Watch a baby holding onto the crib rail and bouncing up and down to music, or a toddler's instant physical response when a song starts to play, and you've witnessed two things inherent in humans: the need to move and a physical and emotional response to music.
While adults have had years to learn to feel self-conscious about their dance "abilities," young children are blissfully unencumbered by the need to move in certain ways. They just do what comes naturally to them!
Toddlers aren't ready for anything formal at this stage in their lives. They have neither the emotional nor cognitive abilities to understand instructions, follow directions or conform. (And why would we want them to do the latter anyway?) Nor do they have the physical ability to perform complicated—and often unnatural—movements.
So how can you involve your little one in "dance" without putting a damper on the joy of movement? Here are some ideas for musical games you can play with your child.
Young children love this game in which they move in any way they want while the music is playing and freeze into a statue when the music stops (you press the pause button). Be sure to start and stop the music randomly, with various lengths of time for both the playing and the pauses. Long pauses will heighten the anticipation, and very brief ones will have your child squealing in delight.
This activity provides experience with stopping and starting on signal, balance, body and spatial awareness, discrimination between sound and silence and more. By making a game out of it, movement "improvisation," which promotes creativity and self-expression, isn't nearly as intimidating as the instruction to "move in the way the music makes you feel." And when you use varying styles and tempos of music, your toddler practices a variety of movements and gets an early lesson in music appreciation.
This game also promotes listening skills, discrimination between sound and silence and practice with stopping and starting. It has the added bonus of positive physical contact, which strengthens the bond between you and your toddler. To participate, both of you move in any way you want while the music is playing. When it stops (again, you press the pause button), you go to each other and hug. Start the music again, and repeat!
If you have multiple family members playing, participants hug whoever is closest to them when the music stops. If you're having a birthday party with several children in attendance, play this game instead of Musical Chairs, which eliminates players and means less movement for all but one child and results in one winner and many "losers."
A variation on the above game, this requires players to find each other, hold hands and sit down until the music starts again! If you have several players, the game also can be played in two circles, one inside the other (one partner in the inside circle and one in the outside). When the music starts, the circles move in opposite directions. When it stops, the children run to their partners, hold hands and sit down.
Like a musical game, adding a prop to movement improvisation removes self-consciousness as the children explore and discover how the music makes the prop feel like moving. Chiffon scarves are wonderful for this purpose as they float and drift and are brightly colored, making visual tracking easier. But you also can use ribbons, dishtowels or even paper towel squares.