Storytelling for Preschoolers through Movement and Dance 

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“Tell me a story!”  This is an opening to build on your child’s interests and attention span.  Pounce on the opportunity by having a few suspenseful stories of your own ready to share!  Unlike reading to children, oral storytelling seems to unleash the imagination.  (No illustrations to rely on!)  When we are making direct eye contact with the children in our audience, we are also building community.  When we watch each other’s faces for emotions, a call-and-response takes place.  For example, if I gesture wildly or raise my voice, the children gasp.  If I whisper, they lean forward.  The intense listening and immediate responses create a level of intimacy and unity.  

By acting out stories, children consider how characters look, move, and sound.  What are the gestures and voices that make the characters seem real?  Here are some stories appropriate for children ages three to five, with a few suggestions for sparking interaction. 

“Goldilocks and the Three Bears” 

When telling this story, pause to let the children act out scenes.  When Goldilocks is tasting porridge, children cup their palms as if holding the bowl.  Does the bowl feel hot or cold?  Next, taste the porridge using various facial expressions.  When Goldilocks sit in the rocking chairs, they can rock back and forth.  Then Goldilocks startles awake, looking very frightened!  The children can run in place to demonstrate Goldilocks fleeing and may begin stomping their feet to show speed and fear. 

“Going on a Tiger Hunt” 

This story not only has repetitive phrases such as “but I’m not afraid” but also gives children the opportunity to invent many sound effects and memorize/anticipate the rhythm and sequence of the sound effects. 

“The Three Billy Goats Gruff” 

Before telling this story, discuss with the children how a troll might move or sound. When telling the story, ask the children, “How do you think the eldest Billy Goat Gruff sounds different from Baby Billy Goat Gruff?  How do you think the eldest Billy Goat Gruff moves when he crosses the bridge versus Baby Billy Goat Gruff?”  This discussion will make each character more distinctive and will also encourage the children to be aware of the differing points of view when acting out each segment.  Children will also begin to predict the repetition of phrases such as “trip-trap-trip-trap” when the goats move over the bridge. 

Oral storytelling encourages deeper participation among preschoolers through role-playing and performance.  Preschoolers develop essential speaking and listening skills when they express their ideas and respond to the ideas of others. Storytelling can expand preschoolers’ creativity and develop their language skills and social skills.  If children are learning a new language, tell stories that incorporate a few keywords in their native language.  

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Dancing with Preschoolers 

Have you ever wondered how to get your exercising done while also keeping an eye on your preschooler? You can do both at the same time by teaching dance to the children in your care. Children are natural explorers, and they enjoy activities that involve the senses and movement.  As a result, children are more engaged and physical activity makes them feel good! Together we can demonstrate and practice the movements that go with words like tiptoe, gallop, soar, swing, shuffle, sway, prance, and twirl.  While teaching, set up a mirror or record the children dancing, so the children can watch themselves during or afterward!  

You can also incorporate changes of tempo (speed) and rhythm (marching, waltzing).  Choose music that is mostly instrumental and let the children experiment with movements best adapted to the music.  Alternate between music that is calm and soothing and music that suggests a very energetic response. Ask children how their bodies felt when listening or moving to the different types of music. Which ones did they like the most?  

Activity Ideas for groups of preschoolers 

  1.  Read the chosen book aloud to the undivided class.  Then, ask the children in the first group to go to a personal space.  Remind children to be aware of others in the space around them.   
  2.  Split the class into two groups if space is limited. One group will be the audience and the other will dance.  
  3.  Ask the children in the audience group to do something specific while they watch the dancers. Watch for actions by the dancers, like ice skating, building a snowman, or making footprints in the snow.
  4.  Play the music softly.  Over the music, retell highlights from the story in the order they happened and if necessary, call out movement prompts. 
  5.  Observe any variations created by the children as they relive the story through movement.  Give children enough time to try out their ideas, but also be ready to move on to the following action before attention wanders. 
  6.  Conclude the story and ask the children to freeze in their final position.
  7.  Have the two groups change places and retell the story. 
  8.  Then, children can move to a circle to sit and discuss any changes or additions they could make to the story. 

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Children may have a favorite story that suggests various movements.  Encourage them to move by selecting their favorite story to act out. It’ll help them stay engaged with the story! 

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.  1962.  Viking Press. 

The book follows the adventures of Peter, a little boy in the city on a very snowy day.  

Possible actions include:  Waking up, looking around, putting on a snowsuit, walking with toes pointing out and toes pointing in, dragging feet slowly, swinging a stick at a tree, making a snowman and a snow angel, climbing a snow bank and sliding down, putting snowballs in pockets, going to sleep. What other actions can you think of?  

Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes.  2004.  Greenwillow Books. 

This book is about a kitten who thinks the moon is a bowl of milk.  

Possible actions include:  looking at the moon, closing her eyes, stretching her neck, opening her mouth, tasting a bug, leaping at the moon and falling, hurting her ear, running (in place), climbing a tree, leaping in the pond, feeling wet and hungry, drinking a bowl of soup  

Interestingly, when preschoolers retell a story through dance, they build language and literacy skills. Creating dance stories helps preschoolers learn about sequencing, identify with characters, understand the setting, acquire vocabulary, reinforce concepts from the stories, and gain awareness of adapting movement to the available space. Overall, incorporating movements with stories frees a child’s imagination and prompts them to interact with the material.  Check out Growing Active Readers for more book-based lessons for children Pre-K to 3rd Grade.

Source:  Expressing Creativity in Preschool from the editors of Teaching Young Children.  2015. 

National Association for the Education of Young Children. 


Peer Reviewed by Lynn DeVries, Lisa Poppe, and Jackie Steffen, Extension Educator, Early Childhood Extension

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Children’s Books For Hispanic Heritage Month

National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated September 15th to October 15th! This month celebrates the cultures and contributions of Latino Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. September 15th is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. While Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September 18.

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month try reading these great children’s books:

The Barking Mouse book

The Barking Mouse by Antonio Sacre. This is a Cuban folktale retold by Antonio Sacre is about the value of being bilingual.

I Love Saturdays Y Domingos

I Love Saturdays y Domingos by Alma Flor Ada. Sat­ur­days and Sun­days are very spe­cial days for the child in this story. On Sat­ur­days, she vis­its Grandma and Grandpa, who come from a European-American back­ground, and on Sundays (los domingos) she visits Abuelito y Abuelita, who are Mexican-American. While the two sets of grand­par­ents are dif­fer­ent in many ways, they also have a great deal in common–in par­tic­u­lar, their love for their granddaughter.


Round is a Tortilla by Roseanne Greenfield Thong.  A little girl discovers that shapes are all around her. They are part of her culture and the food she eats, games she plays, and objects in her room and around her town. Everywhere she looks, she sees shapes!

Green Is a Chile Pepper book

Green is a Chile Pepper by Roseanne Greenfield Thong.  A little girl discovers all the bright colors in her Hispanic American neighborhood.


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Activities To Help Children Grow


Question: I want to help my child learn and be ready for school, but sometimes I feel like the day is so busy I can’t fit in one more thing! Do you have ideas for activities we can do together that won’t take extra time?

Answer: Every day errands and chores are a great time to involve your child and help them learn and grow.  Parents and caregivers often think they need to use computer software, videos, or workbooks for “learning” but actually, young children learn from every day experiences and learn best when they are involved in hands on activities. Plus, they love to help and be part of what you are doing.

Here are some ideas to help you get started with suggestions for different ages of children.

Talk about what you are doing

It may feel funny at first, especially with a small infant or toddler who cannot talk back to you or ask questions. Try to pretend you are on a cooking or “do it yourself” show while your infant or toddler is watching you or playing by your side. You can describe the actions you are doing while cooking or working in the garden. Describe what you see around you as you are driving in the car or at the grocery store. Your child is learning new words and concepts just by hearing you talk.

Read signs and words around you

Children learn that printed words carry a message from the signs and words that are in their world. Try pointing out the signs of familiar stores, traffic signs, and signs with information. You might be surprised at how quickly your child learns to point out “S-T-O-P Stop!” Through these experiences, children learn that letters come together to form words and these words carry a message…key things for readers to know!

Laundry time as math time

Even toddlers can sort out all of the socks from a basket of laundry. Preschoolers may be able to match the socks into pairs. Young children can fold simple things like pillow cases, washcloths, and towels. Try giving your child their own little basket and asking them to sort or fold a certain type of laundry. They are learning early math skills of classification, shapes, fractions, (learning to fold in halves and quarters) and building their sense of competence as they help you.

Dusting, picking up, and direction following

Try giving your child a damp rag and asking them to dust certain surfaces. Make it a game by giving interesting directions… “Can you dust three things that are green? Can you pick up all of the purple blocks and put them in the basket?” Then encourage your child to look for furniture or the toys that you have described. Being able to follow directions and use clues are both important early learning skills.  Children may be motivated when you make a job a game.

Let’s watch things grow together!

Your child will enjoy working by your side in the garden. They may enjoy planting seedlings or flowers with you. They can learn important science skills about their natural world when working by your side. A small child sized rake can be fun to use in the fall. Children can help bag leaves, pickup sticks, and dig up weeds in the garden if you show them how to identify plants that are weeds.

Work and play side by side with your child and they will be learning every day!

Author: Rebecca Swartz, Extension Educator | The Learning Child

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