Peer Massage – The Essential Guide (With 8 Exercises)


Peer massage is something growing in popularity in many schools around the world.

This is fantastic news, as it is just what modern children need – a way of reducing stress, developing mindfulness, and also encouraging cooperation.

First, what is peer massage?

Peer massage is children massaging other children. It is done fully clothed and following a routine. Children have to verbally agree to be massaged by the other before you begin.

There is quite a lot to it, and I am going to answer all the questions you might have about it.

What are the benefits?

What is the best routine to follow?

How do you teach it to the children?

What are the best exercises to use?

This essential guide gets stuck into all of these questions, and provides you with all the answers you need to get started with peer massage successfully.

The Benefits Of Peer Massage

There have been several studies of the effects of peer massage, and there is lots of evidence to support the benefits that it creates.   (Source)

Some of these include:

Happy And Relaxed Children

This is the major benefit. Peer massage is a relaxing experience, that hopes to root children back in the present.

Relaxed = happy, and ready to learn.

To find out the ultimate relaxation games for kids, then check this article out.

Boosts Concentration

Anything that relieves stress will help enhance concentration.

Stress deeply undermines concentration, as it produces adrenalin. Also, in a stressed state, the brain is in at least a partial flight or fight state. This stops all areas of the brain from working fully.

Releasing tension helps to increase functioning across the entire brain, and therefore children can learn and focus much better.

To find out more stress-relieving activities you can try, then you can also take a look at the best breathing games for children.

Working In Groups

Peer massage is a social experience.

Children get to interact with others in a positive way. It is great for bonding, and for forging friendships with others.

Enhanced Confidence

In peer massage, children are totally in control of the experience. This is equally the case whether you are receiving or giving out a massage.

This boosts self esteem, and also the sense of empowerment.

In short, engaging in peer massage will increase confidence.

Peer Massage – What You Need To Know

Peer massage is not very complicated, but it’s a good idea to know the basics before you get started.

Some of the main things to think about include:

Timetable In Discreet Sessions

There are many parts of the curriculum that you can just ‘throw in’ to other sessions.

For example, a quick bit of counting before you read a story together.

However, peer massage is not one of these things. It needs to be respected as a discreet session in it’s own right.

When you do peer massage you do nothing else.

That’s not to say that it needs to last a long time. Ten minutes is more than enough, and even a five minute session has tremendous benefits.

How Often Should You Do It?

All schools and nurseries are seriously busy places, with so much getting packed into the day. There is probably no need to do it every day to get benefits, but probably at least once a week is a good starting point. Less than this, and you will probably struggle to see any clear benefits.

I know of some schools that do commit to one session a day, and see they see fantastic results.

It’s a decision you have to weigh up with other priorities, but to summarise – somewhere between once a week and daily is the place to be, depending on how much you want to get out of it.

Set The Mood

The more the children can relax before and during the session the better.

So put on relaxing music, settle them down, and potentially dim the lights if you are able.

Safeguarding

Children are fully clothed at all times. Only children are going to be touching other children – no adults.

Adults can demonstrate exercises visually in the air, or by using photos or videos. You shouldn’t demonstrate on a child.

Teach One Or Two Exercises At A Time

The best results will be found if you start with the simplest exercises, and work on mastering them first.

Then slowly expand as the children get more used to it.

You don’t need to use a whole load of exercises every session. Just two or three is great.

Children Take It In Turns

This is kind of obvious, but split the time equally in two for the session. The first half is for one child to massage their partner, and the second half of the time is for the roles to be reversed.

Children love fairness, as I’m sure you know!

Repeat Massages

Don’t do completely different massages every time, but rather build on exercises they have done in previous sessions.

This helps the children to build on prior learning.

Partner The Children Up

You know your children best, and you can probably decide what will work best. One key thing to decide is which children are going to partner up with who.

There are a few options, including:

  1. Children can partner up with whoever they like, and a different person each session
  2. Children can choose their partner first time, and then keep with this partner each session
  3. The adult decides who will partner with who each session
  4. The adult picks the partners, and they stay the same throughout each session

There is no real right or wrong way to do things. Just consider the alternatives and pick one of them.

If you’re looking for a supply of other partners games you can try, then check out this article.

The Routine

It is pretty much standard procedure to follow a reasonably set routine every time that you attempt a peer massage session.

This will look something like this:

Step 1 – Set the mood – put on music, dim the lights etc

Step 2 – Get the children into pairs (in whatever way you have selected)

Step 3 – Each child that is going to be doing the massaging is going to ask the other child if it is Ok to touch them. This verification is an important way to start.

Step 4 – Perform the exercises

Step 5 – The child that has received the massage thanks the other

Step 6 – Switch over half-way. The massaging child asks the other one if they are OK to touch them first.

Step 7 – Bring it to an end, and the child that was massaged last thanks the other

This may seem very prescribed, but there are good reasons behind the system.

Doing the same thing again and again is fantastic for children, and really helps boost their confidence and level of skill.

Peer Massage Exercises

OK, now that you know all that you really to in order to be able to get started, let’s dive into the really good stuff – the exercises themselves.

One of the great things about peer massage is that there is a set of fantastic exercises ready-made that children really enjoy.

These exercises are all really child-friendly. They work well because they are simple to explain.

Shapes Exercises

Many of the best peer massage exercises involve ‘shapes’.

If the children know a shape that they are trying to draw on a certain part of their partner’s body, then it makes the process really easy for them to understand.

Here are some great ones to try:

1.Hearts

In this one, a child will be sitting up straight, with the other child behind them.

The massager starts with both hands on either side of their partners’ spine. Ideally they will be about half-way up their partner’s back.

You start with your hands either side of your partner’s spine, about half way up their back.

You now try to draw a ‘heart shape’ with your hands. Go up towards the shoulders, then loop back towards the spine near the neck. Run both hands down either side of the spine back to the starting point to complete the heart

2.Circles

This is extremely simple. Start with both hands over the shoulder blades at the upper half of the back.

Both hands are going to draw independent circles at the same speed, round and round in the two spots where they are placed.

You could go anti-clockwise, clockwise, or a bit of both – it doesn’t really matter.

3. Spectacles

This activity is a slightly more complex version of the ‘circles’ exercise above.

The massager will put a hand on either shoulder blade again. Then they will make three circles with the hands in this area. These are the circle frames of the spectacles.

Now for making the legs of the spectacles. After the third circle, push your hands out towards the shoulders.

Then return back to the start, and begin the circles again.

Repeat the process several times.

4.Butterfly

Many children really love butterflies, so getting them into something like massage is definitely a bonus.

Also, most children know what they look like.

The massager begins with both hands flat in the middle of the other child’s back, either side of the spine.

With one hand first, loop up towards the shoulder on that side, and keep curving round until you get back to where the hand started.

Then the hand on the other side will draw the same shape on the far side of the back.

Continue like this – (drawing a butterflies wings on their back).

Peer Massage (Movements)

Along with those excellent ‘shapes’ exercises, another key type of peer massage involves simple movements.

These are movements that relate to things the children know and understand – for example, brushing a horse.

Here are some simple peer massage techniques that have a simple imaginary movement as the main exercise.

5. Brush The Horse

There are always lots of horse enthusiasts when you work with young children, and this exercise is really targeted at them in particular.

Start with one hand up at the top of their partner’s back, on one side of the spine. They are going sweep this hand down until it reaches near the base of their back. This is a bit like ‘brushing a horse.’

Then they do the same movement on the other side of the spine with their opposite hand.

Keep going with these long sweeping movements.

6. Kneed The Dough

Pretty much everyone has seen this kind of massage before.

It’s the classic one, where you hold your partners shoulders, one in either hand.

Then you gently squeeze their shoulders, as if you were kneeding pieces of dough.

This is a great massage for simple stress-relief.

Older children can experiment with how hard they squeeze, being prompted by their partner.

7. Bear Walk

For this massage, you imagine that your hands are the bear’s feet.

Start with them both on either side of your partner’s spine, near the base of their back.

Slowly ‘walk’ the hands up either side of the spine. These are the bear’s feet walking through the woods.

8. Ice Skating

This is quite a simple idea. The movement is a kind of slide, just like a skater does across the ice.

Start with both hands flat on either side of the spine, about halfway up the back.

One hand is going to go up one side of the spine to near the neck, then back down to near the base of the back. Keep going like this, with one hand sliding up and down.

The other hand is going to be doing the opposite. So when one hand goes up, the other goes down, and vice versa.

Top Tips For Peer Massage

  1. Demonstrate the moves in the air, and show them a picture if you need to
  2. Repeat the massages that they seem to enjoy the most
  3. Integrate sessions into your routine regularly
  4. Look at other ways to include mindfulness and stress relief in your day-to-day learning
  5. Introduce the techniques to other staff that you work with

Final Thoughts

Peer massage is definitely very achievable, but it’s definitely best to know the basics before you get started.

Now you have the knowledge, it’s time to get started with peer-massage as soon as possible!

Martin Williams

Hi, I'm Martin Williams, creator of the Early Impact Learning blog. I'm a preschool and early years teacher of ten years experience, and I also run practical training courses for nurseries and schools.

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