From coast to coast, teachers and parents are trying this creative, fun-loving tactic to make distance learning easier on kids.

By Maressa Brown
January 05, 2021
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Young African American girl dancing at home wearing headphones
Credit: Getty Images

Nearly a year into this pandemic, everyone is simply doing their best, especially on behalf of kids. And while we know full well by now that asking younger children, in particular, to sit in front of a computer to distance learn all day isn't exactly ideal, teachers all over the country are experimenting with ways to make it more engaging. First, there were Bitmoji classrooms. Now, there are virtual classroom dance parties.

In Washington, D.C., a teacher and mentor named Azel Prather, Jr. is earning applause for his virtual classroom's dance sessions. "It's a tough time for me, but I get my joy and my energy from being with the kids, and I know that they thrive off the same thing, so it's about bringing that joy factor," Prather told Yahoo Life. "I play the song that they want to listen to. We do the dances that they want to do. It's their world, I'm just living in it."

He added, "I want them to learn and they want to have fun, so let me meet them where they're at. If you can kind of tell that one kid is dancing in his chair while we're trying to learn, and another kid is dancing in his chair, too—we all just may need to dance, but then maybe we need to dance and learn a sight word at the same time instead. You just take a look at your kids, you see a need and you meet it."

The inspiring teacher has shared clips of his students dancing on his Instagram account, writing, "There's always a creative way to GET and KEEP them babies engaged!"

In Elk Grove, California, fifth grade teacher Angelica Solorio was inspired to cheer her students up by dressing up and "dancing like a madwoman in front of them" on the first Friday of the school year. "This year has been especially hard for my students. There are families who have been laid off, are working two jobs to get through this pandemic or have lost their homes," Solorio told ABC10.

Now, Solorio's students enjoy a costumed dance party on Zoom every Friday. "Seeing their smiles and hearing them say I helped them forget their troubles made this become our weekly tradition," the teacher explained to the local news outlet. "I try to create a safe space for them to be themselves and for them to free their minds of their worries."

At Parkmead Elementary School in Walnut Creek, California, some educators are hosting dance parties online, according to FOX2. For instance, Mrs. Renee Weyand and husband Dick "Mr. D." Weyand, the custodial supervisor for the district, entertained 24 students with their rendition of "Fight Song" by Rachel Patten.

And in Washington state, the PTO at Union Ridge Elementary School organized a dance party attended by 200 students in December. They even offered "dance party packs," available for drive-through pickup, which included shuttered sunglasses, a glow stick, and a snack for each student.

Perla Hauge, PTO co-president, told Clark County Today, "Teachers, kids, parents, dogs, everyone had a blast. My second grader was especially tickled by learning the lawnmower and the shopping cart dance moves. He's been doing them all morning!" 

While they haven't specified virtual dance parties, American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has previously recommended exercise breaks for kids who are learning from home. For younger children, they recommend 10 minutes of physical activity after 20 minutes of schoolwork. Older children and teens, who can focus for longer, can take breaks between subjects.

Dr. Jennifer Weiss, an orthopedic surgeon at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles, explained to NBC that stretching that counters all that hunching in front of a screen is key, too. "So when they have their lunch break, have them do some counterstretches, whether it's in the form of putting on a five-minute yoga YouTube video for them, whether it's getting together as a family and having a plank party, doing some planks and some backbending sort of activities," she explained.

That said, it's clear that many teachers and parents are in tune with kids' needs during this challenging time. Here's hoping their efforts serve to inspire even more educators and parents to support their students in an active, fun-loving way.