Chibi Chan Preschool serves children ages two to five years old. The school is dedicated to creating an environment that fosters independence. Children are given opportunities to make decisions on their own and are exposed to a diverse array of experiences, such as creative movement classes, to establish the foundation for learning. I recently had an opportunity to visit Artist Mentor Tina Banchero’s class with Artistic Director Gary Draper and witness creative learning.
A small girl wearing a cheerleading outfit waves at me shyly as Gary, the Performing Arts Workshop’s Artistic Director, and I enter her Chibi Chan preschool classroom. Energy is high and when the students finally funnel into the open dance space for their class, they jump, yell, and run wild. A group of girls chatter in the center of the room and two boys practice their feet-first baseball slides in the corner. Tina, the teaching artist, captures their attention by calmly tapping a tambourine. Within moments the twelve children are gathered attentively in a circle.
Tina explains to her students that we will be observing the class and then, shaking the tambourine, she begins the lesson. “Who can tell me what type of shape my arms are making? Is it curved or straight?” Her arms lift gracefully into a curved halo above her head. The children giggle gleefully and raise their own arms into the air, softly whispering their answers.
“Now I want each of you to make a curved shape or a straight shape with your arms.” Some students bend their arms or point off into the distance. The quieter ones sit anxiously, eyes fixed on their teacher, waiting to be called on individually. One child jumps to his feet then lowers his head to the floor in the beginnings of a headstand. Another lays on his back and sticks his leg straight up in the air, arms plastered at his sides. I can’t control the smile that bursts onto my face. This is going to be an interesting class.
While watching, I realize that this is unlike any dance class I have ever seen. Students are pushed to make non-stereotypical choices, to be uninhibited, and to think abstractly. They are not learning dance moves and rehearsing for a holiday recital, they are learning about movement. This class is building confidence, patience, and empathy, all while helping the students develop spatial awareness.
Tina continues, “Let’s think about the curved lines in nature. Become a snake!” without hesitation the students drop to the floor and slither, arms tucked to their sides. Tina introduces the spatial concepts of low and high levels and encouraging more abstract thinking, asks “What about a snake in the water? Or slithering up a tree? What would that look like? Where would it be?”
Some students remain on the ground. Others stand and twist their bodies. They are entirely immersed in the moment, their eyes glimmering with excitement as they watch each other move around the room.
For the final exercise Tina explains, “When I stop the music, freeze with your whole body in either a curved or a straight position.” Light Spanish instrumentals fill the room and the students bound around gleefully. Gary taps my arm and says “look at that one, he’s got it,” pointing to a child twisting and bending in front of us. The music stops abruptly. The student we have been watching drops to his knees and without hesitation, arches his spine, plunges his head back towards his feet, and thrusts an arm high in the air. The moment is beautiful, artistic, and real. Frozen in space, fingers stretched out towards the ceiling, fully engaged and flowing, this student reminds us of the power of performing arts.
Want more? Click here to step inside a virtual pre-kindergarten class at Visitacion Valley Family School.