Health & Movement: Recalling the Work of Phyllis Weikart

by | Feb 17, 2022

Honoring Our Past…

As we reflect on HighScope’s past 50 years, we remember the leaders whose expertise and passion shaped the HighScope Foundation.

Phyllis S. Weikart (1931–2016), former Director of the HighScope Education Through Movement program, was one of the country’s leading authorities on movement-based active learning. Through her wide-ranging experiences, Phyllis developed an approach to teaching that ensured the success of both teachers and students, and which was a major influence on HighScope’s current health and movement products, many of which were written by Phyllis. Here are a few words, written by Phyllis upon the publication of Teaching Movement and Dance, about her long career and convictions about the efficacy of movement-based active learning.

During my career as a teacher of movement and international folk dance, I have had the distinct pleasure of working with persons of all ages, from preschoolers to senior adults. These opportunities with all ages have given me rich learning experiences and have taught me a great deal about how to build the learning foundation through movement based active learning.

Helping students to succeed and to feel good during their learning process has always been a most important goal for me. Helping students reach “ownership” of curriculum concepts is also of highest importance. Ownership means understanding the concept and then being able to apply it to new situations. When students have difficulty I want to know why. The questions I ask myself are, Is the start-up of the task too difficult for the age and skill level of the students? Have I simplified their initial experience in order to enable beginning success? Are the students attending and trying to be successful? If not, why not? These and similar questions have guided my teaching and research over the years. After many efforts to simplify and create successful experiences for students, I now realize that beginners of any age need (1) to have the requisite motor development base and (2) to master basic skills in rhythmic movement if my clarity and their motivation are to result in success.

Ability to perform rhythmic movement activities, including dance, is a most important yet undervalued skill in our society. Recent writings about brain development describe basic experiences in movement and music as critical for success in the formative years. We all can recall times when we were made to feel unsuccessful—perhaps by being chosen last for sports teams, by not being able to jump rope or ride a bike as other neighborhood children did, or by not being “a good dancer.”

Students I have taught in the University of Michigan’s folk dance classes and in the HighScope Institute for Ideas for teenagers report feeling better about themselves when they improve their movement and dance ability. The research data I have collected over the years supports the realization that steady beat, coordination, and attending abilities enhance students’ reading, language, and math competencies as well as their musical abilities, including being able to sing in tune.

There are a number of skills associated with rhythmic movement and life-long learning that may not develop in students without our assistance because they are experience-dependent. These include (1) aural and visual processing (the attending skills), (2) kinesthetic awareness (the understanding of what one is doing in movement), (3) movement awarenesses of space and time, (4) steady beat competence, and (5) beat coordination with sequences, which produce overall coordination of the body and a healthy lifestyle.

I believe the movement-based active learning process…can create success for students in movement.

Forging Our Future

To hear HighScope’s Big Beats for Young Peeps during a large-group time, play the video below. In this video, taken in the HighScope Hub in San Antonio, Texas, teachers are scaffolding preschoolers’ learning by helping them notice musical patterns and physical coordination with those rhythms.


How to Use Music Throughout the Daily Routine

HighScope Music Blog

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