child development

5 Ways Dance Class Builds the Skills your Child Needs for School Readiness

Child developmental psychologists and occupational therapists are seeing the benefits of dance classes for children. At River Oaks Dance, we understand the important job we have and the unique opportunity to capitalize on the naturally occurring cognitive and neural development of young children. We are intentional about planning our classes around exercises that will set young children up for success not only in dance class, but in life as well.

Here are five ways we are intentional about helping our dancers develop school readiness:

Visual Tracking

Visual tracking is the ability to move eyes up and down and left and right to follow a moving object or keep focus on a stationary object. This is common when kids are reading or playing with a ball. Many young children are spending lots of time looking down at screens, rarely looking up to another child or caregiver. They are not playing outside or with others (or they missed a huge opportunity for this during lockdown) where visual tracking is naturally occurring.

How we address visual tracking in dance class:

During our weight sifting exercise we rock side-to-side and often use a scarf, stuffy or ribbons. The students must watch their object as they move and then switch hands. During obstacle courses we ask them to walk down a tightrope line and they must look up to the next task in the obstacle. Both of these exercises develop visual tracking.

Head Movement

Vestibular head movement is required for reading. Children have to be able to coordinate their eyes and head movement. When children have trouble with vestibular head movement they may lose their place when reading or have low reading endurance. They must be able to stabilize the head while moving the eyes.

How we encourage head movement in dance class:

We ensure that children are practicing fundamental motor skills they need to master before their brain and eyes can read. This includes spinning, rolling, balancing, crossing the midline exercises and clapping to the beat.


Crawling isn’t just for babies. Crawling is an essential foundation for reading and writing. It requires crossing the midline which stimulates brain development even more than walking. Crawling builds visual tracking and gross motor skills. It also strengthens the upper body, builds core strength and develops coordination. When kids move less, their fine motor skills suffer. If the milestone of crawling is skipped or rushed, young brains can have difficultly coordinating both hemispheres at the same time.

What we do in our toddler and preschool dance class to help:

We love creating obstacle courses where the dancers have to crawl through a tunnel or hoop. We go on a bear hunt and the student must bear-walk around the room or across a low balance beam. We also pretend we are climbing up a ladder to do various activities like apple picking, climbing in a rocket ship, or jumping off a diving board. This encourages opposite knee to elbow coordination.

Core strength

Sometimes core strength is attributed to being able to sit-ups or planks but that is not the case at all. There are many more muscle groups that are involved in building core strength. These include not only the stomach, but the hips, glutes and back as well. Kids need a strong core to be able to sit on the floor for circle time as well as sitting at a table or desk and other school activities.

Dance class, as a rule, includes lots of exercises that engage the core, but we can take it one step further in a few ways:

During warmup when we go swimming (superman movement) in the ocean and
take roll while on tummies, because tummy time is a great way to build core strength no matter how old we are. It may not always be so apparent, but there are so many opportunities to use our core in class. For example:

  • to balance on one foot while moving our arms, around and overhead
  • sitting on the floor during warming in pike or butterfly position while maintaining a tall, straight back as we stretch out legs and feet.
  • using balancing disks within our obstacle courses


Having poor balance when children get to school can take a toll on their confidence. The way to improve balance is by participating in activities that challenge the balance. More kids than ever have a more sedentary lifestyle so they are not getting these opportunities. Have you noticed how many kids have broken limbs these days? We have have had so many dancers the past few years with arm or leg casts.

We want to make sure kids have plenty of time to practice balance exercises before they get to school so they are feeling as confident as possible and ready to run on the playground or in gym class. Balancing requires three systems: vision, proprioception and vestibular. When you take one system away, you challenge the others. Balance is one of the core concepts of ballet and our dance classes are full of opportunities to challenge balance. Learn more about why this very basic concept is so important in this blog post from Play Move Improve.

Parents can feel the pressure to skip or rush milestones in the process of what they believe is helping prepare their child for kindergarten. But school readiness it not about being able to hold a pencil or use scissors. In reality, the more children are able to play and move, these things will come naturally. At River Oaks Dance, we believe the best way to get kids moving is through pretend play! Children need strong gross motor skills before gaining fine motor skills and that makes dance class and school readiness a perfect match. There’s no better way to get kids doing these activities than by making them fun. Lucky for you, that’s our specialty!

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