Monday, September 22, 2014

Let's Read, Then Dance!

A Dance Story Inspired by "Otis and the Scarecrow" by Loren Long

Otis and the Scarecrow is a lovely new book by Loren Long, who lives in my town, Cincinnati, Ohio.  He, along with many other local authors will be at Books by the Banks ( on Saturday, October 11.

I have chosen to write a movement activity about this book for several reasons.  Otis and the Scarecrow is the perfect book to explore with young children during late summer/early fall, and it is a beautifully written and illustrated book. The story inspires many movement ideas.  Perhaps the most important reason is that the book is about friendship, and the power of compassion.

As a dance teacher, I love watching children use their imaginations as we dance about anything and everything.  I often use books, stories and poems as a springboard for creative movement explorations.  

Why do I love dancing about stories with my young students?

Ready to begin a dance story!
Bringing stories to life with music and dance can nurture many early literacy and language skills, such as:  

  • Sequencing
  • Making predictions
  • Identifying with different characters
  • Exploring the setting and background
  • Vocabulary acquisition
  • Listening skills
A dance story can be a very short activity (10 minutes or so), or can be expanded into a longer one that even could be used as a fun presentation for parents and friends.  Children enjoy revisiting the book, and through a teacher's movement prompts and the children's own kinesthetic responses and ideas, the explorations that result can be energetic, playful, and enriching movement studies.

Otis and the Scarecrow Dance Story

  • The book Otis and the Scarecrow by Loren Long
  • An upbeat musical selection -- Bluegrass instrumentals work well for the setting and atmosphere of this story.
  • A space large enough to have the children stand in a circle and move freely
How to Present the Dance Story:

Read the book Otis and the Scarecrow, by Loren Long, to your students. Now dance the story by using any or all of the following prompts.  Allow time between each prompt for the children to respond and follow where their imaginations lead them.

Stand in a circle with the children and ask, When the story begins, who has just come to the farm?  What does the scarecrow look like?  He is very straight and stiff.  Let's imagine we are stiff like him, and try to walk.  Walk around yourself in a small circle.  Now let's imagine we are a floppy scarecrow.  Walk around in a circle and be as floppy as you can.  Do you feel the difference between stiff and floppy?

Now make your body into the shape of the scarecrow in the book, 

Make yourself into the shape of the scarecrow!
and try to look grouchy like he does!  What other faces can you make?  Let's imagine we are a shy scarecrow, an angry scarecrow, a surprised one, a silly one, a happy one!

The animals all try to greet him.  Let's try some greetings.  First, let's wave 'hello.'  Now wave with your knee, your elbow, your head, your foot!  Wave with your whole body!  Does the scarecrow wave back?

The animals each have different greetings for the scarecrow:  be a horse, and curl your lip.  Prance around in a small circle like a horse.  Now be a duck, and point your wings at the scarecrow.  Waddle around like a duck.  The little calf and puppy were frightened. What do you do when you are scared?  Now imagine you are a bull:  snarl, huff and turn away.  What does the scarecrow do?  Make yourself into the grouchy scarecrow, standing very still.

Imagine we are in the pumpkin field.  Be Otis the tractor, chugging around the field.  Chug all around the room!  Now imagine you are pulling children on a hayride.  That is a big heavy load.  What do you feel like when you are pulling something heavy? Imagine you are now walking through the pumpkin field looking for the perfect pumpkin to carve.  Pick up a heavy pumpkin and imagine you are carrying it home.  Put it down carefully!

Let's play some games like Otis and the animals in the cool autumn air.  Should we play follow-the-leader?  Should we come back to our circle and play ring-around-the-rosy?  

We play Follow-the-Leader like Otis and his animal friends!

More Follow-the-Leader!

Now let's gently fall down and play Otis's quiet game while we sit in our circle.  We will start by taking a deep breath like Otis, and then very slowly let it out with a puff and a shhhh.  Try that again!  Now let's be still, like Otis instructed the animals:  no laughing, quacking, giggling, or puffing!  How long can you sit and not move a muscle, not even your smile muscles?

Let's finish the quiet game by moving parts of our bodies like the animals:  twitch your nose like the bull, wiggle your bottom like the ducks.  Roll on the ground like the horse!

Here comes the rain!  Let's imagine we are raindrops.  Move around the room and swirl in the wind, gently float like a light raindrop, then falling like a big fat raindrop.  Make a splash!  Now let's stomp through mud puddles!  Imagine you are the scarecrow, and sway back and forth in the wind, with the cold rain splashing on your face.

Let's go to the scarecrow so he won't be alone!  All together, we will imagine we are marching down the big hill.  Next, we cross the big, empty corn field, and we will huddle together under the apple tree on the hill and watch Otis go to the scarecrow. 

Now we will join Otis!  Imagine you are the tractor, the dog, the horse, the duck or the bull.  How would you go down the hill toward the scarecrow?  Let's go all together.  Now look up at the scarecrow.  Is he finally smiling?

Finish the story with a free dance to reinforce the learning and encourage the children to  explore any parts of the story they wish.  Put on the musical selection and allow the children several minutes to dance.  Bring the dance to an end by fading out or stopping the music, and asking the children to freeze in the shape of their favorite character from the story.

Try this dance story format with other books and poems!

Keep on dancin',

Connie Bergstein Dow


Copyright 2014 Connie Bergstein Dow


  1. Connie, I LOVE this post. It just made me happy. What a sweet book and great movement activities to go with it. Thank you for sharing! We love Otis in our classroom, but I haven't seen this book yet!
    Kindergarten: Holding Hands and Sticking Together

  2. Hi Carolyn! Thanks for your comment. This book is brand new. I tried out the dance story this past Saturday, and the children loved the book, and enjoyed dancing to it!


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