Course:KIN355/2020 Projects/Self Space/General Space

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Defining the Concept and Its Importance

Picture representation of personal space zones.

There can be many different definitions of personal space, for example, one definition of personal space is “the area individual humans actively maintain around themselves into which others cannot intrude without arousing discomfort”[1] (pp. 118). Other definitions include spatial spheres (bubbles) with the individual person as their center and “the area immediately surrounding the individual in which the majority of his interactions with others takes place”[2] (pp. 144). No matter which definition one choses, personal space is characterized by being portable, having invisible boundaries, the individual’s body being at the center, and intrusion into one’s personal space usually leading to withdrawal[1]. There are four zones of personal space listed in order from closest to the person to public space and being labeled as the intimate zone (0-18 inches), the casual-personal zone (18-48 inches), the social-consultative (48-144 inches) and public domain after that[1].

Guardo (1969) investigated whether there was a correlation between physical proximity and interpersonal closeness in sixth graders and found that they demonstrate the use of interpersonal distance as a cue to aspects of interpersonal relationship, mainly degree of acquaintance and degree of liking. The concluded that the aspects of personal space involved in their examination are developed and utilized by the age of 11 or 12[2].

Personal space is an important concept for children to learn because it can help them to respect social norms in interactions, know how to respect other peoples’ personal space, set boundaries for their own personal space, and stay safe in social interactions[3] (Innis, 2012).

Role in Childhood Development and Contemporary Considerations

Personal space comfort and interpersonal distance can vary from person to person depending on many factors. For example, there is contradicting data about children with autism spectrum disorder and their preferences for personal space [4]. Some studies say that they prefer larger personal space and can stay too far away from people and avoid contact whereas other studies say that they are likely to stay closer to others than the norm[4]. Candini et al. (2017) found that children with autism spectrum disorder prefer larger interpersonal distance with an unfamiliar adult before social interaction possibly because intrusion into one’s own personal space can appear threatening and elicit anxiety that individuals tend to reduce by keeping others far away[4]. Candini et al. (2017) compared children of typical development to children with autism spectrum disorder and found that typical development children are able to easily infer the meaning of an observed social interaction and use this information to update personal space requirements of others whereas children with autism spectrum disorder only displayed the ability to regulate the interpersonal distance between themselves and an adult and not others[4]. Studies examining different cultures and personal space found many different differences, including some cultures sitting closer, being accompanied more frequently, talking more to strangers, gender differences, people from the same culture interacting more closely, and differing familial relationships. It was found that very young children placed less space between figures, and as they age place greater space between figures[5]. Lerner, Iwawaki, and Chihara (1976) found that Japanese and American children had typically the same usage of personal space[6].

Personal space can be taught to children using visual cues[3]. For example, gates or fences define boundaries on land, having a child spin in a circle with their arms extended can define their own personal "bubble"[3]. Having personal space boundaries in a house or classroom is important so each person has their own space[3]. Parents can explain to children that people's bedrooms are their own personal space and that they should ask before entering, same rules apply for the bathrooms[3]. Teachers can use desks as each person's personal space, no one should be drawing on or using another person's desk without permission[3]. Same goes for personal space bubbles, no one should enter another person's personal space bubble without permission[3].

Practical Applications

Personal space or a personal “bubble” are very important concepts that children need to understand so that they can respect the space of others as well as have their own space respected. It can be difficult for some children to get to a common understanding on personal space, but these activities and games below are a good start to teaching kids about boundaries in space. They also can be modified to fit different cultural norms of personal space.

The Cactus

Purpose: The purpose of the cactus game is to set a bit of a standard of personal space for children. It teaches them about how close too close, and what kind of boundary they can set in terms of a personal “bubble”. This ensures that they can have their own personal space respected and respect the space of others.

Target age: 5-7

Equipment needed: None

Environmental space/set-up: All that is needed a safe space and a fairly large room so that each child is able to have the space they need.

Instructions: This game is very simple and can be played by anyone. Everyone spreads out in a room to what they think is enough personal space. Then, everyone extends their arms and spins in a circle. If a child’s arms/hands hit another person, they know they are too close to that person and need to back away to allow for more personal space. Eventually, every person will be spinning in a circle and not touching another person, and the game will end. This will teach children about the amount of space that is appropriate for a personal space bubble and hopefully this lesson will stick with them as they develop. If they are ever questioning how close is too close in an everyday aspect, they can think back on this game. This sets boundaries for the children in how close they get to others, and how close they will allow others to get to them without permission.

Modifications: This game is reliant on having multiple children to play and a big space; if there are less children playing than adults can join in, like a parent or a teacher. Or, if there isn’t a big space where all the children are able to play at once, they could take turns playing so that each child has an equal chance to play the game and learn from it. This game can be modified to fit different amounts of space based on culture as well.

The Personal Space Game [7]

Purpose: The purpose of the personal space game is to apply the understanding of personal space to real-life situations. It teaches children what a personal bubble or space looks like without physically sticking out arms and spinning around to see if they are too close to someone or something.

Target age: 5-7

Equipment needed: This game requires paper, pens and everyday objects like desks, doors, other people, or similar things.

Environmental space/set-up: To set-up this game, you must write down different objects or people’s names on different pieces of paper and mix them all up in a bowl.

Instructions: Different items from the room (like desks, doors, people’s names) are written down on pieces of paper and mixed up in a bowl. The children take turns picking a random piece of paper out of the bowl and identifying where in the room this object or person is. Then, they are to walk over to this object or person and stand at a distance that respects personal space without sticking out an arm or using any kind of measure stick. Once they think they are in a good place (not in someone’s personal bubble) they check their distance by sticking out their arm. If they are able to touch the object or person, they are too close and must try again. If they are more than 2 arms lengths away from the object or person, they must try again. If they are within 2 arms lengths, they pass their turn and the next child goes. This teaches children what kind of space is appropriate without having to walk with their arms out at all times. They are able to estimate, understand what approximate distances mean and how to apply them to real life. A child can think back on this game in social situations and know how close is too close or too far. This game reinforces the personal bubble expectations and norms and sets the foundation for a child’s understanding of personal space outside of the game.

Modifications: This game can be played in any room, for any age children. It can be modified to fit different cultures definitions of personal space. It can also be played with just one child if needed, they would just have multiple turns. A parent or teacher should be present to check the distances and help adjust the child’s understanding if the distance is not appropriate.


Insert video per Section 4 requirements.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Hayduk, L.A. (1978). "Personal space: An evaluative and orienting overview". Psychological Bulletin. 85(1): 117–134.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Guardo, C. (1969). "Personal Space in Children". Child Development. 40(1): 143–151.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Innis, G. (December 31, 2012). "Personal space: A social skill children need and adults can teach". Michigan State University Extension.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Candini, M., Giuberti, V., Manattini, A., Grittani, S., di Pellegrino, G., and Frassinetti, F (2017). "Personal space regulation in childhood autism: effects of social interaction and person's perspective". Autism Research. 10: 144–154.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. Aiello J.R., Thompson D.E (1980). "Personal Space". Environment and Culture. Boston, MA: Springer. pp. 107–178.
  6. Lerner, R.M., Iwawaki, S., & Chihara, T. (1976). "Development of personal space schemata among Japanese children". Developmental Psychology. 12(5): 466–467.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. Faherty, Catherine (2017). "The Personal Space Game". Catherine Faherty. Retrieved November 8, 2020.