The Nutcracker for Preschoolers

Last week, I entertained our preschool crowd with a program on The Nutcracker ballet. Now, the story behind The Nutcracker is actually a little complicated for four year-old brains and attention spans so I had a bit of a challenge in presenting the story. However, I was really excited to host a program that centered on dancing and not just a book and a craft as many of my programs for this age wind up being.

First I went through our stack of picture books about The Nutcracker (there were about seven or so of these in our collection) until I found one that could be appropriate for little listeners. This one to be exact:

ImageThe book frames it’s retelling of the story by including a few pages about Mia’s family gathering around to listen during Christmas festivities. I skipped all those pages and only read the bit with the retelling, which was still a big chunk of the book.

Then it was time for a dance. I had four videos lined up and prepared for playing on our projector. Here are the ones I used:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GlmuXg6qQs  (The March when the children are about to receive presents.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wz_f9B4pPtg  (Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HpN-6uGQMsQ  (Waltz of the Flowers)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ky7fUfir354 (Russian dance)

Seriously. Thank God for Youtube.

There’s an enormous variety of recorded dances from the Nutcracker Suite and all of them have choreography that’s a little different. Basically, I looked for ones with good visual quality and appeal and a few moves that I could easily re-create for three to five year-old motor skills.

So I started with the March and focused on the marching, bowing, and dancing through a tunnel made by our parents’ arms. (Some of our parents liked the participation. Some did not.)

After that bit of excitement, I calmed everyone down and sent them to the craft tables.

One table was set up for quickly constructing a crown from wavy bulletin board liner. Poms poms, feathers, and jewels optional.

Three other tables were prepared with supplies for this craft: http://www.sophie-world.com/crafts/tp-tube-nutcracker

Image

Fun was had by all. After about ten minutes of free-crafting, I noticed some children were finished so I turned on our Sugar Plum Fairy video for everyone to watch and enjoy. It also gave the other children the hint that there was more dancing to follow.

After our Sugar Plum Fairy video was finished, most of the children were gathered in the empty area of our room, waiting for another dance. I turned on the Russian dance video and I focused on showing them how to jump out like a jumping jack, bounce low on their heels, and use that chopping/windmill motion.

The boys in the room loved this one. Actually, I should mention that we had more boys than girls in this program (6 boys, 4 girls). That’s why I chose to focus on dances with more gender-neutral moves.

After the Russian dance, I played the Waltz of the Flowers video and let them all free dance. One girl was taking dance lessons and was kind enough to treat me to a lesson herself.

The kids weren’t done having fun yet so forty minutes into the program, I decided to wrap things up by playing the Sugar Plum Fairy video one more time. This time the kids watched and tried to spin and jump the way she did. One boy even tried to lift another into the air. (No children were harmed in the making of this program.)

I really enjoyed hosting this program and it seemed like our parents had a lot of fun, too. I don’t always get comments when parents like a program, but if I pay attention, I can tell when I’ve nailed it. See, working with children gives me ample opportunity to observe parenting, and often what I see are parents who are tired of being parents. If only for the moment that they’re in front of me, they’re frustrated with applying discipline and feeling like their child doesn’t listen…or maybe they just can’t understand why their child is breaking down over a book being checked out. In programs, it manifests when a parent won’t let their child engage with an activity on their own. Sometimes they butt in and take over the project, even discouraging their child’s efforts at art.

This time, though, I had a blissful event where parents stood together in a circle around their children and I swear–I swear!–I saw the wonder in their eyes as their children discovered classical music, ballet, and the fun of making up your own silly moves to a dignified and magnificent song. There’s not a lot that makes me happier than when I can connect a parent to that feeling of magic and awe again–that fleeting moment when they believe their child may be a fairy princess or noble knight.

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