The bodies of young children are growing and changing fast. So it is very important not to demand more physically, and intellectually than they can safely manage. The pre-school years are a time to encourage motor skills through a wide range of activities taking place in a variety of settings. There is no doubt that it is beneficial to establish an interest in movement and exercise as early in life as possible. Childhood obesity and its risk to health is a growing problem in many areas of the world.

Informed opinion is that toddlers and pre-schoolers should have a minimum of sixty minutes up to several hours of daily, unstructured physical activity. They also should not be sedentary for longer than an hour at a time except when sleeping. Perhaps some children labelled as "hyper-active" actually are not but have parents who cannot cope with their energy levels.

Toddlers at about eighteen months old will experience music by dancing with happy enthusiasm. This does not mean they are ready for formal classes. They are not usually sufficiently mature to follow the instructions issued in a session, nor do they have the necesssary physical control. We must remember that children develop at different rates.

Reputable schools will not usually take little ones for ballet or tap until they are three or four years old. All instruction in dance forms such as ballet, tap and jazz should directly relate to the childs physical development. Physical development and chronological age do not necessarily go hand in hand.

The one to two year old can safely attend "Mommy and Me" sessions where they have the re-assuring presence of someone well-known to them. Some establishments allow two year olds to take part in a weekly thirty minute class. There are schools which start with simple formal ballet lessons at three and a half. This is not necessarily a good idea. It is easy to damage young bodies through faulty teaching. In ballet the "turnout" if undertaken too early can cause problems. The "turnout" is the external rotation of the leg from the hip so that the dancers knees and toes are facing away from the body. Undertaking "pointe" (where the dancer rises to the tips of the toes while performing ballet steps) work too early can lead to deformation of the feet.

Two to three year olds do not need formal lessons. They need creative movement classes where they can let off steam, have fun and use their imaginations. Pupils under the age of seven should not take part in recitals. Performing for strangers can be a negative experience for some.

What do you need to look for in choosing a school? Having made the decision to let your child learn to dance how do you find a suitable teacher? First of all take on board that retired dancers do not as a matter of course make good teachers. It is necessary to understand the social and physical developments of childhood as well as child psychology. A teacher must like the younger age groups and be able to strike a rapport with them. The late, great Dame Margot Fonteyn said "The art of teaching ballet and the art of dancing are two different arts, not always achieved by the same person." Teaching is a vocation and needs training, knowledge and experience. Those practising must hae sound teaching methods, imagination and boundless enthusiasm. The person in charge needs to be able to stay in control of the class without getting flustered or raising his or her voice unduly.

Parents should be allowed to watch the class through a window or TV monitor. Their presence in the studio itself would be a distraction.

Numerous types of movement come into consideration for example as already mentioned ballet,and jazz, also improvisational, rhythmic gymnastics (a combination of dance and gymnastics) and tap dance to name but a few.

What are the benefits for young children who attend dance classes? They learn such skills are listening carefully and not talking while instructions are being given. Furthermore they also learn to be a member of a group and to take turns. Classes offer the opportuity to move to a beat, increase musicality and the use of the imagination. Those taking part learn to express their feelings and emotions physically in a non-aggressive manner. Pupils are helped to become more familiar with their bodies and to use their bodies creatively. Sessions can also offer experiences of different cultures. To this list of benefits we must add physical flexibility, co-ordination and cardiovascular and general fitness are improved. Dance lessons are also a team-building and confidence-enhancing activity.

Dance classes are helpful to all including children with special needs. The Children's Hospital in Boston in the United States set up a dance program for children with Downs Syndrome. At the end of the program the participants showed decreased body mass index as well as social benefits, improved general health and increased self-confidence.

To give your young kids the opportunity to learn about dance at a young age is to give them a wonderful introduction to the aesthetic aspects of life.

Author's Bio: 

Dzagbe Cudjoe is a Dance Movement Therapist and ethnologist with wide experience of Dance in Africa and Europe. As an ethnologist her main field of research was into West African traditional religion. As a Dance Movement Therapist her area of specialization is working with children who have challenging behaviour or severe physical and intellectual Special Needs. Dzagbe is now working on helping the parents of such children to appreciate the healing effects of dance. She is the author of the e-manual "Dance to Health - Help Your Special Needs Child Through Inspirational Dance." For more Information visit Dance to Health