Course:KIN366/ConceptLibrary/Creative Movement

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Movement Experiences for Children
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon S.D. Bredin
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Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion

Creative movement is physical activity performed with the intention of exploring expressive ways to move the body. Engaging children in physical activity is important in contemporary society because children are not getting enough physical activity. An article on the ParticipACTION website reported that only 5 percent of youth got enough physical activity in 2013 to meet the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines (Cameron, 2013).

General overview

Creative movement with young children emphasizes fun with movement (Hagens, 1994). Cooperative type activities are chosen, instead of competitive activities where the focus is on winning or losing (Hagens, 1994). Creative movement may be performed by a single adult with a single child in a one-on-one parent and child setting, or it may be a group activity with a classroom of students led by a teacher (Hagens, 1994). It may also be performed with therapeutic intent to benefit the participants. The adult leader does not need to take charge of the activity, but instead act as a facilitator and allow the children to explore their own creativity skills (Pica, 2011). Creative movement is more than just a free movement time, but it should be structured in order to promote movement development in children (Pica, 2011). Creative movement is often based on a framework pioneered by Rudolph Laban (1879-1958), who organized the essential elements of movement into the core concepts of space, weight, time, and flow (Jobling, Virji-Babul, & Nichols, 2006).

Engaging in creative movement allows children to gain important life skills (Pomer, 2002). They can refine their physical movements, and also develop their language skills by learning new movement vocabulary (Pica, 2000). Creative movement is a way to interact with the environment, and children learn to observe, identify and experience movement patterns (Pomer, 2002). Children may be given opportunities to create their own patterns and gain experience in creating movement sequences, or choreography (Pomer, 2002). In creative movement, inspiration can be drawn from language or music. Visualization and imagination can be employed to encourage children to try new ways to express themselves (Dow, 2010). Instructions can be given with the use of rules, recipes, props, objects, or images (Pomer, 2002). Children should be encouraged to use the whole body and involve an assortment of body parts (Hagens, 1994). Through creative movement, children will learn to explore and solve problems in order to use movement as self-expression (Pica, 2000).

Creative movement vs. creative dance and movement education

Creative movement can be confused with the terms creative dance and movement education, so some clarification of the terminology is in order. According to some authors, creative movement is considered interchangeable with creative dance (Dow, 2010). Or it may be considered a precursor to creative dance, and may be taught as pre-ballet in some dance studios (Luvs2dancealot, 2010). Creative movement may be offered in a dance studio for young children who are just beginning to learn the basics of dance and who are not yet ready for a structured dance class (Luvs2dancealot, 2010). However, some authors will distinguish creative movement from creative dance in that creative movement is not limited to dance in particular, and it can use other kinesthetic approaches based on fundamental motor skills (Skonong, 2008). Similar to physical education or movement education in that it develops fundamental motor skills, creative movement, however, is more specific and goes beyond just the functional basics of movement because it is expressive movement (Pica, 2000). However, for creative movement and for all movements in general, proficiency in the fundamental movement skills is the foundation upon which the more complex movements will be built.

Target movement skills: The fundamental movement skills

Creative movement is more than just letting the children go outside and run around on the playground, it is planned out and designed with the intention of targeting specific movement skills (Hagens, 1994). The individual needs of each child should be considered, and the next step in skill acquisition should be targeted. The fundamental movement skills are the basic movements upon which more complex movements are built (Gabbard, 2011). Children acquire these skills in their early childhood years from approximately 2 to 6 years old (Gabbard, 2011). The fundamental movement skills can be grouped into three general categories: locomotor, nonlocomotor, and manipulative (Gabbard, 2011). Some examples are bending, twisting, swaying, running, jumping, hopping, galloping, sliding, skipping, throwing, catching, striking, kicking, ball bouncing and dribbling, and climbing (Gabbard, 2011).

Benefits to children

Creative movement offers many benefits to young children in the physical, social/emotional, and cognitive domains. Creative movement benefits the whole child. It can help to build self-confidence (Pica, 2000). It allows them to explore and learn about the world around them (Dow, 2010). And it promotes physical activity involvement later in life as adults (Pica, 2000).

Physical benefits

Creative movement offers health benefits to children. It combats obesity and reduces risk of diabetes and heart disease (Dow, 2010). Children learn to better control their bodies (Dow, 2010). They learn technical movement skills (Pomer, 2002). They learn how to start and stop moving, how to gage how fast they are moving, how to speed up or slow down, and how to change directions (Dow, 2010). They gain balance, strength, stamina, and coordination (Dow, 2010). Additionally, creative movement stimulates the children’s peripheral vision (Pomer, 2002).

Social/emotional benefits

Children gain benefits to their social skills by participating in creative movement activities. The activities should be designed to promote cooperation amongst the participants (Pica, 2000). Partner activities, and activities where the participants must share their personal space with others, both promote social development (Pica, 2000). Children develop an awareness of what it is like to move in a common space with other children, and tend not to bump into each other as often (Dow, 2010). By participating in large group activities, children gain an awareness of group dynamics (Pomer, 2002). They learn to become good listeners and good leaders (Pomer, 2002). Classroom teachers who introduce creative movement into their classrooms report improved classroom behavior in the children who participate (Skonong, 2008).

Creative movement activities also offer emotional benefits to young children. It helps them to build their emotional intelligence. This is especially important for young people because they may still lack the verbal skills to express their feelings, so creative movement gives them a safe, non-verbal outlet for emotional expression (Dow, 2010). One study found that preschool aged children, when exposed to creative movement activities, were better able to integrate their emotions with their cognitive processes (Thom, 2010). Children learn to express their emotions using not only their bodily processes, for example expressing anger by getting red in the face and tensing their muscles, but also to express their emotions through a cortical process (Thom, 2010). For example, playing a game of “emotion charades” where children are asked to physically act out different emotions and then to have a discussion about it, encourages them to make a connection between their intellectual minds and the physical expression of their emotions (Thom, 2010). In this way, creative movement can teach young people to be more cognizant of their emotional states.

Cognitive benefits

One study found increased student understanding of academic content in children who participate in creative movement (Skonong, 2008). There is a connection between physical activity and brain function, and creative movement activities can promote the generation of new nerve cells in the brain (Dow, 2010). According to one author, “The foundation of learning for young children is physical interaction with the world” (Hagens, 1994). Creative movement gives young children an opportunity to interact with, and learn from, the world around them. Creative movement activities do not have to be only physically challenging, they can also incorporate cognitive problem solving tasks and academic subject matter (Dow, 2010). For example, when children are learning about shapes, you can ask them to make the shape with their bodies (Dow, 2010). Allowing a child to talk about their movement builds their cognitive thought process, their memory, and their vocabulary (Marigliano & Russo, 2011). Creative movement has been found to promote good focus, concentration, problem-solving skills, performance skills, spatial awareness, language skills, internal rhythm, personal aesthetics, and ability to analyze and translate information into movement (Pomer, 2002). Children learn to follow instructions, listen for cues, solve problems in new ways, and to practice their critical thinking skills (Dow, 2010). They learn how to think before they act, pay attention to detail, and consider similarities and differences (Marigliano & Russo, 2011). Creative movement is not just a physical activity, but also is an activity that promotes the health of the entire individual.

Children with special needs

Activities can be modified to be inclusive of all children (Dow, 2010). Children with special needs can be included in the movement activity, including children with visual or hearing impairments, and physical, emotional, or learning disabilities (Clements & Schneider, 2006). For example, movements can be modified to use specific body parts that are easier to control for individual children, like the eyes, tongue, fingers, or eyelids (Dow, 2010). Creative movement activities can be applicable when working with children with attention deficit disorder (Skonong, 2008). It is effective with kinesthetic learners, who may tend to fidget when asked to sit still, have trouble facing toward the front of the classroom, or do not like to stay in their seat (Skonong, 2008). It has also been found to be effective in improving balance and bilateral intoeing in children with Down syndrome (Jobling et al., 2006).

Children with autism

Creative movement therapy is beneficial to children with autism. In one study where children with autism were guided by trained movement therapists, some example activities included: “using hoops and jumping in and out of them, putting different body parts in and out of hoops, following the therapist through an obstacle course of different shape and different height gym mats, and moving to a tambourine and stopping when the tambourine stopped” (Hartshorn et al., 2001). After a two month period of movement sessions, the children spent less time resisting the teacher, spent less time responding negatively to touch, spent less time wandering, and spent more time in on-task behavior (Hartshorn et al., 2001). The researchers suggested perhaps creative movement therapy works in a similar way as massage therapy, which is also found to be effective in children with autism, by stimulating pressure receptors throughout the body while the children participate in movement activities (Hartshorn et al., 2001).

Children who have suffered trauma

Creative/dance movement therapy has been found to be effective in treating children who have suffered trauma and are considered to be at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (Lee, Lin, Chiang, & Wu, 2013). It is especially useful in treating very young children who lack the appropriate language skills to fully verbalize their emotions (Lee et al., 2013). Movement has been found to be therapeutic in children who have suffered the loss of a loved one, perhaps it is effective because it works on the lasting physical symptoms that can sometimes result from emotional trauma or grief (Philpott, 2013).

Common problems

Chronological age alone is not an accurate indication of maturity (Gabbard, 2011). Grouping children by their chronological age will still allow for wide variation in levels of development. Activities where children are required to wait in line before they can participate, or where they get eliminated from the group activity, do not promote full participation and should be avoided if possible (Clements & Schneider, 2006). Limited space and equipment, and a lack of qualified individuals who can facilitate the movement activities, are also common barriers (Clements & Schneider, 2006). Often, the teacher does not feel comfortable or proficient at setting an example by performing the movements, however, this can be remedied by having the teacher simply focus on creating an environment conducive for the children to express themselves through movement, and asking questions and giving feedback to the students (Skonong, 2008).

Practical applications / tips for practitioners

Teachers in a classroom setting will need to assess their students to determine which exercises will best suit the needs of the students (Pomer, 2002). Activities should allow the children to participate at their individual ability levels (Hagens, 1994). The level of difficulty of the activities should allow the children to experience success, and yet also be adequately challenged (Clements & Schneider, 2006). Developing a vocabulary of movement words, and a list of questions to stimulate class discussions is helpful (Pomer, 2002). Having a repertoire of warm-up activities is helpful as well. Teachers should first provide a model for the children to imitate, and then later move on to more exploratory movements (Clements & Schneider, 2006). Ask the children to give feedback whether or not they enjoyed the activity (Clements & Schneider, 2006). And be sure to encourage the children to use their imaginations and express their feelings (Clements & Schneider, 2006).

Some sample exercises to try

Ask children if they can: move quickly like a bumblebee, move softly like a floating feather, clap their hands to the rhythm of each person’s name, run like they are on hot sand, creep like a dog, show how high they can stretch their arms, shake like jell-o, sway like grass in a breeze (Pica, 2000). “Is it possible to walk on only your toes? Heels? Inside of foot? Outside?” (Clements & Schneider, 2006). “Who can run in the greatest number of different ways?” (Clements & Schneider, 2006). “See if you can run fast and stop suddenly on my signal” (Clements & Schneider, 2006). “How many different hopping animals or insects can you create with your body?” (Clements & Schneider, 2006).

Props and equipment

Using everyday materials can make the activities fun and easy (Hagens, 1994). For example, try using sponges, blocks, elastic, scarves, balloons, pillows, or newspaper (Hagens, 1994). Scarves, streamers, shakers, costumes, musical instruments, flashlights, or stuffed animals can all make movement activities fun and interesting (Dow, 2010). Handmade equipment is suggested for a low budget (Hagens, 1994). Having a large open space is best for large group activities, but obstacles such as pillars or furniture can be incorporated into the activity (Dow, 2010).

Lesson planning

Lessons should have clear objectives and require careful planning, and they should be appropriate for the children’s development levels (Clements & Schneider, 2006). After the children are proficient at one task, try varying it and ask them to perform it slightly differently (Dow, 2010). This will challenge and stretch the kids.

Choosing books to read for exercise ideas

Look for books with exercises sorted by target skills, that way you can easily find exercises to suit your students’ needs (Hagens, 1994). Also look for books organized by level of difficulty (Hagens, 1994). Illustrations and photos are helpful, as are easy to understand instructions (Hagens, 1994). Some books will even give examples of effective words or phrases to use within the creative movement context (Hagens, 1994).


Cameron, C. (2013, May 21). Active Healthy Kids Canada releases 2013 Report Card on physical activity for children and youth. Retrieved from:

Clements, R. L., & Schneider, S. L. (2006). Movement-based learning: Academic concepts and physical activity for ages three through eight. Reston, VA: National Association for Sport and Physical Education.

Dow, C. (2010). Young children and movement: The power of creative dance. YC: Young Children, 65(2), 30-35.

Gabbard, C. P. (2011). Lifelong motor development (6th ed.). San Franscisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings.

Hagens, H. E. (1994). Creative movement and physical development. Day care and early education, 22(2), 43-44.

Hartshorn, K., Olds, L., Field, T., Delage, J., Cullen, C., & Escalona, A. (2001). Creative movement therapy benefits children with autism. Early child development and care, 166(1), 1-5.

Jobling, A., Virji-Babul, N., & Nichols, D. (2006). Children with Down syndrome: Discovering the joy of movement. Journal of physical education, recreation & dance, 77(6), 1-7.

Lee, T.-C., Lin, Y.-S., Chiang, C.-H., & Wu, M.-H. (2013). Dance/movement therapy for children suffering from earthquake trauma in Taiwan: A preliminary exploration. The arts in psychotherapy, 40(1), 151-157.

Luvs2dancealot. (2010, Jan 31). What is creative movement??? Message posted to

Marigliano, M. L., & Russo, M. J. (2011). Foster preschoolers' critical thinking and problem solving through movement. YC: Young children, 66(5), 44-49.

Philpott, E. (2013). Moving grief: Exploring dance/movement thearapists’ experiences and applications with grieving children. American journal of dance therapy, 35(2), 142-168.

Pica, R. (2011). Taking movement education outdoors. YC: Young children, 66(4), 58-59.

Pica, R. (2000). Experiences in movement: With music, activities, & theory. Albany, New York: Delmar Publishers.

Pomer, J. (2002). Perpetual motion: Creative movement exercises for dance and dramatic arts. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Skonong, S. N. (2008). Movement and dance in the inclusive classroom. TEACHING exceptional children plus, 4(6), 1-11.

Thom, L. (2010). From simple line to expressive movement: The use of creative movement to enhance socio-emotional development in the preschool curriculum. American journal of dance therapy, 32(2), 100-112.