photos by Emily Opalski

It’s common knowledge that kindergartners like to move. Asking them to sit still in a classroom
for long stretches is a tall order.

Enter Corey Nagel. As part of OPEF’s Art Start program, this dance and preschool instructor
had Mann kindergartners movin’. But not willy-nilly movement. Instead she subtly encouraged
them to think about how they are moving and what their movement can express.

With shoes and socks off, the kindergartners in Ms. Whitley’s class at Mann one April morning
were experimenting with difference types of movement. Ms. Nagel says she calls it “movement”
not “dance” with the kids so as to avoid any stigma associated with the latter. She encouraged
them to “really feel what is going on around you,” as they did their own skipping, crawling,
walking, and jumping.

The students experimented with 7 different movement activities that day, all accompanied by
instrumental music. In one activity, the kids teamed with a partner to experiment with “highs and
lows” so they had to watch what their partner was doing: “If your partner is high, you are low. . .
Use your eyes.”

In another activity, a sort of freeze-tag game: “Whoever is ‘it’ is full of energy. Everyone else is
frozen.” The kids explored how to move in space and to be creative in that moment when they
were “it.”

“She is so creative–we wanted her to do what she does best,” said kindergarten teacher Allyson
Smith. Ms. Nagel used plenty of kindergarten-appropriate concepts and themes–shapes,
numbers, and the like–to make connections with the kids.

Jackie Beljung, another kindergarten teacher, added, “They are also learning new concepts as
they do it–opposites, shapes, symmetry. It complements concepts we do in kindergarten, and
it’s a nice way of differentiating [how we’re teaching those concepts].”

Ms. Nagel’s good chemistry for the kids was evident when Kyle C. said he “likes that she is
fun and funny!” Sam W. likes that “we can take our shoes off and go barefoot and move a lot.”
When asked if he liked positive or negative sculptures, he said, “I like both. It makes my legs
feel good.”

The kids had a chance to create a shape machine in which they connected to each other but had
to keep those positions while passing blocks from one person to the next. It created a fascinating
mix of movement and stability as the blocks were passed. The kids learned that in order to keep
the machine running smoothly they needed to move carefully and also pay close attention to their
neighbors’ movements.

In Ms. Smith and Ms. Beljung’s kindergarten classes, the students also experimented with what
Ms. Nagel explained were “positive and negative shapes.” Using a student as an example, she
said “where she is is positive. Where she isn’t is negative. Negative shapes have lots of holes,” a
jumping jack formation, for example. Positive shapes are solid, such as being enclosed in a ball
or scrunched up. Kids moved into groups to create negative sculptures, those with lots of holes,
and at the same time, to use the different levels in space Ms. Nagel had talked to them about–
highs, mediums, and lows.

Ms. Nagel also discussed symmetrical vs. asymmetrical shapes with the students, a concept the
kids have learned in kindergarten math. She explained how standing with the parts of your body
in an asymmetrical position is not “very comfortable but it’s interesting” and then had the kids
experimented with that as well.

Ms. Beljung appreciates Ms. Nagel’s work with these kids since “this gives the kids that outlet to
have that movement in the middle of the day.”

The students did several movement workshops in their six weeks with Ms. Nagel in order to get
movements and ideas in their “toolboxes” for the “Imaginarium” program they performed in
May. They used props such as balls, lycra body bags, nets, giant scarves, black lighting, masks,
and flags along with expressive movement to create their “-ariums,” a series of imaginary
worlds based on a theme. For instance, a real “aquarium” is a place centered around water life,
but they might come up with a “webarium,” a place centered around webs.

The props help the kids define their movement and express their skit’s theme. For instance, in
the “scarium,” the kids wear white masks and white gloves and move like ghosts in black lights.
In the “macaronarium,” they move inside long thin, netted tubes to bend and mix like a bowl of

Ms. Smith noted, given that it is April, “these kids are ready to go to first grade. They are
comfortable with each other and the way these kids move [at this age] is so unexpected, so fun to

Watch a slideshow of Emily Opalski’s photographs here.