As a dance teacher you have the unique opportunity to engage children of all abilities in dance. Including children with disabilities is not hard; it just requires awareness and flexibility. A good teacher is an inclusive teacher.
Quick tips for dance teachers
Teacher’s personal attitudes will have a real impact on the lives of kids with disabilities. Always be understanding, caring and think of things from the child’s perspective.
Be aware of how you speak to parents about their child, don’t make them feel inadequate. Be mindful how you communicate with others about a child with a disability. How would a child feel if spoken about in this way? How would their parents and family feel?
If unsure, ask the child
If you’re not sure how to modify a dance exercises or activity for a child ask the child for the best way for him/her to be successful. All children have their own unique strengths and abilities. Focus on what they can do, not what they can’t.
Parents know their child best
No matter how much you know about a particular disability, parents know their child the best. Talk to parents to find out the best way to communicate and work with their child. Parents can help you understand a child’s unique strengths and areas they need more help.
Before starting to teach the child you could ask questions like: What activities does your child enjoy the most? Are there any things they find particularly challenging? Are there things I can do to support his/her participation as much as possible? Are there situations that he/she finds stressful? Are there things that I can do to help your child understand or learn a new skill? What is the best way to communicate?
Change the activity not the child
If a child is struggling with a dance activity, remember the problem is not within the child, it is with the strategy. For example, you might say: “You seem to have difficulty doing this movement. We will do the step more slowly. Let’s try it together.”
Have the same expectations
Don’t lower expectations for children with disabilities. For example, if everyone is expected to pack up equipment at the end of the class, a child with a disability should also help. Be aware that they may need to be given a simpler or modified task or provide more time.
Create lots of roles
Some kids may prefer to choose the music, press the play and stop button or clap along in time, rather than dance. Create lots of different roles so that everyone can be involved.
Consider how to create groups
Some students may learn better in a small group. Consider grouping children in different ways during the class.
Make sure a child with a disability doesn’t feel like the only one who may need extra help.
Pair children with buddies
Consider pairing a kid with a buddy to help them during activities. Older or more skilful kids can mentor others and model the best way to make a dance movement.
Get extra help
Having more teachers, parents, mentors such as a dance artist with a disability or volunteers involved can support kids who need individual help to dance.
Find the activity level that enables success
Provide activities where children can succeed and develop their self-esteem, particularly when a child first starts. Increasing the degree of difficulty slowly over time allows the child to continue to be challenged, without being disheartened.
Give kids the time they need
Provide more time for kids to learn a movement or activity. Make sure you give kids the time they need to be able to participate and know what to do. This may be giving them additional instructions in the way they need based on their communication needs to fully understand what to do.
Give the same time
Give kids with disabilities a similar amount of feedback, attention, and time as kids without a disability.
Find out more about the ‘TREE’ approach for inclusive teaching