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‘You’re in my personal bubble space!’

Using bubbles and hula hoops to learn about respectful relationships and personal space may seem a bit out of left field, but if you’re three or four years old it makes perfect sense, as Kaylea Fearn explains.

Madeline Woodbridge
Prep teacher Madeline Woodbridge wanted to create an atmosphere that allowed students to develop both social and communication skills

In recent months, the national dialogue has highlighted the need for developmentally appropriate conversations around consent throughout our lives, not just as a one-off conversation at the onset of puberty. And the earlier those conversations start, the better.

Students from our Early Childhood Learning Centre (ECLC) and Prep classes at Elsternwick Campus have been exploring the idea of how respectful relationships help to keep ourselves and others safe. The Primary Years Program (PYP) has a strong emphasis on responding to real-world challenges, and so the development of the How we express ourselves unit was a natural fit as it incorporates broader knowledge and understanding about how students can interact in safe ways.

Madeline Woodbridge who teaches Prep at Elsternwick was part of the team from across the campus that developed the Term 2 unit of inquiry. ‘When considering what direction we wanted to take, we considered the importance of our students understanding our core values of mutual respect, trust, good communication and honesty. We wanted to create an atmosphere that would allow students to develop both social and communication skills,’ she says.

Jacinta Janssens, Elsternwick Head of Campus, also agrees that explicitly addressing respectful relationships is something that needs to be a priority from the beginning of every Wesley College student’s experience. ‘There’s no doubt that education plays a large part in what influences attitudes and changes behaviours in our world. We know from experience that the greatest impact is made when we start from the earliest ages and continue to build on our children’s earliest understandings,’ says Jacinta.

‘Learning about the concept of respect, and really delving into what it is, how it looks and why it should be, is something that should transcend all ages and developmental stages if we really wish to bring about cultural change to a systemic issue that exists within society.’

Students explore their personal bubble spaces with Pastor Kaylea Fearn

While these concepts are taught across the College and might manifest themselves in Dance and Drama, or in day-to-day language, these units help our students give voice to how they wish to interact with others in ways that make them feel safe from the very beginning of their educational journey. By the end of our first lesson, teachers were able to see a difference in the way our students were interacting with one another.

‘Since beginning the unit, student interactions have changed for the better. Both in the classroom and on the playground I’ve heard students expressing themselves articulately, whether asking for more space on the mat or checking whether it’s OK to give someone a high five,’ Madeline enthuses. ‘The class is more aware of the needs of others, and when there’s a challenge, they’re finding solutions.’

Whilst the concepts we have been working with in the classroom are serious in nature, the learning engagements have been lots of fun and thoroughly engrossing for our youngest students. Play with bubbles, hula hoops, games, songs, dances, and even some puppet shows have all been vehicles for engaging learning opportunities.

ECLC student blows bubbles through a holder

Bubbles became one of the central metaphors the teaching team used when addressing the abstract concept of personal space. ECLC Coordinator Amanda Allan now often hears children say, ‘You’re in my personal bubble space!’ when someone is too close. Amanda noted that when our three and four year old students first arrive on campus, they need to navigate the different sets of expectations from close family interactions to classroom interactions. ‘It is a time to learn how to be around people other than their family, to be part of a larger group of children, to learn how to wait for your turn and solve problems verbally. These are fundamental skills that will grow as they do,’ she says.

Image: Thomas Walterfang exploring space through bubble play

Within a week of introducing the respectful relationship unit to their students, ECLC teachers began to hear feedback from parents at morning drop-off time, who recounted the dinner table discussions about what their children were learning at school around ‘bubble space’.

One of the most encouraging things about teaching this unit in a really intentional way was the conversations that were started between students, staff and parents. It opened up what can be a difficult topic of discussion in an organic way, making this a truly authentic three-way partnership.

This unit has laid the foundations for lifelong learning about positive relationships. The team at Elsternwick are excited to watch how the students put this learning into practice throughout their time at Wesley College and beyond.

Pastor Kaylea Fearn is Chaplain of Wesley’s Elsternwick Campus.

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