Art is Curricular

It’s my first year teaching with Hope Stone Kids, and while I have had many years’ experience teaching creative movement in traditional studios; I find that Hope Stone’s creative movement classes, which are taught to children in their schools, are a different animal. In the dance studio setting, the focus is on preparing the children for future ballet/tap classes, with an emphasis (in many cases) on performing in a year-end recital. In Hope Stone’s classes, the driving force is bringing art into the children’s whole lives– in dance class, the students learn compassion, community, and creativity in addition to movement skills. It’s not so much about creating dancers, but about creating compassionate, artistic, well-rounded citizens. These last four months of teaching for Hope Stone’s satellite program at Small Steps Nurturing Center has challenged me; not only in the way I teach, but in the way I interact with students and the way I look at dance education.

Some of the differences are minor– I only have 25 minutes a week with each pre-school class, as opposed to the 45 minutes I’m used to. Early on in the school year, my classes felt like a whirlwind as I tried to cram what I felt like was a good lesson plan into a short amount of time. Since then I’ve shortened my lesson plan drastically, choosing instead to give the students more time with each activity– and me more time to focus on their individual needs.
Which brings me to my next minor difference– class size and dynamics! I have 12-17 students in each class, and they’re (roughly) 50% boys. Having taught mostly little girls for eleven years, I’ve gotten used to using flowery, girly, “princessy” imagery to describe movements (e.g. “Flap your butterfly wings! Stand tall like a princess! Walk on your toes, like you’re wearing Mommy’s high heels!”). Now I’m a little more conscious of what language I use, and if it’s accessible to both girls and boys.

One of the bigger differences– and bigger challenges for me– was getting used to using “Hope Stone language” and their method of behavior redirection. I’ve become pretty “set in my ways” in how I handle classroom discipline, and adapting to Hope’s way has been good for me. Instead of simply saying “That’s not allowed,” I find a gentle, positive way to redirect the student (“Instead of running, can you show me how high you can jump?”). Instead of giving a misbehaving student a “time out” to collect themselves, I now ask myself why the student is misbehaving– are they tired? In a bad mood? What is that child’s need, right now, and what can I do to meet it? Using these methods has made me a better and more compassionate teacher, both at Hope and in regular studios.

One of the things I love most about teaching for Hope Stone is their belief that art is curricular– it is as important a part of education as math or reading. This is a value I have always held dearly; it frustrates me to no end when I hear people refer to dance or theater as “extra- curricular” or “secondary”. That’s like saying learning to read should be an after-school activity! It makes me so happy to be working with an organization that shares my values, that we’re bringing art to children in their schools. No education is complete without it!

Art for all,