How to Throw a Preschool Dance Party

Last Friday was one of my favorite days in the library: Preschool Dance Party day. This is a music and movement program we do twice a month at my library. It’s consistently popular (usually around 50-75 attendees), builds early literacy skills, and is FUN. I’ve seen lots of awesome posts on how people do their own music and movement programs. This is how we do ours.

Our program is 30 minutes long (although, full disclosure, we usually go over) and it consists of a movement book or story to start, 20-25 minutes of dancing, and ending with an activity with the parachute. Our music for this program is pretty much all pre-recorded music that we make into a playlist on our iPad and hook into our sound system in our meeting room. The age range for the dance party is technically 2-5, but younger siblings come, and that’s always been fine with us. Although we call it Preschool Dance Party, in a lot of ways it’s toddler dance party.

Some of the props we use.

Some of the props we use.

What kinds of music and dances do we do? All kinds! We always do one song with instruments, one song that we dance to with scarves, and quite a few classic songs like “Wheels on the Bus,” “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” and “The Hokey Pokey.” We also do the Limbo quite a bit, usually to a Motown song because I love them. And for the other songs, we use a lot of Laurie Berkner, Jim Gill, and other children’s songs you can follow along to and that spell out the dances and moves you can do. At last preschool dance party, we danced liked robots for one song (“Robot Friends” by Yo Gabba Gabba, another dance party favorite), played our instruments along with “Day-O” by Gregory Isaacs, pretended to surf to “Surfin’ USA” by the Beach Boys (I really love using oldies in the dance party because it gets the caregivers dancing with the kids), pretended to be dinosaurs to Laurie Berkner’s “We Are the Dinosaurs,” and shook our sillies out with Raffi.

If I’m not making it clear, I really love Preschool Dance Party. It’s one of my favorite programs that we do, and I think it has a lot of value. If you’d like to throw one of your own, here are my top tips:

1. Decide which dances you are going to do ahead of time. I have a planning sheet that I use where I write down the song and how we are going to dance to it (i.e., are we going to follow along to the song’s cues, are we going to dance with scarves, are we going to clap our hands and stomp our feet, or whatever). This helps me remember what the plan is during the craziness of the program, and lets me describe to the kiddos what we are going to do before every song.

2. Keep dancing! The kids will follow your lead. Which means you pretty much have to dance for the whole program. So be prepared to move.

3. Use tape to mark the perimeter of the dance area. Dance party is fun, but it’s also crazy and can be really overwhelming. I like to have a big taped square in the middle of the room, and then in my opening spiel I can make it clear that inside the taped area is the dance area, and outside is the place you can sit down if you need to take a rest. Also, when we do the Limbo, it’s nice to have the kids start by standing on a piece of tape. We also start the dance party by having everyone sit on a piece of tape. It’s helpful to have the tape as an anchor for the room and a place to have the kids come back to if necessary.

photo credit: San Mateo County Library via photopin cc

Yep, it’s pretty much like this. photo credit: San Mateo County Library via photopin cc

4. Think about the energy of the room when you build your playlist. I try to think of the playlist as part of the flow of the program, and that a high energy song is best followed by a quieter favorite. Otherwise, it gets a little too crazy and everyone can get overly hyped up, which leads to meltdowns. So, we might do a fun song like Pharrell’s “Happy” with our instruments, and then slow it down a little with one of my favorite dance party songs “Can You Clap?” by Sue Schnitzer. And then we might to the Limbo and bring the energy back up a little, and then follow with “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” It’s all about balancing all of that energy to keep the program fun.

5. Don’t forget about the classics. I love using new and fresh music, but one day after the dance party, I asked one girl what her favorite dance was. “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” she said, right away. As we know from storytime and all of our early literacy training, kids love repetition. They love singing and dancing to songs they know. So make sure you include a healthy dose of songs that a lot of the kids will know, like “Ring Around the Rosie,” “The Hokey Pokey,” “Wheels on the Bus,” and so on. I also use the same opening (“Shake Your Sillies Out”) and closing (Laurie Berkner’s “Drive My Car”) songs every time to keep a sense of repetition.

Those are my top tips for doing your own Preschool Dance Party. What tips can you add from your own music and movement programs?

2 thoughts on “How to Throw a Preschool Dance Party

  1. Hi Kristen!!

    My name is Codi Preston, and I am an assistant volunteer at Preschooler Storytime at one of my local libraries. I am from the San Francisco Bay Area in California. I am 39 years old and I have high functioning Autism (which is a developmental disability). For the past 7 years, I have been an assistant volunteer at Preschooler Storytime. I did a few years of Family Storytime between 2004 and 2007 as well. Basically, more or less, I am a co-host of Preschooler Storytime for 3-5 year olds. My friend Lauren is a children’s librarian and she co-hosts Storytime with me. We usually start out by doing “Car, Car” by Donovan, and “Open and Shut Them”. And then she reads the children different stories that have certain themes (eg. our last week’s theme was being happy). Usually she ends up reading about 3 books. And then we do different dances. More or less, I am a music director. I have Autism, like I said, and I have some autistic savant tendencies/skills. I am a geography whiz (I have a BA degree in Geography) and I love maps and I am like a walking atlas. I also happen to be very knowledgeable in the field of oldies music from the mid-1950s to the early 1970s, and in soft rock music from the 1970s to the mid 1990s. My knowledge of songs is downright impressive even to a music producer I know who has won Grammy awards for his music productions. It is no mistake to say I know a lot more about oldies songs than most disc jockeys at oldies radio stations. That being said, we do a lot of oldies music at Preschooler Storytime and the kids absolutely LOVE IT!! We usually do a children’s song like “The Chicken Dance” or something else first, but we love doing oldies music. We’ve done probably hundreds and maybe thousands of different oldies songs over the years. We’ve done “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On” by Jerry Lee Lewis, “The Loco-Motion” by Little Eva, and “The Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles (complete with photos attached to popsicle sticks showing John, Paul, George, Ringo, the band, submarine, the sun, etc that the children carry marching around the room). We’ve done many different songs from the 1950s and 1960s like “Have I The Right?” by the Honeycombs, “Glad All Over” by the Dave Clark Five, “Oh How Happy” by the Shades of Blue, “Lucky Ladybug” by Billy and Lillie, “Don’t Let Go” by Roy Hamilton, a lot of Frankie Valli / Four Seasons songs, a couple of different Dusty Springfield songs. I could go on forever about the oldies we’ve done with the children. We’ve even done disco songs from the 1970s such as the “YMCA” by the Village People. One of the perennial favorites of my Preschoolers is “Saturday Night” by the Bay City Rollers”. They absolutely love “Saturday Night”. The song that goes “S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y, Night!!”. You can pummel your arm in the air singing that!! And, usually we end Storytime doing another children’s song, “Peanut, Peanut Butter and Jelly”. To watch me rile up this crowd of Preschoolers is beyond hilarious. I jump up sky high in the air (I’m up in the front of the room, so all the kids can see me). and I get them to jump up higher than me. Everytime I sing “Peanut, Peanut Butter, and Jelly” I jump up high singing “JELLY!!”. It is very energy consuming, but hey, it’s worth it for the preschoolers. I absolutely love preschoolers. Maybe it’s because I’m still like a little kid myself emotionally and socially. Because of my Autism, I am emotionally and socially where a 5 year old might be. But anyway, every Friday I co-host Preschooler Storytime.

    I’m realizing after all these years that preschoolers absolutely love oldies music. You are so absolutely right spot on when you say that preschoolers love oldies music. I would say that a lot of listeners that listen on the radio to oldies stations are mostly either young children (toddlers, preschoolers, elementary school age children) or they are older than age 45-50. There is an age group where there is a complete black X as far as oldies music is concerned, and that is teens from 13 to young adults to people under age 40. It is very unusual for someone my age to be interested in oldies music, but all my life, all I listened to (even as a child in the late 1970s and 1980s and 1990s) was either oldies music, or it was soft rock music. I’ve heard it said that Anne Murray actually has a huge following among little kids because her songs are so soothing. I absolutely love Anne Murray – “You Needed Me” was a great song, and so were most of her songs. The Carpenters were also a great music group. And the Captain and Tennille, and many others. However, strangely enough, some oldies songs I like were labeled the worst songs of all time. For example, I love “Alone Again Naturally” by Gilbert O’Sullivan, and “Seasons In The Sun” by Terry Jacks. I also happen to love “Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro, which was a very much hated song. And one of my all time favorite songs happens to be “MacArthur Park” which was sung by Richard Harris in 1968. I love that song, about the cake in the rain and the icing flowing down, and not finding the recipe again. LOL. It’s a very long song though (7 minutes, 21 seconds) so it isn’t a good idea for Storytime – we try to play songs under 3 1/2 minutes – 4 minutes and over is getting a little too long. Besides, “MacArthur Park” isn’t a song that children will necessarily get excited doing because the music isn’t as lively as some other oldies songs like “Keep On Dancing” by the Gentrys. Most oldies songs before 1968 were under 3 minutes anyway, so finding oldies songs isn’t a problem at all mostly. As for MacArthur Park, I have a friend who is a community college math teacher / instructor (who is 64 years old) and he HATES MacArthur Park so much it’s not even funny. I one time took my portable Sesame Street record player to the community college, to his office and started playing that on a 45 rpm record. I told him after 4 minutes that I wanted that song played at my funeral. He said to me “Your funeral might be sooner than you think, you keep playing this song for me”. LOL. I said “Well you’ll come to my funeral right?”. He says “How will I? I’ll be in prison for your murder”. Haha. One of my other favorite oldies is “We’ll Sing In The Sunshine” by Gale Garnett. “We’ll Sing In The Sunshine” reminds me of swinging on a porch swing somewhere in the South in a house or something, somehow. I also love the Cowsills, Spanky and Our Gang, The Tremeloes, The Turtles (“You Baby” is a great song), The Hollies, I like a lot of British Invasion groups, including Gerry and the Pacemakers (they did “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying” and “Ferry ‘Cross The Mersey”). Personally, I feel that any oldies radio stations that succeed and have a high Arbitron rating / a lot of listeners, are probably in cities and metropolitan areas that have a lot of young children, and a lot of older people over age 60, since that is the music they grew up with. There are several stations like that in the Tampa area of Florida. Sarasota, Bradenton, Port Charlotte, Tampa all, ih their demographics, have lots of seniors and elderly people living there, and they also have quite a lot of children in their demographics.

    Thank you so very much for working with young children. Not everyone wants to work with young children and not everyone has the patience to work with them. There are people who dislike children. Me, I don’t have a problem with young children. I have several young children (preschoolers, elementary school age children) who are my friends. What I’m not really much into are high school students and college age students. With my Autism, I have been judged and called ridiculous names by high school and college age people. They tend to be very judgemental at that age, I think it’s a phase that they go through. Not surprisingly, most of my friends, the bulk of them, are either children under age 10, or they are adults over age 40-45. I have very few friends my age and even fewer in their teens and 20s. There are a few exceptions of course, but I don’t particularly like young adults.

    Well thanks for sharing your story!! Take care

    Codi Preston D. from California

    • Thanks for sharing all of these great ideas, Codi! I do use a lot of oldies songs in my preschool dance party, but lots of the ones you mentioned I haven’t tried yet. I will have to, very soon. Thanks for taking the time to comment–I love to hear about how other people use music in storytime!

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