The earliest days of the studio were shaped by research into brain development; how brains grew and the importance of movement therein. It began as a search for suitable curriculum and training. But the more I read, the more curious I got. As you might imagine, my curiosity fed the algorithm which led to more reading and research. I soon realized that the studio had to be designed with neurodevelopment in mind. This focus on neurodevelopment has shaped our philosophy of “dance for a lifetime”. We teach dancers as young as 99 days to as old as 99 years. This wide range is broader than most would expect for a dance studio, but the questions about the rationale for teaching three-month old (or a one- or two-year old) would take a dance class rattle around my head the most. These questions reveal a gap in our cultural understanding of the importance of music and movement for the littlest people. In this post, I am going to highlight a few of the reasons and benefits of enrolling a child as young as three months into the Jig Together program at Kaleidoscope Studio.
Movement is central to the formation of neural pathways, especially in children. A baby’s first experiences of touch at birth, time snuggled with caregivers, free time on the floor – even before they are mobile, all contribute to children’s learning. Through all of this their brains are growing through movement and exploration. Babies and children also push boundaries – they want to extend their world. They are born risk-takers who engage in discovery and learn more about the world. They constantly stretch their abilities to see what is possible and in so doing, teach themselves three essential values: the courage to try, perseverance to try again, and independent decision making in the pursuit of a goal. One of the greatest barriers to brain development in early childhood is the restraints they frequently inhabit – car seats, strollers, bouncy chairs, and more. Layered on top of that is the increased role that technology has assumed in our lives and now we are all virtually motionless – including our gaze while fixed in front of our screens. We must be proactive in countering this providing young children (and ourselves as adults) with opportunities to move and explore.
Brain anatomy is complex, with each section providing a different aspect of perceiving and interpreting the world. Our bodies are equipped with a variety of reflexes. Infants are born with a series of reflexes that over time become integrated. These are motor pathways essential to survival, serve developmental needs, and help to initiate brain growth. These automated movements are essential to a child’s ability to think. They eventually become integrated into the brain infrastructure for voluntary movement. Increasingly, we are seeing more and more people with unintegrated primitive reflexes. These retained reflexes contribute to developmental delays and can also create difficulties in social and educational aspects of people’s lives. The only way to develop mature psychomotor responses is to ensure that the central nervous system, which is the core of all neural development, is well developed. Movement is the only way to do this.
Recently, researchers have discovered that rhythmic information is the process by which language is acquired – think nursery rhymes, poems, and songs – and not through phonetic information. These recent findings contradict earlier beliefs that individual sound elements were the building blocks of infant language learning. Language is not just spoken or written words. It includes verbal, physical, musical, and symbolic communication. Separating or isolating these in fact reduces linguistic capacity. Language is the bridge between the physical and tangible world that a child encounters and the abstractions that take shape in the mind. They are linked. When scientists measured the brainwaves in infants, it was clear that the nursery rhymes demonstrated more significant activity than the individual sounds. Other researchers have discovered that rhythm and beat are innate to children, and not the result of learned sound sequences. If we want children to read, or communicate in general, they must sing and move in their earliest days in order to develop the neural architecture needed for higher levels of creativity and communication.
There is much more to be said about the research into brain development in early childhood, but we’ll leave it there for now. So why sign up a baby for a dance class? The short answer is to help facilitate the development of their brains. The added benefit is what caregivers also learn through the class and take home with their children to continue the learning at home. In class, we sing songs and do activities that can easily be incorporated at home. One of the parents who has been dancing with their child since they were four months old has shared about how frequently people comment on how this child is growing and developing. There is nothing fancy in what we do at Kaleidoscope Studio; it is not choreography or technique, but rather an enriched environment that provides opportunities for brains to learn and grow. Come see the difference that intentionally designed early childhood classes could make for your child!