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Rhythmic Movement
for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Susan Kramer

Jenny, 21 months,  running with arms and legs in opposition. Photo credit Margie Ryckman

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Rhythms and Dances for Toddlers and Preschoolers by Susan Kramer

Table of contents for
Rhythms and Dances for Toddlers and Preschoolers
in 98 page print book:

Next in series:

Rhythms and Dances for School Age Kids by Susan Kramer



Rhythms, Patterns
Dance for young children
Successfully building skills for living


I.  Theory

II.  General Notes;
Basic Lesson Plan

III.  Clapping Rhythms
1.Clapping in 4/4 time
2.Clapping in 2/2 time
3.Clapping in 2/4 time
4. Clapping syllables

IV.  Floor Exercises
1.The Rocker
2.The Squirrel
3.The Owl
4.The Starfish


V.  Moving in Space
4. Hopping
6. Sliding

VI.  Nursery Rhymes

VII. Mini-Lessons
1. Climbing Stairs Alternating Feet
2. Which Way Game
3. ABA Sequencing
4. Making Shapes: Circle Dance; Lines; Shaping Outlines

VIII.  "Shining Brightly"

IX.  Links


I. Theory

By moving exuberantly
in rhythms, patterns
body-mind harmony develops

Jenny, 11 1/2 months old, taking her 1st steps
Caught by the camera, Jenny, 11 and a half months old lets go, reaches out, in her first independent steps, an early milestone in a lifetime of reaching out in learning-growing.

Patterns of rhythmic movement using opposition of arms and legs help develop right-left brain linkage. Example: walking steps with arms swinging at sides; as left foot steps forward, right arm swings forward.

The nerve endings of sense organs feed the brain information for analysis and reflection through hearing, seeing, feeling on skin, tasting, and smelling. Allowing the toddler-preschooler to learn with as many senses as possible instills new concepts most smoothly.

This theory of teaching and learning, using the bodily senses - body to mind, and then mind to body for action, powered by enthusiastic energy is a basis of somatic education.

Body to Mind
by receiving through the sense organs; analyzing
Mind to Body for action


II. General Notes; Basic Lesson Plan

Christopher, 17 months old, running while naturally using his arms and legs in opposition; right leg and left arm forward
Basic Lesson Plan: The whole text can be followed in sequence of short time intervals of 5-10 minutes in each of the 4 sections, or any part can be worked on separately as time and attention permit:
Part III Clapping Rhythms;
Part IV Floor Exercises;
Part V Moving in Space;
Part VI Nursery Rhymes.

Specialized Mini-Lessons are in Part VII.

1. The exercises in this text are for a toddler-preschooler and partner to work together, one to one; the partner someone the child trusts, and who is old enough to understand what is being taught.

2. Lots of wobbly movement is normal as the child is still developing motor skills.

3. Moving exuberantly with enthusiasm provides the impetus to try new co-ordinations. Following a rhythm comes before the technique is mastered; I have found that if the child first learns to move in the correct rhythm, the technique of the step improves through practice.

4. Activities should be light-hearted without pressure to participate or perform.

5. Bare feet are best if the surface is safe.

III. Clapping Rhythms

Our lives are formed of rhythmic pulses

The body feels and moves in rhythms naturally; walking, running, galloping happen in the sequence of motor development. Clapping these patterns with the toddler-preschooler is a bonding activity. Fun and harmonious interactions, partner to child, carry over into harmonious interactions with the child's ever-broadening circle of contacts. Harmonious interaction at the earliest stages leads to harmony within the individual, and harmonious interactions later as an adult in society.

1. Clapping in 4/4 time

2. Clapping in 2/2 time

3. Clapping in 2/4 time

4. Clapping syllables


Partner sits on the floor, legs straddled if comfortable; child sits cross-legged on floor in front of partner, facing forward, back against partner. Partner holds toddler's right wrist with right hand and left wrist with left hand, so that partner can lead toddler's clapping pattern. A preschooler can clap unaided.

In the clapping examples that follow there is no pause for the slash mark.

The key I developed and use for clapping to rhythmic movements:
tum = an accented clap
ta = a short clap

1. Clapping in 4/4 time

4 hand claps followed with 4 claps by leaning forward to use the floor as a drum; repeat sequence over and over.
1, 2, 3, 4 / 1, 2, 3, 4 / 1, 2, 3, 4 / etc.
or rather than saying numbers clap and say:

2. Clapping in 2/2 time

Clap the pattern of the previous exercise except at a faster rate as in running steps.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 / 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 / 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 / etc.
or rather than saying numbers clap and say:

3. Clapping in 2/4 time

This is a more advanced rhythm as in galloping for a preschooler.
 & 1 & 2 / & 1 & 2 / & 1 & 2 / & 1 & 2 / etc.
or rather than saying numbers clap and say:
ta tum, ta tum,/ta tum, ta tum,/ta tum, ta tum,/ta tum, ta tum,/etc.

4. Clapping syllables

Technique: While seated comfortably, as in Preparation instructions, partner, or partner and child sing a song or nursery rhyme and clap every syllable of the words.
Each syllable in "Peas Porridge Hot" is clapped:
Peas  por  ridge  hot
Peas  por  ridge  cold
Peas  por  ridge  in  the  pot
Nine  days  old.

IV. Floor Exercises

1. The Rocker

2. The Squirrel

3. The Owl

4. The Starfish

Child and partner sit on floor facing each other with at least 18" space between. Use music in 4/4 time; or clap and say
tum,tum,tum,tum; or clap and say 1, 2, 3, 4.

1. The Rocker

Sitting cross-legged with hands palm down on floor at sides of body, proceed to rock side to side, rhythmically, balancing on one hand than the other. Develops balance and control of muscles in torso.

2. The Squirrel

Sitting cross-legged, raise both arms overhead and stretch one at a time slowly towards the ceiling, looking up. Then stretch arms to side, making forward and backward arm circles, large and small, looking forward.

3. The Owl

   head leaning

    head turning

Sitting cross-legged with hands palm down on floor at sides of body. Begin by looking straight forward, then turn head to look over right shoulder and smoothly turn head to look over left shoulder. Just as an owl turns its head. Count 1,2 over one shoulder and then 3,4 over other shoulder. A preschooler may be able to lean his head right ear toward right shoulder and left ear toward left shoulder; all the while looking forward; same rhythm and counting as head turns.

4. The Starfish

Child lies on his back, arms out to side and legs comfortably apart as a starfish on a rock would lay. The partner is the helper in this exercise and kneels to help. Child raises and then lowers one leg or one arm at a time. Later with the partner's assistance opposite arm and leg to be raised at the same time. 2 counts up and 2 counts down.

V. Moving in Space

Life's a continuous line of movement
whirling, swirling to form shape

1. Walking

2. Running

3. Galloping

4. Hopping

5. Swinging

6. Sliding

Enough floor space for unhindered movement. The child follows the partner's lead rhythmically at first; mastering the technique follows after. If hands are free, partner can clap and say the tum and ta.

1. Walking

Christopher, 17 months old, running while naturally using his arms and legs in opposition; right leg and left arm forward

Partner and toddler-preschooler, while holding hands, move in even steps following a pattern: straight line; diagonal line from corner to corner of room; circle; square; rectangle; triangle. The child does not need to be able to verbally repeat the shapes; the body comes to feel the patterns after repetitions. If partner and child are not holding hands arms swing in opposition.
4/4 time:

2. Running

Jenny, 21 months,  running with arms and legs in opposition. Photo credit Margie Ryckman 

Even steps moving quickly in patterns used in previous walking exercise. Arms held out to side, or in opposition, if child and partner are not holding hands.
2/2 time:

3. Galloping

Jenny, 23 months, alongside partner, practicing galloping with hands on her waist for balance

Rhythmic loping movement with same foot in front throughout. For the rhythm visualize a horse galloping. Patterns of straight lines and in a circle. Technique: Front foot steps forward and back foot pulls up to front foot with a shuffle. Arms swinging in opposition or held to the side or on waist for balance. Done with or without partner.
2/4 time:
ta tum,ta tum,ta tum,ta tum,ta tum,etc.

4. Hopping

Kathy, almost 5, hopping

Always done on one foot with a pause in between. Hops are usually in a series.
For balance; hands on waist or arms outstretched to sides, if child and partner are not holding hands.
Even rhythm.
2/2 time:

5. Swinging

Kathy,  just 5 years old, swinging arms up in front with a stretch

Toddler-preschooler and partner stand separately facing each other at least 3 feet apart. Legs far enough apart to maintain balance. Technique: Arms begin down at sides and swing together to one side then swing together down in front, knees relax and bend, and then both arms swing up to the other side, knees straightening. Then arms swing low in front and up in front as in photo. Head turns to look at the movement of arms swinging to side, down in front and up to other side. Galloping rhythm with accent on the upswing of the arms; down-UP, down-UP, down-UP, etc:
2/4 time:
ta tum,ta tum,ta tum,ta tum,ta tum,etc.

6. Sliding

Kathy, nearly 5 years old, sliding as an ice skater

Appropriate for preschooler moving alone. Technique: Facing forward and moving left to right the right foot leads, feet begin together then one foot pushes apart along floor on the first tum, and other foot then closes in to meet the first foot along floor on the ta; knees bent. Moving right to left the left foot leads. Arms  to sides, or hands on waist. Also, slide as an "ice skater" forward, one foot at a time as in photo, arms to side for balance.
2/4 time:
tum, ta tum, ta tum, ta tum, ta tum, etc.

VI. Nursery Rhymes

Some thoughts on moving in space while creatively interpreting a rhythmic nursery rhyme that is recited or sung, or a poem that is recited and clapped: Child and partner participate without holding hands. Joyful movement arises as the partner recites and the child moves. The child is feeling the floor against the soles of his feet; how the air feels next to his skin while moving; the sensations in his stomach while turning; the emotional feeling of freedom to express as his body moves freely.  Dalcroze Eurhythmics is another study in music and movement interaction that I recommend.

Movement takes form through dance
as all through life
movement takes form
in daily activities; adventures

Some nursery rhymes I have sung and moved to expressively with toddlers and preschoolers:

Hickory, Dickory Dock
Humpty Dumpty
I Saw a Ship a Sailing
Jack and Jill
London Bridge is Falling Down
Pop Goes the Weasel

Rain, Rain Go Away
Ride a Cock-Horse
Rock-a-bye Baby
See-Saw, Margery Daw
Three Blind Mice


VII. Mini-Lessons for Toddlers and Preschoolers

1. Climbing Stairs Alternating Feet

2. Which Way Game

3. ABA Sequencing

4. Making Shapes: Circle Dance; Lines; Shaping Outlines

Enough floor space for unhindered movement.

1. Climbing Stairs Alternating Feet

The toddler crawls along the floor before trying to crawl up the stairs.

When the child can stand and stretch his legs far enough to alternate legs while walking up stairs, and also balance one side to the other on each foot, the switch from going up one step where both feet come together, to alternating legs on each step can develop.

An exercise to develop this alternating balancing act, stair-step to stair-step, alternating the leading foot is to have the child hop on one foot, than switch to hopping on the other foot without a break in action.

Example: The teacher claps once per hop and says "hop, hop, hop, hop & hop, hop, hop, hop. ..."  The word '&' is to change feet. The partner holds one or both of child's hands if necessary for balance.

2. Which Way Game

While teacher has children standing up and facing him in a group, he signals the direction to move just by his arm and hand waving motions.

All possible directions and high and low levels of moving can be explored such as close to the ground or on tip toe and even jumping.

The game can use any movement the children have learned.

The 'Which Way Game' strengthens and develops concentration, visual perception, non-verbal observation/communication skills.

3. ABA Sequencing

A = 4 walks forward.
B = 4 walks backward.
A = 4 walks forward.

Preparation: Children stand in a group in the center of room facing teacher at front of room, and remain facing forward throughout. Teacher counts the numbers 1-4 out loud and uses clapping or a rhythm instrument. One count per walking step.

First students practice A and B separately; then the ABA sequence.

More advanced practice: The teacher then calls out either A or B and the children do that walking pattern.

4. Making Shapes

Circle Dance
All join hands, (just children or alternately child, partner, child, partner ...) and stretch out in circle shape facing center. While holding hands teacher instructs to walk forward to center and now walk backward to place. Again, all walk forward to center, now walk backward to place. Still holding hands all slide sideward to right while facing center; then instruct to stop; then all slide to left while still holding hands. Now drop hands and run forward to center and sit down.

For accompaniment teacher and observers clap, play rhythm instruments or sing a nursery rhyme; the changes in direction can be at the natural pauses in the verse. After children learn pattern they also can sing the song while doing their pattern.

Skills being learned and practiced:
1. directions of forward, backward, sideward
2. rhythmic skills of marching, sliding and running
3. following directions
4. cooperation
5. circle shape


   Straight:March in straight lines in many directions.

   Curving: Run in curving line across space.

   Horizontal: Using sliding movements move sideways across room while looking and keeping body facing forward.

   Vertical:Gallop from back of room to front of room; the back is as the foot and the front is as the top.

   Diagonal: March or gallop from front corner to opposite back corner.

Shaping Outlines:

March in the outline of shapes as viewed from above: circle, square, triangle, rectangle. Teacher describes shape and shows pattern for child and partner to follow. Children can clap after learning pattern.

VIII. "Shining Brightly"

Poem I wrote set in galloping rhythm to recite out loud and clap to while child gallops around in his space, finishing the rhythmic movement session on an upbeat note.
Partner claps:
ta tum, ta tum, ta tum, ta tum, ta tum,etc.

Remember these words, they'll teach and show
How in life we all should go
Whether we're young or very old
This is a story to be told

When mornin's light at dawn appears
We have another day
Another day to show we care
Another day to care and share
With family, friends that we hold dear
And everyone that we are near

And if we act in the world most lovingly
We give ourselves to all productively
And when our thoughts are true and right
Soon our world becomes more bright
With a shining loving light!


IX. Links

Susan Helene Kramer is a graduate of Peabody Preparatory Dance of Johns Hopkins University and author of The Rhythmic Movement Dance Series of the United States Department of Education, and an international author of more than 50 collections and a thousand articles on rhythmic movement, modern dance, ballet, music, philosophy, social issues, meditation, yoga and practical spirituality for children, teens, adults and those challenged, with some Dutch, French, German and Spanish translations. Susan and her husband, Stan Schaap live in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Text, Photography and Illustrations
Copyright 2000-2021 Susan Kramer
Santa Barbara, California USA
Amsterdam, The Netherlands


Books for teaching toddlers to teens by Susan Kramer

 Member of the Gateway to Educational Materials


published November 27, 2000; updated October 24, 2021   |  webmaster