In many classrooms, the calming corner is often perceived as a designated space where students are sent when they need a break. While the intention behind it is to provide a sanctuary for students to manage their emotions, the reality sometimes falls short, as it can be seen as a form of time-out. But what if we could change this perception and transform the calming corner into an inclusive learning station that benefits everyone, including the teacher?
Why is a calming corner important?
When reframed as a positive resource, these spaces help students develop essential self-regulation skills and normalize managing emotions in a healthy way. As an elementary school counselor, I’ve worked with teachers to reimagine the calming corner—incorporating it into their classroom routine, making it a place where every child could regularly practice essential calming techniques. Adding the calming corner to the classroom station rotation shifts the perspective from punitive to positive, and regulating emotions becomes a normal and empowering aspect of classroom life.
When students are able to manage their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively, they’re better able to focus and learn and less likely to engage in disruptive behaviors. Additionally, when students have a foundational understanding of their brain’s role in self-regulation, they’re empowered to manage their emotions and optimize their learning.
Turning the Calming Corner Into a Learning Station
To turn the calming corner into a learning station, add it to your station rotation. Students will have a specific amount of time to spend in the calming corner each day, just as they would have time to spend at other stations, such as those for math or reading. You can provide a list of activities for students to choose from, or you may prefer to allow them to explore the space on their own.
Be intentional about teaching students how to use the tools and activities before adding them to the space. You could introduce a new activity during a morning meeting or as part of a brain break. Model how it works, then ask volunteers to demonstrate it for the group. Encourage students to pay attention to how their body feels before and after each activity. Show them how to use a simple “calming corner checklist” to track their preference and progress.
Suggested Tools and Activities
Remember that each student’s needs and preferences are unique. Start small and introduce more tools over time as students become familiar with the space:
Fidget items and stress balls: These handheld items help students channel their energy and reduce restlessness.
Tools for deep breathing: Promote mindfulness and deep breathing with items like a pinwheel, a Hoberman sphere, and shape patterns, which help children relax. Deep breathing is a fundamental self-regulation tool that can be utilized to calm pretest jitters and refocus during a challenging task.
Stuffed animals: Teach students to “rock a pet” with the rise and fall of their breath by reclining and placing a stuffed animal or a small object on the belly. This soothing technique helps calm the mind and brings a sense of comfort and security.
Scented markers: Drawing and coloring provide opportunities for creativity, and soothing or familiar scents help ease anxiety—triggering relaxation responses.
Mindfulness activities: Guided mindfulness meditation recordings can promote relaxation and focus. Mindfulness, with its emphasis on living in the present moment, is a life skill that encourages students to embrace a state of awareness and calm.
Sensory tools: Items like mind jars, sensory putty, and reversible sequin pillows provide sensory input, aiding emotional regulation. Sensory tools cater to different preferences, allowing students to engage their senses in a way that feels most comfortable for them.
Mirror affirmations: Encourage students to engage in positive self-talk by looking into a mirror and using positive messages. Have examples for students to choose. Consider printing some messages in reverse; the positive message is revealed when the student holds it up to the mirror. Affirmations are an ongoing practice that extends beyond the calming corner, instilling confidence and self-empowerment.
Relaxation books: These offer a quiet and creative way to de-stress—for example, I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness, by Susan Verde; Breathe Like a Bear, by Kira Willey; and Ishi: Simple Tips from a Solid Friend, by Akiko Yabuki.
Cognitive distractions: Activities like hidden pictures, spot the difference, and connect the dots can help reset focus. When thinking gets stuck, cognitive distractions can help students shift their focus, promoting mental agility and a fresh perspective.
Headphones and calming music or soundscapes: Soft music or nature sounds create a calming atmosphere. The calming corner becomes a sensory retreat, offering not just visual and tactile stimulation but also auditory tranquility.
Visual aids: Posters or emotion charts can help students identify and manage their feelings. Emotion charts are like road maps to understanding feelings. They provide students with a framework for recognizing and responding to their emotions.
Benefits of the Calming Corner
Here are some benefits of turning the calming corner into a learning station:
- Students learn how to use calming tools and activities before they need them. This means they’re more likely to be able to regulate themselves effectively when feeling overwhelmed or stressed.
- Students develop a positive association with the calming corner. If they see the calming corner as an enjoyable and engaging learning space, they’re more likely to use it when they need to.
- Students normalize self-regulation. When students see others using the calming corner regularly, they learn that it’s OK to take a break and manage their own emotions. (I’ve seen teachers take a moment to access the calming corner during class!)
It’s natural to be concerned that introducing a calming corner might lead students to view it as a way to escape their tasks or as a potential distraction. These concerns are valid and reflect a desire to maintain a structured and focused learning environment.
While students might initially view the calming corner as a break from tasks, this is precisely what we aim for. We want students to develop a positive mindset when it comes to calming their minds and bodies.
It’s also normal for students to initially view the space as something novel. However, with guidance and regular opportunities to explore the calming corner, they’ll eventually learn how to use the space to manage their emotions and behaviors in a healthy way. When they’re able to access the space on their own, then return to their work independently, it’s a source of pride for you as a teacher, knowing that you’ve empowered them to manage their emotions effectively.