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Get in step, let's dance

321 Go! No, it's not an invitation to run off but to teach P1-P3s motor skills in a fun way, says James Allen

The P1 class at Preston Street Primary in Edinburgh is standing in a circle for the "wake up, warm up" start of their lesson. The children shake their arms, roll their heads and gyrate their hips to music.

Then things start to get very energetic and noisy. Yvonne Young, a tutor with the Scottish youth dance company YDance, retreats to the sidelines while the children hop, jump, run and make shapes with their bodies. It may not look like dance, but the movements are the building blocks of choreography and they are the first steps in 321 Go!, a programme that aims to get children more active and improve co-ordination.

The 321 Go! dance package comprises workshops for five- to seven-year-olds and a half-day of in-service training for teachers. Over the next three years YDance will visit 21 local authorities, working in four schools in each area, holding one weekly half-hour session with each P1, P2 and P3 class for 10 weeks.

Katy McKeown, the company's dance development officer, says it was partly due to SportScotland that the project got started.

"SportScotland identified that their active primary programme was failing to get P1s-P3s active," she says. "They found that they needed a less structured and more creative approach to developing motor skills and co-ordination."

YDance was contacted and devised a programme that was tried in East Lothian and Stirling.

"We are not trying to make teachers dancers," Ms McKeown says. "We are showing them how to use their teaching skills to introduce dance. It almost puts them in the role of a choreographer. Each workshop has been designed to have a motor skill and a learning outcome."

Between the workshops, teachers contribute to the success of 321 Go! by daily holding five-minute warm-ups with their class. It is an important process in familiarising teachers with the programme and building their confidence.

Preston Street Primary teacher Lynn Laird welcomes what the programme has to offer.

"It seems very comprehensive. A lot of thought has gone into it," she says.

"Dance is an area teachers shy away from, so to have a programme for dance is a godsend and if you get something that will build your confidence, like this, you welcome it with open arms."

She appreciated sitting in on the children's workshops. "If you don't feel confident with something like dance, drama, music or art, it is nice to see it being done and the progression of the lesson."

The teachers' training involves a brief overview of the physiology of young children and what activities are suitable for them before a tour of the interactive AnyBody Can Dance CD-Rom.

Then, in small groups, teachers make and perform short dance pieces and create their own music using the CD-Rom's incredibly addictive music programme. The software can also be used to make up lesson plans and dance games.

June Murray, an active primary co-ordinator in East Lothian, who attended an in-service training session earlier this year, says it was quite intensive and the consensus from the participants was that it would benefit from being longer, but they enjoyed it.

She adds an important piece of advice: "Go for it, but use the skills you have learned very quickly after the workshop."

It is hoped that teachers will use the methods and materials long after the tutors have moved on. To encourage that, YDance offers updates via its website and free telephone and e-mail support.

Preston Street Primary looks set to continue the programme. One teacher pauses as she leaves the gym and says: "I've got a girl in my class who shies away from PE classes. She was up there today really enjoying this.

That's the proof of the pudding, isn't it?"

YDance, tel 0141 552

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