You may hear dance teachers say, “Today’s children are different, especially ages five to seven.” Every generation is different in some way, but the basic principles of child development are the same. Kids’ physical, emotional, social, and intellectual needs are the same. The teaching skills—namely the child-management principles that keep your class in order—are the same. The movement skills that young children need to learn are the same.
Even though all of these are constants, dance teachers are noticing differences in their students—especially the youngest ones. So, what’s changed?
How Are Today’s Kids Different?
These days, kids aged five to seven are generally:
- More vocal.
- Less compliant.
- More exposed to the world at an early age.
- Less willing to trust adults, due to the “stranger danger” training they’ve had.
- More easily distracted.
They seem uninterested in the traditional dance class that has worked with kids their age for many years. They often resist a teacher’s efforts to understand them and be friends with them. Many dance and ballet teachers also have a harder time holding their students’ interest these days. The kids are not responding to what has worked before.
Today’s kids are not growing out of the self-centeredness that nature intends, however. So, in dance class, you are getting five- to seven-year-old intellect, cleverness, and physical maturity with the emotional and social development of ages two to four! This makes keeping order in class much more difficult.
Why Are They Different?
Kids today are different because of their backgrounds, experiences, the concepts they have been exposed to, and the ideas and behaviors they bring to class.
Kids aged five to seven are designed to absorb cultural values from whatever “role models” happen to be within their awareness. They’re like sponges: whatever they see and hear becomes part of their unconscious information bank, and these things affect their behavior, attitude, and personality. It’s always been this way.
In the distant past, when parents were not as pressured to earn a living, children learned these things in the home environment:
- To be kind to people, pets, and nature.
- To care about others.
- To be helpful to others.
- To take turns and be fair.
- To share with others.
- To be respectful of rules.
- To respect the belongings, property, and space of others.
- To show a general respect for life, property, and nature.
Dance teachers reaped the benefits of this important step forward in children’s maturity and cultural learning. The fives, sixes, and sevens were a joy to teach! Anything and everything we did in dance class was successful with them.
Nowadays, most children spend too many hours in front of screens (TV, computers, tablets, phones) and not enough hours being physically active. In some cases, disciplined physical activity may be a new experience for some of them. Dance class can make a difference by adding more physical activity to their lives and helping kids aged five to seven tap into their innate wants and needs.
How Are Today’s Kids the Same?
Kids today, like children throughout history, still:
- Have a strong need to feel safe.
- Want to build rapport with adults they can trust.
- Have a strong desire to learn how they should feel, act, and speak.
- Don’t like criticism.
- Hate making mistakes.
- Want guidance so they can be “right.”
- Want to learn something that matters.
What Can Dance Teachers Do?
Dance teachers can definitely help fill in the gaps for their students. They can teach what’s missing. Dance class may not be the whole answer, but it can surely make a difference in children’s lives.
When dance teachers know what’s wrong—that the social–emotional maturation of age five isn’t happening like it should be, for instance—they can structure the dance class to provide some of this learning for the children. In fact, they must do this. Otherwise, ballet and dance as an art form may die out.
In order to acquire dance skills, your students must develop concentration, self-control, and the habits that come from disciplined practice. It’s how you keep order in class. It’s how you become free to teach and the children become free to learn: by adhering to the traditional protocol of a dance class.
Children need to be physically active, and to learn that being active is fun. This will positively affect their health for life. It is not taught with video games and computers, and seldom with even the best of what TV has to offer.
And if we don’t teach them, who will?
- Ignoring Wrong Behavior—Does It Work?
- Improving Behavior with Consequences
- Teaching the Accelerated Child
- Power Struggles in Middle Childhood