At least once a week my students approach me with outstretched arms and strained expressions on their faces. “I just want to hug you!” they cry, to which I extend my arms and say, “air hug!” I send them off, dejected.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions and safety measures, our class has become a total touch-free zone.
“Keep your hands to yourself!”
“Respect their personal space bubble!”
“Leave that alone!”
I believe our lower elementary students crave physical touch. It provides them with affection, affirmation, safety, reward, and recognition. This year, I’ve found that my students have internalized the fact that this social norm is available to them and the results are fascinating.
For example: I use “air high fives” in my math lessons when a student is having a particular success. Now, my students call me over, palm raised, before I’ve even seen their work. They’ve adjusted. However, there’s always a little slump in their shoulders- a little falter of a smile, when I walk away. An “air high five” never lands quite the way It should.
This shift- the moment of regularity and reward is so quick to dissolve. I described it to a coworker as a form of PTSD.
The students in my class try to embody all the natural behaviors they should but then there are a moment when everything falls away. Their faces go blank. It’s like they’re remembering everything we’ve lost in the past year in a single moment.
I worry that when things get back to “normal” we will forget that touch is a huge part of how we build relationships with our students. Give them hugs. Give them high-fives. Everyone needs a little extra love these days. I have a feeling the benefits will be immediate, obvious, and impactful for us all.