“May I have a hug?” Natalie asks. Preschool children practice asking for what they want.

Jordan Grace Owens, illustrator

Natalie comes to me, “Robert pushed me when I asked him for a hug! He won’t let me give him a hug.”

This experience prompts a circle conversation to help the children (3 to 6-year-olds) ask for what they want and listening for the response to their asking. I know just the precious object I want to use for this important teaching: a small, beautifully designed and handmade cloth purse or pouch with tie strings. Professor EunSook, an artist and teacher I admire, gave it to me. 

I show it to the children and introduce the “ask for what you want” activity.

“This is the hug pouch. It is special. When I want to give a hug, I take it to the person I want to hug and say, "May I give you a hug?" And then I wait and listen to hear if the person wants a hug or not.

I show the kids how to ask.

“Natalie, will you practice with me?” She agrees. 

"When I bring you the pouch, stand up, look me in the eye, and take it from me. I’m going to ask for what I want. Natalie, you can either say ‘yes’ and hug me or you can say, 'No, not now.’”

I walk over and kneel down so we’re at eye level. I ask and Natalie hugs me.

The children sitting around the circle watch us. Then Harry waves his hand like he’s swimming backstroke.

“Harry, do you want to say something?”

“I don’t want any hugs,” he emphatically states.

“Thanks for telling us, Harry. Saying no is an important skill to learn. Let's practice saying no to hugs. What words can we use?" I ask. 

“No, I’m concentrating,” says Natalie.

“Maybe tomorrow,” says Sam.

“I don’t want hugs now,” Maxwell adds.

“Later,” says Sophia.

“I’m working now. It’s not a good time,” Ashlinn says.

“No. Thanks for asking.”

Harry and I practice. I bring him the hug pouch and ask for hug. He says, “No, but I’ll shake hands.” 

I show the children where the hug pouch goes on the shelf and end with, “If you want a hug and no one is available, the stuffed owl at the peace table takes hugs anytime.”

This is a photograph of the listening or hug pouch used in the "ask for what you want" activity. It was given to me by EunSook Kwon. It is a treasured object made even more special by its use. Later, we used the pouch to ask for other things. Inside are small pieces of paper. Each one is a different request for practice. For example, “Will you sit next to me?” or “Will you hum or sing to me?” The pouch is worn from use.

And owl holds thousands of child hugs.

Originally published 9/30/12