Sunday, March 30, 2014

Personal Space Camp

Happy Sunday, everyone!  It's Lisa from Second Grade Stories coming to you from a VERY rainy New England.  I can't complain though - at least it's not 20 degrees and snowing!  Spring has finally begun to show up around here and nowhere is this more evident than in my classroom... with my kiddos' behavior... argghhh!
We definitely have some spring fever going on here and that means it's time to review and role play some social skills again - just enough to keep us going for the next three months.  (Yes, that's right... mid-June is our last day!)  My seconds have been SO all over each other lately - poking, tattling, interrupting... it makes the day so much more tiring and even they are feeling it.  So, I decided to jump right in and help them fix this so we can be a happy and productive classroom again. 
Welcome to
But before I share, let me explain how this all fits in.  (And I apologize for the lack of photos in this post - I'll try to get creative and put some in as much as I can!)  We all know how important teaching social skills is as part of our classroom.  Not only does it help keep things running smoothly during our day at school, but those same skills are an integral part of being successful out in the world.  I have an outline for the year of social skills for us to focus on - things like being a good listener, staying focused on your own work, taking turns and working together.  We focus on one skill for 3 or 4 weeks, doing most of our activities during morning meeting and then reinforcing throughout the day.  The first two months of school focus on:

I have a general plan of when we'll do others, but many times it depends on how things are going in class and what I see a need for.  Like now - we definitely needed to focus on two specific skills again - personal space and not interrupting.  I tackled personal space first, since I thought (hoped!) maybe reviewing that one would have an impact on everything else.  I enlisted the help of our fantastic school psychologist intern and we got to work. 
We started by reading this book - it is a must have for any elementary classroom!!!

Had I known about this book, I would definitely have used this at the beginning of the year.  (Already bought it from Amazon for next year!)  It's all about Louis, who has some issues with personal space (described SO perfectly from a kid's point of view!)  He's been asked to join a group that works on "space camp" - and he's ready to go because he knows a ton about outer space.  Louis is a little disappointed to discover that it's not THAT kind of space being talked about.  But, he learns a lot and even shares what he discovered with his family.
After the story and some discussion about what personal space means, we started talking about strategies for knowing the boundaries of your personal space - in line, on the rug, at your table, etc.  We brought out hula hoops for everyone and asked them to sit themselves on the rug, inside their hula hoop, in their own space.  AMAZING!  Kids who usually ended up on top of each other saw that you really CAN fit everyone on the rug comfortably.  After a few more quick activities (stuffing LOTS of kids into one hoop!) and role plays (how do you handle when someone is a "space invader?"), we moved the discussion to how personal space is different depending on the situation.  Sitting at tables means less personal space than a hula hoop, and in line is even less - but we modeled and role-played so everyone had a clear idea of what personal space meant.
At the end of the activity, each student received a "personal space camp" award.  Boy did they eat that up!  We told them that meant they knew everything about personal space and now they were expected to show it.  Here's the one I created.  You can click on it to use it with your own kiddos.

I can't say this completely fixed our personal space issues, but it made it easier for students to talk to each other about staying in their own space, using the hula hoop idea.  And it gave us a common language to use in our classroom.
Julia Cook, the author of this book, has MANY more great books on social skills that are perfect to use with elementary kids.  I own a ton of them.  They are written in a way that students can connect and some of them have an activities guide to go with them - perfect for classroom ideas.  Visit her website to see all the books she has.

I have also used the book
to work on interrupting.  Everyone has SO much to say and it is important for kids to know there is a time and a place for when to share things.  This book gives great strategies to hold those words in until it's time to share your ideas.  My kiddos LOVED practicing the strategies (lots of snorting going on here - you'll see!)  As I was hunting for ideas to use with this book to make our lesson more hands-on and give students something to refer to, I came across a great blog called Speech Room News.
Jenna is a pediatric speech language pathologist who works with students in an elementary setting.  Her blog is filled with ideas on teaching social skills in the classroom.  We used her volcano craft to follow up on our interrupting lesson.
We decided to write strategies we could use to stop interrupting on our volcano strips so students could refer to them as needed.  For the next week, our volcanos sat in our room and you could see everyone trying hard not to interrupt.  All I had to do was say "volcano" when someone interrupted and immediately everyone smiled!  On Friday, students took their volcanoes home, along with a quick note from me explaining what they were and how to use them.
Although working on these social skills takes time out from our "academics," it really pays off in the long run.  I'm looking forward to using more of Julia Cook's books (and Jenna's ideas!) in my classroom.  What great ideas do you have for working on social skills in the classroom?


  1. Great post! I just submitted a Donor's Choose project for a bunch of Julia Cook's books as well as a few others. I can't wait to use them next year!

    What I Have Learned

  2. Awesome! Thanks for the great ideas and books! I am heading to Amazon!

  3. I had never seen Julia Cook' books, and NEED them for the end of this year and the beginning of next year! Thanks for sharing!