Four-year-old Jesse stretches his arms straight out at his sides and begins to spin round and round. He calls out to his friend, "Watch me. This is all MY space!" Jesse's playmate, Ethan, holds his hands high over his head, touches his fingertips together, then moves his arms down and outward in a big circular motion. Delighted, Ethan declares, "I've made a big far-out bubble space!"
For preschoolers, like Jesse and Ethan, the excitement of knowing where their bodies are in space and experimenting with spatial relationships are important parts of learning about body awareness. Using their keen observation skills, these boys are able to gain an intriguing sense of their bodies through their visual perception from their shoulders to their fingertips. As preschoolers bend down, twirl around, and stretch out in space, they begin not only to see, but to feel the space their bodies occupy.
This Way, That Way
Preschoolers, especially threes, like to make their bodies skillfully perform actions like walking backward, jumping in place, and steering a tricycle. They enjoy moving different body parts and exploring the ways in which their body parts move. Games like The Hokey Pokey, where they "put their elbows in and take their elbows out," can help preschoolers become aware of the range of motion of various body parts and learn about ways their bodies can or cannot move.
By age four, preschoolers begin to have a solid awareness of where their own physical presence stops and others' bodies begin. They become more able to look at situations from another's point of view — for example, your child may realize that if she sits too close to another, she'll bump into her and spill her glass of milk. Curious about their bodies, preschoolers can't help but notice when things change as they grow. For instance, they're delighted when they discover they can finally reach the sink faucets. They laugh when they can no longer button their jeans because their tummies have gotten bigger. They're fascinated with their bodies changing and getting bigger and longer.
Here's how to encourage your preschooler's growing body awareness:
Try reading books about the body, such as The Busy Body Book by Lizzy Rockwell. Discuss with your child how his bones and skin keep growing as he gets bigger and bigger.
For visual awareness, encourage your child to watch his body movements and image in the mirror.
Play an observational game naming and pointing to various body parts, such as Red Light, Green Light; Giant Steps; Simon Says; or Duck, Duck, Goose.
Play 'doctor' or 'hospital.' Set pretend broken bones. Measure how tall the patient has become. Identify and use names for body parts, like ankle and waist.
Create an obstacle course to run through and jump over; it will help your child with body and spatial relationships. Have hirn follow directions: Go through, around, under. Run, roll, turn.
Susan A. Miller, Ed.D.. a veteran teacher, director,and author, is professor emerita of early childhood education at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania.