One of the most critical concepts that I teach students is that of space. It starts early in PK and KG by first defining it: “an area in the gym where you are not touching a wall, any equipment or anyone else.” We usually start activities with “Please go find a space.” To Margaret who heads straight for the nearest wall: “Is that a good space?” To Bruce and Will who remain essentially attached at the hip: “Boys, can you show me what a good space looks like?” The concept itself makes sense to kids, although it may cramp their social inclinations on some occasions.
At the upper elementary level we expand the concept of space in order to apply it in game situations. This is where we explore the notion of open space: finding it, recognizing it, using it, and repeating those steps over and over again. Here’s the thing: open space is entirely transitory. As long as players are moving and changing directions, a space may open and close in seconds. I can move into what appears to be open space and quickly realize as I arrive it is gone again. This makes open space a uniquely challenging and interesting concept to convey to students.
A light goes on for many students when we begin playing invasion games such as speedball ( a beanbag form of ultimate frisbee), basketball, hockey and soccer. If I can help my students get comfortable with the ideas that 1) in order to receive a pass, they first need to find a space away from the ball handler; and 2) the space they claim is only theirs if they keep moving, then I know that the games we play will reflect this. My goal in all this is to equip students with a tool they can use in a variety of game contexts. I like to think of it as one of the big keys to the kingdom (in invasion games, at least); a useful secret that travels well.
While I was mulling over open space and how and why I teach it, some ideas from a very different angle struck me:
What do I do to find and claim open space?
What do I need to move away from in order to get closer to what I want?
In what areas do I need to keep moving in order to reclaim open space?
So, there it was: teacher, teach yourself. How many years have I been peddling this tool without recognizing its potency for unlocking some doors in my own kingdom?
It’s no wonder my kids struggle in applying this concept. They may understand it but acting on that understanding requires another cognitive (and emotional) leap. In my own practice I am finding that creating space for others allows me to recognize and appreciate the very space I inhabit. My sense of open space can also expand when I give myself the gift of time: for simply being and breathing. When I truly listen to my students’ questions that often start with “what if…” I am sent to a place of infinite possibilities and sometimes that can feel like the best open space of all.
Where are you looking for open space?
And what will you do with it once you’ve found it?