Step Up Your Family Engagement

Dance can be a powerful way to foster Social Emotional Learning (SEL), celebrate cultural diversity and promote parent involvement.

Many parents are reluctant to participate in school activities, possibly due to feeling intimidated by the school building or not feeling they have enough spare time to attend. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find a parent whose heart doesn’t melt the day their own child invites them to dance as their partner.

As a PTA leader, offering programs that promote community engagement through healthy, culturally-enriching events should be one of your primary goals. Though it’s often overlooked, dance has the power to engage students, parents/caregivers and school staff in an activity that creates joy and unity.

Beyond the obvious health and cultural benefits, research indicates a strong connection between dance and Social Emotional Learning (SEL). The most successful SEL programs use active forms of learning to teach students, and evidence suggests that dance out-paces other forms of physical activity AND other forms of arts learning when it comes to measurable SEL outcomes.

How Dance Connects to SEL

Schools across the country are prioritizing Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and looking for ways to embed SEL into all aspects of school culture and climate. Dance is a proven strategy for fostering positive outcomes in the three major dimensions of SEL.

  1. Intrapersonal SEL Skills: Self-Awareness and Self-Management are fundamentally rooted in the body, making dance an excellent tool for building such competencies as emotional awareness, accurate self-perception, and impulse control.
  2. Interpersonal SEL Skills: Many dance and movement activities promote teamwork and cooperation and provide rich opportunities for developing Relationship Skills and Social Awareness.
  3. Responsible Decision-Making: Dance and movement can also be a wonderful way for students work on problem-solving, develop the ability to evaluate and reflect, and consider their responsibility to help make the world a better place.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Considerations

When choosing resources to use for dance or movement-based activities, keep in mind that cultural dance, in particular, can be useful in fostering cross-cultural understanding and respect. By studying dance forms that originate in other parts of the world, students gain understanding of the history, identities and values of others.

Dance can also help students and their families overcome cultural and linguistic obstacles due to its focus on nonverbal communication. For English language learners in particular, dance provides the opportunity to express oneself through the body and is shown to bolster self-esteem.

Two Left Feet? No Problem!

In many schools, the greatest barrier to bringing in a dance program is a lack of comfort with dance on the part of the adults in charge. For most students, permission to move—and especially moving to music—offers considerable stress relief and an immediate boost to their sense of optimism and joy.

Using dance and movement activities to foster learning is not as hard as it sounds, and a number of resources exist to take the pressure off of teachers and program facilitators to lead the activities.

One such program, EduMotion: SEL Journeys, is a digital experience that allows groups of participants to explore the world while focusing on themes like diversity, empathy and kindness. Each journey starts with participants choosing a cultural destination and then following along to learn simple movements inspired by a dance from the selected culture. By the end of the journey, participants are engaged with one another in movement, playing the roles of “Joymaker” and “Peacemaker” as they dance together.

How Your PTA Can Integrate Cultural Dance

With the right approach, dance can contribute to a positive school culture through integration during the school day as well as during out-of-school time and family engagement events. Your PTA can be an ideal catalyst to introduce a dance program into your school that benefits the entire community.

During the School Day

Invite teachers to be part of the experience. Provide resources like EduMotion that enable them to explore, learn and/or create a dance with their students without placing pressure on them to teach dance steps. Classroom teachers can include this activity in morning meetings, during social studies or at another transition time. It can also be a great end-of-week reward (Friday dance party, anyone?). Physical education and music/art teachers are the most likely advocates for a community engagement-oriented dance program, so try reaching out to them first!

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS? Teachers who embrace this strategy will see a boost in student morale, improved peer relationships and better academic performance. Multiple studies prove that active students learn better, so the time teachers take to integrate dance into the weekly schedule is time well-invested.


  • Classroom Dance-Along: Teachers can invite parents or another classroom in for an interactive dance exchange.
  • Assembly program: Classrooms can practice and present different dances in an assembly program. Most parents won’t pass up an opportunity to see their child perform!

After-School & Family Engagement Events

Your PTA can host an after-school club or incorporate dance into an existing after-school program. Working with a community partner who specializes in dance is one common solution. Alternately, a program like EduMotion: SEL Journeys offers online content that a parent volunteer or OST program leader can facilitate easily—no dance experience required!

For special events, you can host a parent-child dance, or incorporate a dance activity station at an event such as a Multicultural/International Night, Health Fair, etc. Dance can even connect to STEMyou’re your next STEM + Families event, encourage students to think about coding as a series of dance steps they can put together to create different outcomes. With a little imagination, you can connect dance to all kinds of themed events you may host throughout the year!

Just like trying anything new at your school, the first few steps are often the hardest. While adding dance and movement to your programming may sound intimidating, the potential benefits are well worth it. Please reach out and connect if you’d like some moral support to make it happen in your school!

NATIONAL PTA EXCLUSIVE OFFER: EduMotion has a special offer available for PTA program leaders. Click to learn more!

Margot Toppen is an educator who works at the intersection of SEL, arts and physical education. In 2006, she developed Dancing with Class, a program delivered to hundreds of schools each year.

Help End Child Hunger and Improve School Nutrition through the Community Eligibility Provision

Levin_Madeleine FRACLooking for ways to help end hunger and develop healthier students in your schools? The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) is a new opportunity for schools in areas that experience high poverty levels to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students. Previously only available in 11 states, all eligible schools across the country have until June 30 to opt in for the 2014-2015 school year. PTA leaders are in a unique position to support Community Eligibility and can help spread the word before the June 30 deadline.

What is the Community Eligibility Provision?

Community eligibility is a new provision of the National School Lunch Program that removes the families’ and schools’ burden of submitting paper applications to enroll students for school meals in high-poverty communities. Instead, schools provide all students with free school breakfast and lunch, and are reimbursed through a formula based on the number of students participating in additional federal benefit programs such as, homeless or migrant education, or who are living in households that receive SNAP/Food Stamps, TANF cash assistance or the Food Distribution on Indian Reservation benefits, or because they are in foster care or Head Start. Typically, schools that can participate have 75 to 80% free and reduced price meal eligibility, and also a high level of households utilizing SNAP.

How can PTA leaders take action?

PTA leaders can help promote community eligibility as we near the June 30th deadline for school districts to decide whether to opt in for the 2014-2015 school year:

  • See if schools in your School District are eligible: Check out the USDA Community Eligibility Provision map for state lists of eligible schools.
  • Write a letter to key decision-makers urging support of CEP: Use this sample letter to express support to the Superintendent to opt into CEP.
  • Write an op-ed: State your support publicly for CEP by using this sample op-ed to submit an opinion editorial to your local newspaper.
  • Learn more about CEP: Utilize these CEP resources from FRAC, and also view this webinar from the School Nutrition Association.

For more information contact: Madeleine Levin, Senior Policy Analyst, Food Research and Action Center,

Madeleine is a senior policy analyst in the Child Nutrition Unit at the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), working on school nutrition issues. She focuses on the National School Lunch Program, the National School Breakfast Program and local school wellness policies. Madeleine has a rich background in maternal and child health policy and programs. After serving as health and nutrition coordinator for a large Head Start program in Chicago, she was a member of the National Technical Assistance Network for Head Start programs, working primarily with programs in the mid-Atlantic region. In addition to a strong background in child nutrition, she also has expertise in special nutrition concerns of children with disabilities. Madeleine earned her bachelors’ degree from the University of Chicago and her Masters in Public Health from the University of Illinois.