Places assigned and places chosen have major implications for the lives of children. While the former are a result of children’s subordinate position in an adult world, the latter are the essence of their agency. Beginning at a young age children seek out places to claim as their own. Places, real and imaginary, shape children and children shape them. This phenomenon of spatial autonomy is a formative, and extraordinary, part of their identity formation. While spatial autonomy has been casually referred to in the children’s geographies literature, a theoretical framing of the concept is generally lacking. This article draws together findings from two research studies, which were conducted by the author, to further theorize the meaning of young children’s (ages 3-6 years old) spatial autonomy in their home environment and a forest setting. Informed by a phenomenological framework, the studies used children’s tours as a method. The findings reveal that spatial autonomy is an expression of children’s independence enacted through symbolic play and hiding activities. The children sought out small places and high places where they could observe others while maintaining autonomy. Additionally, spatial autonomy is relational, negotiated within adult imposed-regulations and influenced by peers, siblings and other more-than-human elements in their environments. By claiming just-out-of reach places, the children collectively and independently established their own rules and a sense of control. The achievement of spatial autonomy plays an important role in young children’s identity formation, boasting their self-confidence as they develop a sense of self with places in all the various environments of their lives.
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