SEN Primary Dance: While We Can’t Hug

By Emma Jones

The book While We Can’t Hug by Eoin McLaughlin and Polly Dunbar (2020) is about friends who cannot hug so they think of different ways to show they care. The book contains an important message that links to the PSHE curriculum when considering supporting positive relationships and mental health. The story is split into sections, each contains ideas for you to use and adapt as appropriate and focus on exploring and developing a range of whole-body movements. Depending on your participants’ needs, sections can be delivered over a single or multiple lessons and combined create a scheme of work.


This section naturally flows from the warm up into exploration and development ideas. Repeat as appropriate to warm up before any subsequent lessons. Begin introducing and exploring different ‘hello’ gestures e.g. waving, shaking hands, a high five, bowing, head nod. Use different body parts, levels and vary the speed to include different whole-body movements. Allow opportunities to share ideas and make choices:

  • select or change the order of gestures for a phrase
  • use of repetition
  • different body parts
  • adding actions (jumps, turns, rolls)
  • creating a ‘secret’ greeting

To cool down repeat some of the warm up at a slower tempo.

Letter Writing

Using your ‘pointing’ index finger explore drawing mark making patterns or, and letter shapes e.g. forename or first initial. Begin by writing on your own or a partner’s body then transfer the movement into the air. Encourage participants to:

  • vary the size of their writing
  • use jagged or smooth shapes
  • write continuous or single letters

Setting dependent; cover a section of wall or floor with paper so participants can view their writing using their whole body. Chalk or a syringe filled with water will work outside too.

Sending a Kiss

In the story one character sends their friend a kiss; they catch it then send one back. Using a feather* to represent a ‘kiss’, participants can explore moving with it:

  • Watch the feather float from high to low catching it before it lands. To extend explore how your body can travel to the floor.
  • Explore moving whilst balancing the feather on different body parts. Begin in your personal space then travel through the general space and include different levels.
  • In a circle, participants take turns to dance to another person, balance the feather on their body which passes the turn on.

*If feathers present sensory challenges alternatives include bean bags, tissue paper, a spikey ball or a pair of socks.

Painting Pictures

Create a mind map of words associated with painting (swish, flick, swirl, dash, dot, dab) to explore. Imagine painting the space with these movements using the whole body, can participants:

  • Copy a peer’s idea?
  • Create their own movements?
  • Explore a range of actions?
  • Sequence different movements?
  • Use a large or small amount of the space?

Some participants may benefit from using a ribbon or scarf to visually ‘see’ the painting.

Extension Task

At a more sophisticated level participants can think of other things they can do to show those who are important to them they care and physically explore them.

Performance and Appreciation

This can happen at any point during the lesson but focus on the tasks participants explored e.g.

  • What is your favourite ‘hello’ gesture?
  • When your friend balanced the feather on their shoulder how did they move?
  • Can you see anyone perform a swirl or dash as they paint?


Use any visuals (photographs, symbols, drawings) and short video clips to support participants ideas, understanding and memory. There are free resources on the Makaton website showing key signs and symbols from the story along with a signed Mr Tumble video too.


Emma is founder and artistic director of Splatter Dance and a fully qualified and licenced Makaton Tutor.
Twitter: @SplatterDance @EmmaDanceJones
Facebook: @SplatterDanceEducation
Instagram: splatterdance

You can purchase the book While We Can’t Hug by Eoin McLaughlin and Polly Dunbar (2020)  here