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Preschool teacher hoping to keep kids engaged through dance and music

Research indicates early childhood learning contributes to a child’s success in school and life.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A lot of parents with young, preschool-aged kids are looking for ways to keep their children engaged and active during the pandemic.

It’s understandable, since research says early childhood learning contributes to a child’s success in school and life.

It’s a developmental period where kids learn social and emotional skills.

But when preschools and other opportunities for learning shut down because of the pandemic, many parents found themselves with fewer options for their kids.

“This pandemic’s been really hard on kids,” said Kerry Seed. He’s a father to two daughters.

One of them is four-year-old Margo. She would be in preschool if it weren’t for the pandemic.

“The preschool options are pretty limited,” Seed said. “Furthermore, I just don’t feel comfortable right now with COVID transmission.”

Seed said Margo has been playing outside and watching a lot of cartoons to pass the time.

“She’s speaking about cartoons like they’re real people,” said Seed. “That’s her life right now, so that’s a little concerning.”

Credit: Kerry Seed
Four-year-old Margo Seed

That’s why he’s excited that little Margo is taking dance and yoga classes online through Tiny Dance Life.

“Margo was so happy. She was just beaming throughout the whole thing,” Seed said. “She was giving me little asides to tell me, ‘dad this is what we’re doing here, this is what we’re doing there. I know how to do this.”

The teacher leading the fun is Molly Tentarelli. She’s a lifelong musician and dancer who has taught ballet, yoga, and music to preschool kids for the last 15 years. But because of the pandemic, her preschool isn’t open yet.

“We don’t even have a date of when we’re going to be reopening,” said Tentarelli.  “It’s a gray area.”

When her preschool closed in the spring and went to distance learning, she adapted and eventually started teaching dance and yoga lessons to her students over Zoom. Then, when a family that had moved away asked to also take the class, she realized she could open it up to everyone.

So, she decided to start a new venture called Tiny Dance Life. It’s for preschoolers, ages 2-6. Tentarelli leads ballet, yoga, as well as music and movement classes, all via Zoom.

Credit: Molly Tentarelli
Tiny Dance Life Zoom class

“There’s a lot of socialization and engagement. Like the first five minutes, every child I say their name and we sing a welcome song,” Tentarelli said.

Then she said she puts the kids on mute in order to do the 20-minute class. Afterward, the last five minutes are spent checking back in with kids sharing. Tentarelli said the kids love talking with one another.

Just a few minutes with Tentarelli and it’s clear, she loves what she does. She said her three passions in life have always been children, music, and dance.

“The smiles, it’s just such a positive thing to be a part [of],” said Tentarelli.

She said the main thing about her classes, is that they’re fun. If you watch Margo as she’s taking Tentarelli’s classes, you can tell she’s having a blast.

Credit: Kerry Seed
Four-year-old Margo Seed taking a Tiny Dance Life Zoom class

“I was just so happy for her to have that connection not only with other people but also with her passion,” said Seed.

Seed said he couldn’t be happier, not only because Margo is involved with Tiny Dance Life, but also that the person teaching his daughter is Tentarelli.

“She’s taught both of our daughters and she just has a really beautiful manner with children in which she engages with them and meets them at their level and acknowledges the wonderful strangeness of a child’s world view,” Seed said.

“She just has this appreciation for art that has grown in both of our kids.”

The drop-in fee for a class is $10, but pricing varies depending on the number of classes you take.

For parents who just want to try it out, Tentarelli said the first class is free.