minded peers? The routine of the preschool classroom includes many group activities.

Singing together used to happen spontaneously in many venues, but now it is seldom a part of family or community life. However, singing together in the classroom is a central part of our curriculum. It is a pleasure to most children, and it is a treasure trove of multi-sensory input. Auditory intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, language and tactile intelligence are all boosted by this educational tool. Cognitively, children are encouraged to reflect on the content of the words. “Up the mountain under the tree sleeps the dragon baby,” sang teacher Betsy Koning at music time. Tatum and Sophie later repeated this refrain as they prepared the baby dolls for bed in their cribs. They shared the tune, the concept and the warmth of the lullaby.

Dancing together happens in an organized fashion at least once a day in the classroom. A group energy and feeling results when children and teachers move together to varied music (classical to rock and roll recordings, live performances, or sung and played ourselves). Music can actually entrain the group to have the same heart rate and breathing pattern. The emotional effect is easy to see: Joy is shared and a bond formed. Savoring the movement, the sounds and the sight of others enjoying the experience, is multi-sensory learning at its best! A sense of community and the benefits of empathy are compounded by these group movement experiences. Relationships are deepened and friendships are sparked by a group in sync. Emma Jane and Perry like to dance in the dress-up clothes. They coordinate a schedule for the sharing and exchange of clothes for different activities and especially for dancing. Their dancing has anchored the group and the “dance of play” has been fostered by the relationship. This leads to the subject of play-acting.

Two’s-turning-three begin to dramatize the stories they have heard. Story plays are enacted at the end of the day once the children know the story well. The stories are varied, from the elegant simplicity of The Very Hungry Caterpillar to the extravagant Giant John. When teacher Betsy read Giant John, the children became the fairies and played the music to which John danced. As monkeys in the story Caps for Sale, the children not only take and wear the caps from the peddler, they also have “lines” and “actions” that go with the content of the story. The value of play-acting is multifold. Children not only become a character in a story, they also become “playmates” with their peers, practicing those skills of pretending, which are essential for interactive learning. In addition they collaborate in the creation of a community event.