Influences on the Development of Rhythmic Movement

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

If you are trying to incorporate more rhythmic movement activities into your PE instruction, you may be interested in what influences development of this movement in students. This lesson discusses some of the factors.

Thinking About Rhythmic Movement

As a PE teacher at Brockton Elementary, Callie is trying to incorporate more rhythmic movement activities into her teaching. She understands that rhythmic movement activities are those that require children to use their bodies in coordinated ways, often in time to music.

Callie thinks that rhythmic movement will help her students develop their overall coordination. She also knows that students who are not drawn to competitive sports can find an inroad into PE and fitness via rhythmic movement. Finally, she believes that rhythmic movement activities will allow her to work collaboratively with the music teacher and classroom teachers doing particular social studies units.

As Callie starts planning rhythmic movement units, she wants to know what influences the development of the relevant skills and interests in students.

Elements of Rhythm

First, Callie starts thinking about the elements of rhythm, or what makes up a rhythm overall. She knows intuitively that different songs or chants follow different rhythmic patterns, but why is that?

The underlying element of rhythm is beat, which divides a song or chant into accented units. A beat remains consistent even when the rhythm above it changes.

Callie can have her students clap, stomp, or match to a beat as they learn to identify it. The tempo has to do with the pace of a particular rhythm, and students need to learn not to move quicker or slower than the rhythm they are working with prescribes.

Callie teaches her students that some rhythms incorporate syncopation, or rhythms that are slightly uneven and out of sync with the beat. Finally, she talks with her students about meter, the concept that refers to how many beats are in each phrase of the rhythm.

For example, they move very differently to a waltz, which has three beats to every phrase, as opposed to a march, which has two or four beats in every phrase.

Types of Rhythmic Movement Activities

Now, Callie is ready to think about the different kinds of rhythmic movement activities she might incorporate into her classes. With younger students, she tries to focus on one kind of movement at a time.

She chooses activities that incorporate the elements of rhythm into:

  • skipping
  • marching
  • galloping
  • turning and bending

Incorporating rhythmic movement activities gives many children an inroad to PE class and fitness.
Children dancing

Callie does this through games and simple dances.

Older and more coordinated students are able to do more complex activities that involve bringing different kinds of rhythmic movement together. With these students, Callie uses:

  • dances, especially those that represent diverse cultures and time periods
  • marches
  • cheerleading routines
  • calisthenics and aerobics done in sync with music.

Callie knows that students with disabilities benefit from modifications, or thoughtful alterations, to rhythmic movement activities. She is mindful of slowing music down, providing students with extra space, and modeling each activity multiple times so that all students can have access.

Motor Skills

As Callie works on rhythmic movement activities with her students, she realizes that there are different kinds of motor, or movement, skills involved in each one.


Locomotor skills move students' bodies from one place in the room to another. These include skipping and marching.

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