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Singing and Dancing Together

The project will support families in creating joy, connection, and community through music and movement.

Photo of Elizabeth Luff
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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

Prior to submitting I had already corresponded through email with one person who submitted earlier whose descriptions inspired me. I also mentored a group which needed information about movement and music as it relates to preschool education and trauma which I was happy to provide. I also read of a project in my home city which submitted and have added them to a list of groups I'd like to network with.

Name or Organization

Elizabeth Luff


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

What is your stage of development?

  • New Innovator, with less than one year of experience in ECD


  • Individual

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Research & Early Testing: I am exploring my idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.

Describe your submission in one clear sentence

Singing and Dancing Together will partner with existing organizations to work with underserved parents and caregivers of children ages 0-3 in Philadelphia using song and dance to help parents and children bond, support ECE program curriculum, and create community and joy.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Music and dance have been integral to many cultures in the world. In the U.S. they tend to be "specials" offered as rewards, or entertainment, and are often segregated by class or income or sometimes just minimized in a rush to meet academic goals. Singing and Dancing Together strives to interlace song and dance throughout our lives and educational programming. At the earliest ages dance can strengthen muscles, increase agility, and release tension. Singing can enhance literacy. Song and dance influence emotional and intellectual connections which transcend age, gender, race and roles.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

I have been exploring ways to reach parent and caregivers of children ages 0-3 specifically to support singing and moving with children in ways that would support both the children and the adults. For over 20 years I have taught music and dance preschool classrooms and afterschool programs. Of special interest to me has been ways to explore movement with more people. As a result I created programs like Family Dance, Mom and Tot, DanceTales and Fit2Learn. Reaching out to infants has been another dream. I have assembled a team diverse in experience, age, race, gender to brainstorm the best way to implement such a program . Presently we plan to develop peer networks of parents and teachers of young children to develop Singing and Dancing Together in order to share information about the value of music and movement in children 0-3 and to find the most effective ways to encourage more singing and dancing together among parents, children, siblings, peers and the community at large. We are connecting with organizations which already work in underserved neighborhoods. Creating your own songs and dances is empowering for all ages, helps young brains develop, and creates joy and connection. It fosters self-directed fun, which is natural to human development and human nature.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

We are trying to create joy, connection and community in areas that lack them using song and dance to address the following issues: need for connection between parents and caregivers of children need for community and support among parents and caregivers need for playful approach to music and movement activities because exploratory-imaginative play is a critical ingredient and foundation for all learning

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

Singing and dancing are intrinsically human, shaping a person's self-expression, self-perception, self-esteem and expands our learning. I seek to collaborate with neighborhood leaders and organizations to develop ways to encourage parents and caregivers of children of their communities to enrich the arts landscape, incorporating their own cultural experiences and to learn, appreciate and create original, developmentally appropriate material to share with children songs and dances. I have knowledge about what types of activities work with which ages and a wealth of curricular materials but I want to partner with the community representatives to customize a program that works for them and incorporates their personal feelings, hope, dreams and culture. Created in 1990 with 2 other dance colleagues, my company, Moving Studios, was an innovator in offering creative dance on site at preschools, afterschools, and community programs. Today we serve many schools mostly in the western suburbs of Philadelphia and have developed an extensive curriculum for preschool music and dance. More recently I became certified as a Trauma Competent Family Professional and started training early child educators throughout the Philadelphia region. Seeing the vast disparity in services between affluent suburban communities, smaller towns, center city, and underserved neighborhoods, made me want to do more to spread the joy of dance and song to more communities and families in order to strengthen the adults, children and community at large. Presently I want to design programming for children and families who may not have access to high quality music and dance programming or may not have the budget for these activities which are often concerned "extras" or "frills." Singing and dancing are not frills but an important part of the physical, emotional and mental development of children. Singing and dancing can help a community unite around one or various cultures. It can also be healing. While there are bright spots of groups and individuals doing work like this, there are many underserved areas. I am inspired by many sources including the Lullaby project out of Carnegie Hall, the work of Dr. Bruce Perry, and some projects I read about in this platform. I am gathering ideas from a variety of people in early childhood education and from different cultures to develop a suitable outreach program. I already work with one organization which might serve as a conduit in one Philadelphia neighborhood.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

First, the children would benefit. They would have adults in their lives (parents, teachers and more) who would know the importance of nurturing, emotional stability, and language development; and how song and dance can enhance these. Parents and caregivers will also benefit from the calming affect of music, the physical activity of dancing, and the joy of sharing both of these. The adults will learn best practices and may even expand their job choices in early education as a result. Families will benefit from positive interactions between parents and children through singing and dancing together. Children who hear a variety of music styles, speeds, and tones expand their language abilities and their ability to transition from one emotional state to another more easily. When adults sing to and with children a strong connection is made and affirmed which benefits both parties. The parent and caregivers will benefit from connecting with their children. Through singing and dancing they can release tension, express themselves, and share themselves in a deeply personal and memorable way with their children. The strong relationships developed through this bonding has the potential, over time, to create a stronger community.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

The plan is to take Singing and Dancing into neighborhoods in Philadelphia that may not have the best parks, preschools, and neighborhoods. We want to train the people to work with their friends, neighbors and peers to solve create their version of Singing and Dancing Together using my expertise in which types of activities are effective for which ages. We start with Singing and Dancing; they keep going to expand the joy outward and upward.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (1500 characters)

Singing and Dancing Together sounds fun. It is. And there are families that need fun--something beyond working 3 jobs to support the family, or being unemployed, or waiting in line and filling out forms to receive services, or constantly being told the things you need to improve and documentation you need to provide to receive help. Singing and Dancing will not require proof of need, just willingness to participate. Fun is healthy. Play is how the youngest children learn and explore the world. Sharing that with a child can lighten a parent’s load. So Singing and Dancing can go beyond fun and improve the outlook of a grown up and develop the brain of a child.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

We all need to move, we all need to sing, express ourselves, and develop relationships. When I start teaching a new group of preschoolers I ask them what we need to dance and sing. Together we discover all we need is our bodies and space. That is easy to scale if we can provide a bit of structure for people to get started they can take it as far as they want to go.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

In this early exploration stage the hardest part is getting a commitment from a small network of people to start the work. Everyone I speak with is supportive and believes in the mission but is also overscheduled and exhausted (we need to sing and dance more !). However, starting small using organizations already in existence is definitely feasible .

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (1500 characters)

Singing and Dancing Together on one hand is an easy sell. Everyone likes the idea. But with pressing needs like preschool placements, early interventions, housing, and lack of a budget for anything becomes easy to let Singing and Dancing Together be dropped from the roster of services offered by any group. It is for this reason the program needs to be funded, at least at the start.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (1500 characters)

Since we have started exploring this idea our ideas have evolved, changed, circled back to the original concepts and more. My hope is that once we are involved in implementation we may develop perspective through the people we work with and that will inform future directions. Singing and dancing is an intimate form of relating. Ideally, relationships will form which will expand our peer network and effectiveness. User feedback will certainly be the most important information and I expect it will happen verbally and documented in written form.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

I am comfortable thinking outside the box. I have extensive experience developing ,teaching, consulting and collaborating with child development professional in numerous disciplines. I have taught in dance studios, gyms, outside, boys and girls clubs, church basements, The Thomas Eakins House and more. I was an athlete as a youngster and have danced since I was 16. High school started, every day, with choir. As I look back I see how these physical and artistic activities fed my spirit, maintained my physical and mental health, and colored my world view. Now I am an expert in preschool dance, teach adult fitness, and sing in a choir. I do not know how I would function in the world without these. I get excited teaching classroom teachers about the arts of dance and music but am acutely aware of the obstacles many of them face: low salaries, exhausting work, children coming to school tired, hungry and often not having met basic child development landmarks. As the ECE world becomes more developed in many good ways, I also see the administrative drudgery taking its toll. Report after report, more and more guidelines to follow, goals to meet in numerous areas, and no mention of the arts, especially music and dance, and most specifically--dance. After 25 years of teaching preschool dance, I am not going to leave this earth with understanding the power of song and dance, knowing why it is so important, and how to teach it effectively. I am committed to creating joyful connections for children, their families and teachers in ways that empower their lives.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (500 characters)

I have some partners: a local Family Care Center director, several preschool teachers of various races, male and female, a peer in dance education. I am connected to two organizations which might help sponsor early activities. I would like to make more local connections and talk to anyone else doing similar work.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

My biggest challenge will be finding specific people who need Singing and Dancing Together who might also be a part of the teaching, administration, and future programming. Philadelphia has a wealth of nonprofit organizations and I would love to find one or two to start partnering with. For example, Sr. Mary Scullion's Project Home has opened a day center in the main underground railroad station if the city to offer a variety of services. I can Singing and Dancing Together there. How do I make that a reality?

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information


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