The smile on your face tells a child whether he or she is welcomed into the teaching space and whether you are accepting and eager to help the child learn. This simple facial gesture is significant to any child and especially important to a child with disabilities. The smile also indicates to anyone else in the space, student or adult, that you are caring and willing to make the learning experience meaningful for all. The environment is more than a space; it is an attitude of acceptance that permeates all the activities that occur in a lesson. From the moment the child enters the space, you are there to greet him or her and acknowledge something personal such as a new shirt, a necklace, a toy in the child’s hand, or maybe a new haircut. This initial connection provides you with information about how the child is feeling physically and socially on that day. Next, you describe the dance activity and mention how the space and equipment are organized for the lesson and help the child to a place where the lesson will begin. You may say, “Today we are going to dance with the scarves that are in a red basket near the wall. Everyone find a place.” If the student with a disability has a paraeducator or a peer buddy, that person will also help the child to the space to begin the lesson. Sometimes, you can play music as the students enter the space to set a calming atmosphere or a signal that this is the dancing space.
The dance teaching space needs to comply with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act for access set forth on their website (www.ada.gov/regs2010/RIA_2010regs/ria_appendix02.htm). Bathrooms, water fountains, and entrances and exits need to be designed for all children to access. The floor should be clean, and the lighting and temperature should be appropriate. Extra equipment such as chairs, bleachers, equipment bins, MP3 players, CD players, and DVD players or computers need to be on carts so they are easily moved when space is needed. The boundaries for dancing need to be clearly marked with tape or painted floor lines or marked with cones. There needs to be space between the end of the boundary and the wall so children can stop without getting hurt. Keep the wall space clear of excess posters and other visual displays to keep distractions to a minimum if appropriate, yet place needed information on the wall.
Simple rules for safety and learning should be posted and reviewed periodically. Develop a strategy about how you will help students who escape out of exit doors, accidently run into equipment, or are resistant to participating in the lesson and roam the space. Provide a rest space that is in the dance space but offers a quiet place for children to rest, calm themselves if they are overstimulated, or need a break from the lesson. Most important, ensure that children dance in a safe space that is comfortable and supports learning.