Monday, July 28, 2014

Learning to Share Time, Space, and Attention at School

Learning to share at school can be difficult for many students. However, sharing can be classified into different areas, with each being an opportunity to learn or struggle.  First, our young students must learn to share their materials at school.  This can include play centers, literacy materials, math manipulatives, markers, crayons, scissors, glue and even paper.

But if we look past the obvious sharing of materials, our students must also learn to share their time, space, and the teacher's attention during the school day too. Since the home setting and school setting are quite different, some students will struggle in this area.  Sharing your time, space, and an adult's attention with 20 other children can be challenging.

Think of a typical day at home.  A child can have questions answered immediately, receive instant feedback from an adult, and typically share with just a few children.  If there are no siblings in the household, then sharing takes on a whole different concept.

Teaching these skills can help all of your students navigate through the classroom day.  This post is part of the Challenging Behaviors Book Study.  You can read more about it HERE.

Sharing Space

Sharing space and learning about personal space are abstract ideas for young children.  In the book, Challenging Behavior in Young Children: Understanding, Preventing and Responding Effectively (3rd Edition),  the authors discuss why some children have difficulty with challenging behaviors.  While some children have difficulty when other children get too close,  others cannot determine when they invade someone else's space.  Taking a hands-on kinesthetic approach can help your students learn where their personal space is in relation to the activity at school.  And if your classroom is small or crowded, your students will need strategies for when they bump into each other.  Modeling, role-playing, and applying the following strategies will help your students be proactive instead of reactive. Here are some situations where personal space can be practiced throughout the school day.

Teaching Personal Space
  • Group time
  • Walking in line
  • During centers
  • Bathroom breaks
  • On the playground
Each situation has it's own routines, procedures, and expectations for students.  Here are some suggestions for making personal space more concrete for young learners.  And for those who have children, grandchildren, and nieces or nephews, practicing personal space in the car on a long vacation trip can come in handy too!

Don't Pop Your Bubble

Many teachers use the concept of a bubble as a visual for personal space.
  • Blow some bubbles in your classroom.  
  • Notice what happens when the bubbles touch each other or another object.  They pop!
  • Discuss times when our personal space bubbles might pop.
  • Make an anchor chart listing the reasons and the solution for "not" popping your bubble.
  • Sing this song to help your students learn about their personal space.
  • Download the rest of the free packet HERE.
  • Learn what to do if your students have the wiggles.

You can use this song to help children understand the difference between personal space in different situations at school.  It is also included in the free packet above along with other situations for practicing personal space.

The Dollar Tree also has carpet floor mats that can be cut in half to use as practice for sitting in your space.  Rotate the squares around so all children have practice "sitting in their space."

Sharing Time 

Sharing classroom time can also be difficult for our students with challenging behavior.  Children who are impulsive can struggle with all of the transitions and rules for sharing time with others.  Here are some situations when children must share their time at school and some strategies to help your students.
  • Asking or answering questions during group time.
    • If a student frequently gets upset when there is not enough time to share ideas or questions, consider doing a phase-out approach.  
    • The child may ask/answer 1st during group time.
    • The child may ask/answer  2nd during group time.
    • The child may ask/answer 3rd during group time.
    • The child takes a day off of asking/answering a question during group time.
    • Use a visual cue, social story book, or signal to remind the student when it's her turn.
    • Know your student.  I have some students who can quickly transition from 1st to no turn within days.  Other students need a full week to transition between each step.  Learning to wait and share time during whole group situations will take practice and visual strategies. 
  • Following a schedule.
    • Some children may not be use to following a schedule and may feel the "crunch of time" as they move through the school day.
    • Provide a picture schedule along with a 5 minute verbal reminder to make the transition easier.  
  • Waiting for a turn in a favorite center.
    • If a child is struggling with sharing time in a favorite center, use a phase out method or let the child choose between 2 appropriate alternatives to the favorite center activity.

Having a plan in place for sharing time during the school day will help eliminate many challenging behaviors.  Providing our students with these strategies will help them be more successful with sharing.

Sharing the Teacher

If there were only 5 adults in the classroom . . . Well, we can dream.  Building a positive relationship with your students is the most crucial step in solving this dilemma.  Our students need to feel safe in our procedures and routines.  They need to understand why we are meeting in small groups.  They need modeling of what to do when they need their teacher's attention.  Ultimately, the beginning of the classroom day, can set the climate for the rest of the school day.  Here are some positive ways to start each day,  and to foster a caring relationship with your students.

Sharing the Teacher's Attention

This one can be difficult, especially if you have several children who need immediate feedback. Students are more motivated to learn and complete tasks when their teacher is caring, positive, and sensitive to their needs.

Negative attention and positive attention end with the same result: attention. In chapter 8, Kaiser and Rasminsky discuss a proactive approach to meeting these attention needs by frequently checking in with your students.  When I have children who display challenging behaviors, I make sure to check in during non-stressful situations.  A calm reassuring, "I care about you" and a genuine interest in their activities can provide positive attention and help eliminate some of the negative attention.

A Strategy that Works

My youngest daughter has Down Syndrome.  Here is a strategy that I use with her that can work with your students too.  When she was younger,  I would ask, "Are you ok? Is there anything bothering you?" when I noticed a difference in her demeanor. One day, I changed my questioning to, "Do you have a question?"  "Is there something you want to know?" Wow what a difference it can make when we rephrase our questions!  She immediately began asking questions about situations that were troubling her.  Many of her questions to this day are about the day's schedule.  When she knows what to expect, her stress level decreases and a smile returns to her face.  Giving students a voice, choices, and opportunities to practice social skills empowers them.

Be the calm for your student.  Empathy, reassurance, and frequent check-ins will help foster a positive relationship with your students, even the most challenging.

Thank you for participating in our challenging behavior book study and for your comments and suggestions that you have left on my blog.  It's been great learning from each other.  I enjoyed reading one of my favorite books about dealing with challenging behaviors again, along with finding some resources too.  You can check out the other posts below for more ideas on working with students with challenging behavior.

Thanks for stopping by!


  1. Thank you Kathy. The concept of personal space is very difficult for some children. I have found that many are able to clearly establish their personal space, but are unable to recognize other's space bubble. Excellent ideas!

    1. Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting Karen. Have a wonderful year teaching your children about space bubbles. Come back again soon :)

  2. Thank you so much. I love the ideas that you presented, especially the idea of a personal bubble. It is a great way to visualize it for young children. I look forward to trying some of them with the children this year.

    1. Thanks for visiting my blog Jocelyn. Visualization is so important for teaching such an abstract concept. Have a great school year.