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Early childhood education has been my life for over 30 years. I have taught all age groups from infants to 5-year-olds. I was a director for five years in the 1980s, but I returned to the classroom 22 years ago. My passion is watching the ways children explore and discover their world. In the classroom, everything starts with the reciprocal relationships between adults and children and between the children themselves. With that in mind, I plan and set up activities. But that is just the beginning. What actually happens is a flow that includes my efforts to invite, respond and support children's interface with those activities and with others in the room. Oh yeh, and along the way, the children change the activities to suit their own inventiveness and creativity. Now the processes become reciprocal with the children doing the inviting, responding and supporting. Young children are the best learners and teachers. I am truly fortunate to be a part of their journey.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

PERSONAL SPACE

This year I am trying to share with the parents more of what goes on in my classroom.  I sent one group of parents a video of their children around the sensory table.  The video shows eight children each engaged in a task of their own choosing.  Understand that this is the second day of class and many of the children have not been in class together, nor have they ever played together.  Watch.

Around the water table from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

This is what one mother wrote after she saw the video.  "It's remarkable to me that 8 children can play cooperatively at one activity!  They give each other enough personal space and focus on their own work while showing interest in what is going on with the neighbors."

I was intrigued that she used the phrase "enough personal space."  When I look at the how the children occupy the space in the video, I wonder how children measure personal space.  Here is a still picture from the video of one end of the table with five of the eight children.
How much personal space is there for each of them to operate in?  There is not very much considering any sideways movement easily brings them into contact with another child.  Besides lateral space, the children work in vertical spaces, too.
Interestingly the vertical spaces allow children to be in the same space only on different levels.  In the picture above, both boys bending down to get water from the tub at some point end up under the child using the baster in the pipe.  And in fact, there is a fair amount of body contact in the form of inadvertent nudges.  What does that say about children and their concept of personal space?

Here is another instance of three children working in very close quarters.   One child is pouring water into the top tray.  Another child is using the baster to squirt water into the lower tray.  And the third child is scooping water from the bottom of the table.
Does the personal space for children collapse when they work on different levels?  Why are they so accommodating to the other in such close quarters?

My favorite example of children's personal space---or lack thereof---comes from a video I took a couple of years ago.  It was included near the end of this post.  The two children in the video are classmates, but they rarely play together.  On this particular day, they find themselves in the same spot---literally.  They are both on the same stool working to put pellets down holes in the top of the box apparatus.

Close Encounters from Thomas Bedard on Vimeo.

Most adults would not take kindly to the amount of uninvited contact between these two children.  Somebody working over my shoulder ON my back would be very hard for me to manage.  Conversely, no matter how much I wanted to get at a space, I could not reach over another with the full-body contact exhibited in the video.

How can these children do it with such ease and without conflict?  What does it say about children's idea of personal space?  Maybe more importantly, how often do we impose our idea of personal space on children by creating rules about how many children can be in a space?  Can we let go of our idea of personal space to give them the opportunity to negotiate their own personal spaces?  And, even more importantly, do we believe the children are capable of negotiating their own personal spaces?

I think the parent's words bear repeating.  "It's remarkable to me that 8 children can play cooperatively at one activity!  They give each other enough personal space and focus on their own work while showing interest in what is going on with the neighbors."

Looking at the video again, it looks like they manage their personal space so well that there is room for at least a couple more children at the table.


P.S.  If you are going to the NAEYC national conference in Orlalndo in November, I am presenting on sand and water tables.  The session is on Thursday morning from 8:00-9:30, so we will see who are the early birds.   Any readers of the blog who want to chat, I would love to find a time to meet.  Please feel free to contact me through my email: tpbedard@msn.com

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