Keep It Kinesthetic: Non-Locomotor Movement for Concepts, Stress Relief, and Distance


Carl Orff stated that “Dance has the closest relationship to music. My idea and the task that I set myself was a regeneration of music through movement, through dance.” Later, he added that rhythm is difficult to teach, expressed only by “releasing” it. Anne Green Gilbert, who developed Brain Dance, noted the connections between dance and human growth and development. Two Orff educators, Jenny Burnett and Laura Webster, wrote an article for the Orff Echo describing how to use movement to teach concepts (Orff Echo, Vol. 42, No. 4).Finally, as noted on this blog post on Walkabout, movement is a crucial tool in social emotional development, which is probably needed more now than in past decades.

There’s an issue: I KNOW some of you are thinking that it’s tough enough to keep kids distanced from each other, much less let them move around the room! Non-locomotor ideas to the rescue. These ideas can be be used to reinforce concepts, expression, mindfulness, or just as a brain break. And honestly? I would strongly suggest you participate as well. It makes for a safe classroom, because kids will learn it’s OK to make mistakes. And you could probably use the mindfulness and stress release as well!

  • Songs with Directions in Lyrics. My primary-aged students (even my older kids) LOVED “One Green Jelly Bean” . They would ask for it just about every time they had music. If you have never heard it, it’s darling! Students do the following: Jump, pat head, rub tummy, and kick. Oh, did I say it was cumulative? Picture kindergartners (or you!) trying to kick and jump at the same time. Perfect for large motor skills and for when the kids have been sitting and listening too long.
  • Revamp favorite folk dances. Another activity my students loved was “7 Jumps”. (Found here on my Spotify playlist or on Amazon.). Based on what your health standards are, you could go ahead with the circle, but just add tape on the floor where the students are to step. The con to that is that most Ks and first graders will try to hop to the next spot, but depending on the class, that could be a good thing! The original dance goes something like this (variations, of course, abound@!)
    *Fermata-I like to have the kids stretch in one direction and then the other
    *8 counts-walk clockwise in group circle
    *2 beats-clap clap clap (ti-ti-ta)
    * 2 beats-turn around 180 degrees
    * 2 beats-clap, clap, clap
    *2 beats- turn the other way
    Fermata-balance on right foot
    *Repeat whole pattern each time, but each time, there will be an added fermata at the end of the phrase, and you will be adding moves cumulatively
    +balance on right foot
    +balance on left foot
    +kneel right knee
    +kneel left knee
    + right elbow on floor
    +left elbow on floor
    +forehead on floor
    *Instead of moving around the circle, check out what this gym teacher does at the beginning:
    For older students, how can you adapt T’Smidje? Here are the original moves, as “performed” by one of my classes several years ago:

    *. Concentric circle, partners side by side.
    *Partner on the inside is considered the “driver”. Partner on the outside is the “passenger”
    *4 Steps forward, turn and 4 steps backward in the same direction
    *Partners jump in, out, and switch places
    *Jump in towards each other, jump out.
    *Here’s the tricky part, one that Sanna Longden (who taught this at an Orff conference I attended) calls “driver/passenger switch”: driver goes to passenger side of the couple in front of them. Passenger switches to their driver side, so it’s a zigzag effect.
    *The original calls for hand holding. I don’t do that, so it’s easily adaptable with masks and spacing if you have it! Great for a pop-up warm day or a day you can utilize the gym. Show them this video first.

  • Movement Cards. Movement cards are a great way to get students’ attention because they have to switch movements or poses when someone changes cards. It’s also a great way to stretch. Here is a set of skeleton movement cards offered for free on my Teachers Pay Teachers store. It includes Spotify links to 7 listening selections.
    *Yoga cards are another great way to incorporate stretching, as well as mindfulness for restless kids. And, of course, they are also springboards to creative movement. My students just LOVED Yoga Pretzel.   I would use one of the Eric Chappell Potpourri arrangements for music. Yoga was often one of the first things my primary aged kids asked for when they walked into the room. Even my most reluctant students or my most antsy students concentrated on getting each pose correct. I guess this is probably why more schools are incorporating yoga. The moves and the quiet work! Here’s a photo from my last first grade class before I retired:

    First grade students doing yoga poses from Yoga Pretzels pose cards

    *And then there’s Mr. Stick: ?

       Using wooden art manniquin for movement

We would start out with a chant: 
                    Mr. Stick, make it quick.

                    Show me a pose and make it slick.

Sometimes I would use music, but usually I didn’t. I would also pick students to be the “conductor”. That, of course, would be up to you, but you could have the child wear glove.

  • Teaching Concepts. Movement is a fabulous way to teach musical concepts. Both the Kodály and Dalcroze teaching philosophies emphasize movement as a teaching tool to incorporate the elements inwardly. 

For example, in one of my newest Teachers Pay Teachers products, Trick or Treat Triple Meter Music Activities, one activity consists of stomping on a spider on the strong beat of triple meter. The other includes skeleton poses, in which the teacher signals for students to switch poses on the strong beat.

Do not eliminate movement. Your students need it. You need it.

Please feel free to share any new ideas you have developed to make movement safer in your classroom. You may use the comment section.

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I am an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor from Missouri and have completed my Ph.D. in music education through the University of Kansas.

I am an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor from Missouri and have just completed my Ph.D. in music education through the University of Kansas.


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