Body Space Boundaries:
Early Childhood Education 3-5 Year Olds
Some Exercises – by MahaJyoti Glassman
Conflicts and heartaches arise among young children due to perceived and actual violations of personal body space. It becomes abundantly clear when a student feels their “space” has been encroached upon, but often they do not yet possess the skills or proper language abilities to implement an appropriate and compassionate response.
Frequently children do not have much control over who plays with them and when. Kids with differing abilities may require help with basic communication. These child-friendly, easy-to-use techniques can help kids to have a little more control and choices over their play.
For a 3-5 year old to understand body space boundary concepts, it is necessary that the territory be well defined so that they can visually and tactilely perceive where it begins and where it ends. This must be concretely perceptible. This skill set will improve the young student’s emotional competence and smooth over many potential conflicts without excessive teacher intervention.
The SECOND STEP is to be able to recognize others’ personal space or territory and to provide kids with the script and skills to respect these boundaries as well.
This can be illustrated in a few ways as explained below. These exercises may be set up for each student or just 2-4 ‘nests’ can be made with a few pairs of students demonstrating the techniques with the whole class as the audience. Students love watching others implement the skills rightly or wrongly and talking about ‘How could this be done differently?’
HOW TO BUILD A NEST
- Children can stand with their arms horizontal, parallel to the ground. Their bodies make the shape of the letter “T” form. Once in the “T” stance, kiddos can spin around while staying in one place, like a hurricane. This exercise shows everyone how big their nests are. Their nest may be marked by a small chalk or tape shape or dot on the ground. The shape should go around the child. This hurricane or tornado activity defines their individual nest. This is their personal territory or space.
- If you have access to hula hoops, one child may occupy each hula hoop or nest.
- A chalk circle may be drawn around each child so that each student may ‘see’ how big their nest (body space boundary) is.
- A yarn or string circle may be constructed around each kiddo.
- A circle may be drawn with a stick in the earth around each child.
A few pairs of buddies may demonstrate the following techniques 3-5 times a day for a few weeks until everyone is fairly well practiced in nesting techniques.
THE INVITATION: Exercise 1
Children need to ask to play physically close to another, i.e., before hugging, holding hands, playing together, etc. A child can be in one nest playing with blocks. Another child approaches and says, “Can I play in your nest?” The child may respond with a:
- Maybe later.
- I don’t want anyone in my nest right now.
THE GRUMPY BIRD: Exercise 2
Like adults, kids can be grumpy or angry. Sometimes they just get out of the wrong side of the bed. If a kid is having a challenging day for whatever reason, they may choose not to play with anyone. This can be a time to cool down and not be physically close to others. Teachers may gently remind a student that they may inadvertently be getting near a nest where the occupant has indicated that they wish to be alone. “Amanda, you are getting close to Maria’s nest and she may not like that.” Students practice walking away.
THE LONELY BIRD: Exercise 3
When an occupant says “No”.
- They are encouraged to express it gently, not whining or yelling.
- We explain to them they are to respect the wishes of others by simply walking away and finding another activity to do (re-direction).
- This does not mean that the student no longer cares or loves us.
- Student walks away.
THE GENTLE BIRD: Exercise 4
Children who are learning how to deliver the “I message” may initially express their feelings and needs with a strong voice.
- “I don’t want you in my nest right now”.
- “I feel mad when you are here without asking.”
- “I need alone time in my nest right now.”
- “I don’t like that.”
If a kid gets too loud or too assertive, such as yelling, teachers may say: “That hurts my ears.” Or “It hurts my heart when you yell so loudly.”, etc. Kids learn the difference between a strong voice and a loud voice.
THE GROWN UP BIRD: Exercise 5
Even adults and teachers ask permission before coming into someone’s nest and can be told “no”. However, sometimes an adult may come into a nest to keep a student safe from one’s self, others or an environmental hazard (scissors, street, etc.) It is only when safety is threatened, that the adult violates a nest perimeter.
Practising these techniques can help students to have more autonomy. Maintaining healthy boundaries can increase self-esteem and personal confidence. This is crucial to a child’s understanding of self and how to respond to others. With a few additional ground rules, kids can have a greater understanding and say, “I am a good friend.”
Shrii P. R. Sarkar