Class encourages imaginative play for kids

By Katie Demeria

FRONT ROYAL — Three-year-old Clara Murphy and four-year-old Alexa Bradley started their class as snowflakes. They later became lions, then Murphy threw the rest of the class a curveball: she ended the hour as a lion with snowflakes on her back.

Murphy and Bradley participated in JoAnna McCue-Martin’s “Story Time Creative Movement, Yoga & Sensory Playshop.” The class is designed to allow young children the opportunity to express themselves through movement.

“It gives the children the freedom to move the way they want to move, rather than through activities like ballet or gymnastics, which are awfully fun, but a bit more restrictive,” McCue-Martin said.

During the class, McCue-Martin encouraged Murphy and Bradley to move as snowflakes and lions would move. They twirled around the room, tossing pieces of tulle to imitate falling snow.

These activities are based on McCue-Martin’s training in Nia, a movement practice that is also sensory based, she said.

“It’s a combination of martial arts, dance arts and healing arts,” she said. “It’s also a meditative movement practice, with dancing involved as well.”

The benefit for children, she added, is that it allows them to express themselves in a manner they would not normally be able to access.

There is a similar benefit to teaching child-friendly yoga moves in the class, McCue-Martin said.

“The yoga is very fun, and they learn a lot while they’re doing it,” she said. “I’ve had parents tell me that their children would start to get upset at home, but then start breathing and say, ‘Miss. JoAnna taught me to breathe.'”

One of the most important aspects of McCue-Martin’s class is the independence she encourages in the students. She allows them to move as whatever animal they would like, and asks them to describe the color of their snowflakes: Murphy’s was pink and Bradley’s was green.

“Sometimes the children are shy when they first come in,” she said. “It’s not a class they’ve been taken to before, so for the first few times they might just sit and watch because they’re so amazed by this crazy lady that’s in front of them dancing and singing.”

“I really try to respect that and allow them to come in when they’re ready,” she continued.

The sensory aspects involved are tied to the theme of each session, which are based on the seasons. While January classes are winter-themed, with light classical music playing in the background, summer classes may have themes such as beach days.

“It’s so high-interest, and it really allows them to have this moment of imaginative play, which a lot of times toys today don’t really allow,” McCue-Martin said. “I try to choose things that children may not have at home.”

Bradley and Murphy were able to touch and play with pinecones, snowflake ornaments and winter animal toys, such as bears and foxes.

In the summer, McCue-Martin said children play with objects that are shiny like seashells and bumpy like starfish, and listen to whale songs in the background.

“For some children that are actually struggling with sensory issues, it’s a safe place for them to touch and feel and listen to things at their own rate, and in the way they want to,” she said.

McCue-Martin will be teaching four sessions of her class through January and February at the Warren County Community Center in Front Royal. They are designed for children between the ages of four and 10.

All four classes are $30, while individual classes are $10.

For more information, contact McCue-Martin at 540-664-7614.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or