Developing the whole child through dance

Sarah Haddow

Sarah Haddow, MA, DMP is qssistant CEO of a movement-based charity Make a Move founded on supporting children and adults through movement and music. She studied Dance Movement Psychotherapy at Dance Voice (validated by Canterbury Christ Church University). As an experienced Movement Psychotherapist she has been working with in education and mental health for seven years, specialising her work in the emotional wellbeing of the child. She is a part of a Living Theory research group held in Bath, working with Educational Psychologists and health visitors. She is currently one of the leading practitioners on a lottery funded project supporting mothers with post-natal depression throughout Bath and North East Somerset and Bristol and is a published author offering her evidence and insight on the benefits of Movement Psychotherapy.

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We would like to share with you a brief insight into what children experience when dance is brought into education, with the following based on our own work with pupils in Bath & North East Somerset. Through dance, children are engaged in creative movement within a group setting. The focus of this work is on the wellbeing and development of the whole child, mindful of their cognitive, emotional, physical and social development.

Creativity & Self-Esteem

Creative movement is a joyful way to focus on the wellbeing and development of the whole child; encouraging response to stimuli, developing physical skills, redirecting energy, stimulating imagination and promoting creativity. Looking at the complete child - both body and mind (the emotional, cognitive"Imagination allows the child to identify what they might be feeling." and physical) - whilst offering a supportive platform for freedom of expression, provides a fantastic non-verbal mechanism for children to express emotions in a playful, creative and imaginative way.

This focus on playfulness, creativity and imagination allows the child to identify what they might be feeling, thus improving confidence and self-esteem. Winnicott refers to the process of creation ‘not as merely a vocalisation activity but as fundamental to the development of the individual and his or hers relationship.’ (DM Winnicott, 1971).


By using activities and skills that encourage empathy and understanding, positive and supportive relationships can be built. Through movement, children learn about their bodies, the space around them and each other. As a group, they agree to listen, not to speak when someone else is talking and not to share any information heard outside of the group, unless with an appropriate adult.

Topics, themes and curriculum content may also be taught and explored through movement, adding educational value to the experience and raising levels of learning. The child’s sense of worth is key: feeling a part of something and knowing that they are achieving something of importance.

Active listening

Listening with positive intention is something each child can be encouraged to try to manage. Having a sense of responsibility for and listening to another person means supporting them and making them feel worthy of attention.

Language and Communication

Research shows that the right hemisphere of the brain (the sensing and feeling side) functions through activities such as music, art and creativity. Both sides of the brain must be developed during the critical learning periods in early childhood for important cross-referencing to occur."Both sides of the brain must be developed during the critical learning periods." When children are engaged in creative movement, this activity aids development of their memory and ability to communicate.

The building of relationships can be enhanced through positive communication: developing empathy, compassion, trust and the responsibility of kindness. Identifying the diverse range of relationships and coping strategies, ensures the promotion of more positive relationships.

Sensory Awareness

Children need to gain a good mental picture of their own physicality. Controlling their own bodies is the first type of control children learn and is the first step toward developing internal self-discipline. Body awareness is an essential part of becoming aware of our feelings, because they exist in our minds and bodies. When we feel angry or excited, we feel it in our whole self. Body awareness is similarly important in the development of spatial orientation: children perceive the world through their senses. Attuned behavior, therefore, leads to a greater understanding of both themselves and their surroundings.

Jump In!

Whilst, to many teachers, ‘Dance’ seems like an alien concept, it is actually far more accessible than you might think. What is described here is derived from research by skilled professionals but you need not be an expert to facilitate simple movement work. With the correct prompts, suggestions and appropriately stimulating music, pupils are more than capable of producing their own ideas.

As the teacher, all you need do is provide the framework and guidance, as you would in any subject. The results will speak for themselves, so why not jump in? You may be surprised at what both you and your pupils are able to achieve.

Co-written by Brian Madigan, founder of Dance Notes.

Do you utilise dance for development? Let us know below!

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