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Brain Dance

YIA Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin

Brain Dance at Marindale Early Intervention

“I FEEL my brain getting smarter!  I feel my head getting bigger!” “B” from Meriam Granger’s pre-K language immersion class after her third session with “Brain Dance.”

Brain Dance was developed by   Anne Green Gilbert,  and it is comprised of eight types of movements based on the developmental stages of a baby goes through during the first year of life. The steps are: Breath, Tactile, Core-Distal, head-tail, upper-lower, body side, cross lateral and vestibular. There has been quite a few encouraging studies  about the use of Brain Dance with students of all ages.  I have been using it in variations in my VSA classes this year. Each of my classes have very different ability levels, and I found myself adjusting it to fit each scenario. Below are ways in which I found it most effective.

Class of autistic students age 3-5:

This group thrives on routine, so the key to having brain dance work with this class was to introduce it early in the 10 week residency and practicing it daily.  I gave the steps to the teacher, and she made sure to reinforce the movement.

Class of students with limited mobility:

This class was challenging because they were not able to move their bodies enough to participate in brain dance, so we all, classroom teacher and aides included,  were very hands on.  We helped them manipulate their limbs and as needed, and listened to gleeful shouts when we spun their wheel chairs at the final stage of the dance.

Class of language delayed preschoolers:

There were two important things to keep in mind with this group. First, they were very young, so keeping the pace up was essential.  I also used high energy, fun music to keep them engaged.  I also needed to be very clear with the language I used.  I needed to keep in mind that they needed me to use simple vocabulary to describe and demonstrate each movement.

YIA Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin

Thank you to the Marin Community Foundation for their generous support of this and all of our programs serving students of different abilites!

Four Classes, Five Teachers and a Huge Range of Abilities

This was my sixth year teaching Music and Movement in Youth in Arts’ VSA program, and I was lucky enough to be assigned to work with four amazing teachers, Rockne Beeman, Laura Becker, Meriam Grainer Cox and Jessica Leaper.  We had a wonderful time singing, dancing, playing and learning.

Rockne Beeman’s class of upper elementary students were a challenging  joy to teach. He has a class of students with a variety of behaviors and levels of engagement.  Some students would fully participate and sit in the circle and others would listen from different parts of the room.  What was most facinating this year was that the students who had worked with me previously would suddenly focus and fully participate when they heard specific familiar songs.  One such song was A Rig-a-Jig, a song that requires students to dance with a teacher and/or myself.  Their favorite song by far was “Goin on a Bear Hunt,” where we would practice phonemes that are difficult for the students while we marched around and dance.

Another discovery was that certain students who had previously been non-verbal are now speaking and even singing.  The photo below shows one of these students singing his favorite “penny game” song.

"Penny Game"

Laura Becker and Carla Victoria’s elementary special day classes were combined for a wonderfully large group every week.  They accomplished a great deal over the course of ten weeks. The biggest challenge with these two groups was the fact that their abilities were so vastly different.  Laura’s students need a great deal of assistance physically.  All were in wheel chairs or other supportive devises and were not able to move on their own.  Carla’s class was very active and needed to be constantly stimulated or they would lose focus.  The best strategy I found for working with these two classes was to pair Carla’s most active students with Laura’s most inactive.  They became “helpers” and danced and sang to the students who did not have the ability to participate in that way.

Meriam Grainge-Cox’s students were the most high functioning of my groups this year and they were able to perform quite complicated musical phrases despite the fact that they were 3 and 4 year olds.  My focus with this group was to create a class where they could learn to be autonomous and run as much of the class as possible. This was very successful, and the last day of class was almost completely run by the young students

Jessica Leaper’s class was incredibly fun.  They absolutely loved singing train songs and their favorite activity was dancing to Greg and Steve’s Choo Choo. There are a number of autistic students in this class, so I focused primarily on creating a clear routine over the course of the first couple weeks. As they grew more comfortable with the progression of the class. I was able to add more complex music and movement problems for them to solve.  By the end of the 10 weeks the class was at a point of running most of the activities themselves.

All in all it was a fantastic school year, and each of these classes and their teachers made it an exciting experience.


YIA Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin

Four Classes, Five Teachers and a Huge Range of Abilities

This was my fifth year teaching Music and Movement in Youth in Arts’ VSA program, and I was lucky enough to be assigned to four classes this year, Linda Breakstone/Stacey Hall, Rockne Beeman, Corrie Johnson and Jessica Leaper.  We had a wonderful time singing, dancing and playing.
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Modern educational literature is rife with references to the importance of listening to students and facilitating the development of the individual “voice.”  But what if the your students are non-verbal or having an extremely limited vocabulary?  It is easy to assume that since they do not speak that they are not communicating, when, in fact, they are simply using a different modality.  The following article outlines some tips for better understanding what special needs students are saying.

  1. Find the hidden messages in “behaviors” or “breakdowns”

Those of us that work with special needs students are very familiar with behaviors or breakdowns.  Initially the crying, repetitive gestures and outbursts from these students may seem random, but they rarely are.  These students have no way of saying “I don’t like this song,” or “The volume is too high.” Ask yourself:

What activity preceded the outburst?

Has this happened before?

What did you or the classroom staff do that calmed the student?

When does this student seem most content?

Sometimes there are even messages in the sounds and words said while in the midst of a tantrum.  One of my students “J” threw a tantrum in one of my classes, and after close listening, I realized that he was yelling, “e-i-e-i-o.” He wanted to sing Old MacDonald but didn’t have the vocabulary to express it.  So we sang Old MacDonald and he was immediately calmed.

“Read” Your Audience

A  great many skills we develop as performers are transferable to teaching special needs students.  One such skill is being able to “read” your audience.  After a while we instinctively know when to slow down, speed up or drop a section completely.  The same goes for working with students.

If you find your students engaged in a song, repeat it.  This populations thrives on repetition, and those with language processing delays will have an opportunity to learn your material.  On the other hand, if the class is losing focus or individuals are starting to show behaviors, find a quick stopping place and move on.  It takes patience and flexibility to work with special needs kids, and sometimes no matter how wonderful your lesson plan is, you may have to make a quick change.

 Your Greatest Resource: the Classroom Teacher

The special day class teachers are an amazing group of individuals who know their students extremely well. Ask them for advice and listen to them when they make suggestions.

Making Music at Marindale

Dancing to the Music!

YIA Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin spent 10 weeks working with students of differed abilities at Marindale School, a campus that serves pre-school age students with Special Needs, providing them with necessary services including physical and occupational therapy.

Hannah worked for 10 weeks multiple teachers: Laura Becker, Susan Wilkinson, Collette Macowan and Carla Echevarria.

An example of Hannah’s work is how she worked in Collette Macgowen’s speech-delayed class, teaching language development through music. The classes followed a distinct agenda with visuals to accompany a variety of activities:

The “Goodmorning” song in which each student was greeted by the class, emphasizing good eye contact, interpersonal skills and welcoming facial expressions. The chorus was danced and the movements were selected through the use of a “choice board.

Students also learned multi-syllabic food-related words that were associated with musical notation. For example, group of four sixteenth notes were chanted as “pepperoni” and two eighth notes were chanted as “pizza.” This activity helped students to pronounce difficult sounds, increased musicianship levels and helped to coordinate sounds and body movements.

Chilren enjoyed singing songs and moving throughout the classroom, often learning traditional folk songs from various cultures such as “Fly Little Bluebird” and “Martarile.” Students used a variety of manipulatives and musical instruments for these songs such as scarves, drums and shakers.

The classes were concluded with a sung penny game that developed visual tracking and predictions skills and a goodbye song helping to transition students back to their other activities.

During culminating events teachers invited peers from other classrooms to share an afternoon of music, dance and playing with scarves. The celebrations began with singing “Hello” to each student which was followed by interactive songs designed to develop social skills as well as hand eye coordination.  The students’ favorite part of the afternoon was playing and dancing with scarves.

Hannah and the teachers she worked with found the residencies to be very successful in that each student participated to the extent  that his/her abilities allowed. The biggest challenge was adapting music/movement classes to the varying abilities of the students.   Some students were verbal and mobile, others were mobile and non verbal and others were limited in their movement and language.

We met this challenge by partnering students able to perform tasks well with those who were more challenged as well as strategic help from the class’ amazing educators.  Hannah and Youth in Arts look forward to serving these amazing teachers and students again next year!

Dancing to the Monkeys

Students from Barbara  Royanne‘s Special Day Class at San Jose Middle Mchool  presented a very successful talent show as the culmination of their 20 weeks working with Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin.  The day began with a demonstration of reading rhymes to the upbeat , silly song Big, Pig, Fig.   Then the students demonstrated the amazing progress they made  over the year in their physical education classes through pushups and jumping jacks.

Finally, it was Youth in Arts’ turn.  The students choreographed two dances.  They began with a dance performed to the Monkey’s I’m a Believer, and once all students were in place all students regardless of ability level participated in a dance choreographed to Kool n’ the Gang’s Celebration.

YIA Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin chose music that the students were familiar with and enthusiastic about.  Students manipulated engaging and colorful props including beatiful scarves that danced around the room.

Thank you to all of the Para Educators and teachers who took an active roll and helped by following up with activities during the week!  All involved in this project felt it was a huge success.   Thank you to Youth in Arts for providing the funding and opportunities for these children and teachers!

Accessibility, Awareness and Success!

As we have for many years, Youth in Arts obtained funding to provide Visual and Performing arts residencies in 30 Special Day Classrooms. YIA Mentor Artists worked diligently to provide high quality, adapted arts lessons to hundreds of students with differed abilities, and to share their work with their family and main-stream piers.

For example, YIA Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin celebrated the culmination of her 10 week music & movement residency with Rockne Beeman’s class of special needs elementary students with students from a general education class at their school. Some students from Mr. Beeman’s class were able to take leadership roles, helping their piers through the movements.  This was not only helpful, but those students were delighted and empowered by their ability to lead.

The feedback from teachers is overwhealmingly positive, and YIA Mentor Artists received the highest marks for their expertise in adaptive lessons, allowing each student to partipate to the best of their ability and to feel successful.

“Suzanne engaged my students and brough in art activities that were right at their level and really interesting for each of complicated little guys.  They all enjoyed their time with her.  A big huge thank you to YIA for enhancing our curriculum and the lives of these vulnerable kids.”

SDC Teacher, Marindale School

We look forward to serving these students and teachers again next year.  Please click on the yellow donate button to help support and save programs like these!

Vision, Strength, Accessibility!

As YIA Mentor Artist Hanna Dworkin pulls out her activity board, five young children

Students finding the magic penny.

eagerly gather with their teachers for singing time.  Hannah cheerfully begins to review the class agenda which includes a Good Morning Song, games and a song about Pepperoni Pizza.  Now, you might ask, “what do games and pepperoni pizza have to do with singing?”

YIA Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin and student dancing "Fall Leaves"

Today, Hannah is working with students in a preschool setting who have a variety of developmental delays.  Hannah’s classroom activities are intended to teach musical skills while encouraging developmental growth in areas such as fine and gross motor skills, phonemic awareness, language acquisition and self esteem.

At Youth in Arts we believe that high quality arts education should be available to all people of all abilities.  We work hard to subsize this programming so that it is available to Special Day Classes in Marin County who could not afford it otherwise.  Every child deserves the opportunity to exlpore the world through a creative lense and express themselves in ways that are unique.

You can watch a short video of one of Hannah’s classes from Spring 2010, here.

for more information about bringing an artist to you Special Day Class, click here.

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