Dance, mindfulness and how it can benefit your PE teaching.
Mindfulness is a buzzword that has been circulating within the educational sector regularly in recent years, and rightfully so. In our drive to ensure our young people are emotionally well and mentally healthy, it is something that many of us have thought about bringing in to our teaching, but are perhaps unsure how and where to implement it into our already jam-packed curriculum. Dance is already on the PE curriculum (the only AfPE recommended activity along with OAA) and provides the perfect opportunity to combine mindfulness with movement, holding a unique key in maximising the positive mental impact of exercise in an already timetabled slot. We all know the benefits of any physical activity on our mental health (better mood, longer focusing times, boosted self-esteem and improved sleeping patterns etc. etc. etc.) but due to the multi-faceted nature of Dance as both sport and art, it provides us with an ideal opportunity to maximise the mindful impact of our PE. With this in mind have a go at implementing these 4 strategies and see if you can realise the benefits of Dance and mindfulness within your PE curriculum.
1. Link movement with the breath, especially in warm up and cool down stretches.
This is a particularly simple way to implement mindfulness into your movement if you lack confidence delivering dance and/or mindful relaxation techniques. As you move through
your warm up stretches prompt pupils to inhale and exhale along with each movement. Guide them to focus on the breath and how it feels in their body alongside the movement.
Offer them counts (either to the music or verbally) to support them in maintaining their
focus, breathing in for 4 and out for 4 for example. At a couple of junctures ask them if their
mind has wandered and invite them to return their focus back to the breath and the stretch
2. Thematic visualisation as a creative stimulus for choreography.
This is another way to bring Dance into your curriculum if you lack confidence in creating
your own routine to deliver from scratch, alongside teaching mindful techniques in a
creative way. Invite pupils to lie down or sit with their eyes closed (take time setting this up
carefully to minimise the chance of giggles disrupting the focus!) and ask them to focus on
their breath and clear their mind. Describe a relaxing place for them using as many senses as you can – this could be a meadow, forest, beach or park for example. Encourage them to
imagine they are there, considering what they can see, hear, smell and feel. Bring them back
to their breaths and slowly ask them to re-join the room. You can then use this as a stimulus
(starting point) for pupils to create their own choreography (dance movement) in small groups. Ask them to think about how they felt and what movements come to mind, what
could they see (e.g. Waves) and could they mimic this into an action? Could they hear the
wind and how would that move? Try to highlight the abstract to avoid pupils simply acting
out a walk in the woods for example. Could they move as the growing flowers or emulate
the shapes of the clouds in the sky?
3. Include some somatic movement games– especially at EYFS/KS1.
Somatic movement focuses on the intrinsic value of movement, rather than how it looks to
an audience, peer or assessor. It is moving simply because it feels good to you – it doesn’t
matter how it looks. This can be a nice way to encourage pupils to focus mindfully on an
action whilst exploring their creativity and is especially effective with the youngest year
groups who are naturally less inhibited! Try including a somatic movement game in your
warm up – give pupils a positive emotion such as happiness, calm, excitement, caring or
creating. Ask them to move in the way that emotion makes them feel, asking them to
concentrate how the movement makes them feel in turn. This creates a mindful cycle where
the thought and movement feed in to one another to have a positive impact on the child!
4. Ensure your dance is non-competitive so pupils can focus on their own output and
achievement for themselves.
Dance doesn’t demand any competition unlike many other result orientated sports. A University of the Arts Helsinki policy brief found that this ‘is why Dance can play a useful role in preventing… social exclusion among children’ who can reject or shy away from other PE topics. Where possible across the weeks of teaching ask pupils to self assess how the sessions movement made them feel and why at specific junctures. Encouraging them to focus in on the present movement on a regular basis is the essence of mindfulness and is a really quick and easy way to build this into your teaching every lesson.
Finally, if you implement these strategies successfully make sure you shout about it! There are many changes in the recent OFSTED framework which are centred on pupil wellbeing; the words ‘mentally healthy’ appear 3 times within the new handbook, which also highlights the need to create a culture which fosters ‘wellbeing and resilience’ – add in the strategies above and you are doing this alongside your ‘broad and balanced’ PE curriculum content providing two big ticks. For schools to be outstanding they must also give pupils the tools to make ‘informed choices’ about their ‘emotional and mental wellbeing’. To this end remind pupils before an academic assessment of the breathing techniques or visualisations you built into your dance content to allow your children to over learn these mindful techniques. Make them explicit in your planning so your thinking and rationale is evident. Get the credit for making your children more focused, calmer and healthier young people!
Happy Dancing! For any further ideas or support please don’t hesitate to get in touch for a chat – firstname.lastname@example.org