Taking Up Space

I love the feeling of space when I’m feeling expansive.

I love the feeling of enclosure when I’m feeling comforted.

This would be why sad children seek hugs, crawl under tables, and sleep well in small spaces.  This would also explain why gyms, fields, and hallways are so conducive to running.

I was reminded of this yesterday at Boston Children’s Museum.  It’s huge and very runnable.

I used to work there full-time and returned as a consultant last year to work with an arts educator and several of her floor staff on techniques for guiding dramatic play in their children’s theater.  They have a wonderful children’s theater program as part of the museum.  15-20 minutes interactive children’s plays are performed multiple times a day.  They are written for young audiences but have a great sense of style and possess all the goodies of good live children’s theater: lights, sound, solid scripts and characters, a safe space, and enthusiastic acting.

When I was an employee, the theater was left open to the public in between shows.  Children could come into the space, play at theater using set pieces, costumes, and lights.  Several times a week, I also  ran guided drop-in programming for children and families.  The new stage, just designed and installed a few years ago, also includes a pretend box office.  I was excited to share all this with my daughter who having just performed in her first dance recital and visited me at the theater for pre-show of my latest production is very interested in the performing arts.

We arrived after lunch only to discover we had missed the shows for the day and the space was not open for free play.  Not open at all.  And the counter workers’ answer implied that my question about it being open for free play was absurd because it was never open for free play.

Who knows why this is so, but it is certainly a loss to the children of Boston.

However, as I followed Do-Bug through the other very expansive exhibits, watched her engrossed for an hour in Peep’s World and watched her run fast down the wide inviting halls, I thought back to my experiences teaching on KidStage and how challenging it might feel as a member of their Education Team to guide a group of unknown children through an activity in a space that invites expanding.  Because that really is a challenge: to retain the focus of children in a space that simply begs for them to run, skip, and jump.  I know it can be done; I’ve done it.  That’s not to say it’s easy.

And what about all the teachers who want to introduce theatre to their preschoolers?

If large spaces invite the running of feet and the tossing of objects, then smaller spaces invite precision.  Precision of movement, voice, and choices.

So, forgo the idea of bringing your children to the gym or on to the elementary school stage for their first time doing a theatre activity.  Stay in the confines of your classroom, a safe space where they are comforted.  Invite them to be precise in their choices.

And when you decide to create your own stage inside your classroom, make it small.  3 feet by 3 feet is ample room for two children to put on a play.  If you have children with mobility differences, make it just big enough for them to turn around, move a foot or two, and then move back.

Because although it feels good and can be easier to take up space in a large space, it is  safer, more productive, and set your children up for success to learn to take up space well in a small space.

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