Sunday, March 19, 2017

Why We Don’t Have a Calming Area…

This year, we are focusing on and learning more about self regulation. What does it look like? How do we support it? What are we doing now that is helpful? What might we change to better support our learners?

Our primary goal in our classroom, before academics, is the well being of the children. It is incredible that our Ontario Kindergarten curriculum document now has 1/4 dedicated to Self Regulation and Well Being. Without these skills in place, academics are not able to be engaged with effectively. Beyond this, self regulation is universal. It is something that all children benefits.

In our Foundations Course with the Mehrit Centre (, we learned that there are six arousal states that everyone goes through. Children, and adults, can move through these stages many times in day.

6 arousal states:
1.     asleep
2.     drowsy
3.     hypoalert
4.     calmly focused and alert
5.     hyperalert
6.     flooded

So… how does this connect to the early years?
By three years old, children can begin to learn when they are becoming hyperaroused and learn what they might do.

We know that children are most successful in their learning and relationships when they are calmly focused and alert.

When children are hyperaroused, they may have difficulty solving problems, focusing on their learning, following directions, or connecting with peers.

How can we help?
If we as educators begin to reframe the behaviours we are noticing it supports us in approaching it more calmly ourselves and invites us to be a detective investigating the root of the behaviour.

If we reframe these sometimes challenging moments as learning opportunities, rather than being annoyed and asking children to  simply “calm down” it will not only support their understanding and development… but we have found that it helps us to stay calmer and more patient in our interactions.

Dr Shanker shared in one of our modules that what children need is a “time in”, not a time out. They crave and benefit from genuine human connection. What an opportunity we have each day and with each challenge to connect, support, scaffold and watch self regulation grow and develop.

What might it look like?
In a classroom, or at home, creating various kinds of soothing resources or spaces will support children in thinking about what their body needs. The challenge is that what each child needs will vary. Sometimes what works so well one day, will not support the same child the next day!

As self regulation began to surface in conversations in the education world, we began to see many “calming areas” emerge in classrooms.

Having a space that is calm and quiet is so important and beneficial to our students. Our struggle with this concept is that what is “calming” for one student, may set another child off! Asking some children to sit and do a puzzle when they are hyperaroused could trigger them further.

Sometimes inviting children to a specific spot like a calming area can be a trigger itself too. It almost seems punitive and counterintuitive in a way to “go to the calming area”. How do we know if the calming area will actually support that specific child in feeling calm? Or, what if that child has a low energy level and needs something that will stimulate them in order to become calmly alert and focused.

So, we thought a little bit more about this. How do we self regulate as adults when we are feeling hyperaroused? Maybe we go for a run to expend energy, maybe we colour, perhaps we listen to music? What are real, genuine things that we do to self regulate.

We like to think about how the entire classroom can support self regulation and how we can create many different spaces, environments, and tools to support children depending on what they need in that moment.

We have created micro-environments in the classroom and as we support children in finding out what works for them, we can support them in testing out different activities or spaces.

Asking questions such as “what are you feeling in your body?”. And then, after spending some time trying a new space or strategy, we can ask the same question, “what are you feeling now in your body?”.

The bottom line is that we need to be aware of the SELF in self regulation. We want the empower children by helping them to understand what it is that helps them so that they can grow independent in regulating themselves.

So, we don’t have one area or a box of materials that will “calm” children. We try to remind ourselves that what calms one child, may set off another. We strive to find genuine ways for children to self regulate by creating different micro-environments that will support the different needs that children have as they move through the arousal states.

Sketching while listening to music. Music can cancel out overwhelming noises and provide students with their own sense of space. Music itself can be calming - the children can choose the type of music that will support them based on how they are feeling too (nature sounds, calm instrumental music, upbeat dance music). 

Project Work can support children and "change their state" by providing them with something positive to focus their energy on that is of interest to them. These students create and sketched different superheroes using blocks. The art of sketching, drawing, writing can be very therapeutic and calming for some children. We had seen children slow down and regulate after picking up the materials to sketch or draw. 

In this micro-envrionment, we created a space for privacy and personal space by adding a tent. On the wall is our family board with photographs that many of the children look at when feeling overwhelmed or when connecting socially with peers.  In this area, we have the children's personal portfolios that allow them to reflect on and look at their learning. We also have a selection of different books and puzzles that they can engage with in the tent, on a nearby table or on the floor space surrounding.

Our stationary bike provides the children a space to expend excess energy. The bike allows for us to adjust the tension to make it hard or easy to pedal. It supports those who may been hyperaroused or who may have low energy levels. Some of the children also enjoy listening to music while biking and changing the speed to the tempos of the songs.

Sensory Opportunities are so important for children to have daily in their play. Some children are drawn to the water as a space to explore and investigate. We experiment with different approaches in our sensory bins too. We have experimented with different temperatures, scents (adding eucalyptus epsom salts), colours, consistencies. Children can watch, move, immerse their hands or arms, squeeze, pour, touch.

Different levels of lighting in the room supports the needs of the students as well. Some children will ask for the lights to be on, while others will turn them off. Our light table is in a darker area of the classroom and provides a space to explore in the different lighting area.

Sand is another sensory experience that can easily be added to a learning environment. We have a large sand table that allows for larger scale play, but we also sometimes use a small bin to create a different group size and space. Kinetic Sand is really supportive for sensory learners. It forms and then changes state by simply squeezing and moulding it. We find ourselves immersing our hands often into the sand as we play alongside children.

Music can be a powerful way to express oneself creatively. We have found that some children gravitate towards music when self regulating. Music can help to change your state and often provides an outlet for creative expression. 

Cleaning: We have noticed over the past year or two how many children seek out opportunities to help and clean in our classroom. Often times, when feeling overwhelmed children will ask for a job or something they can do to help. We are fascinated and wonder if the act of helping supports them to self regulate. Or, and possibly in combination, does the act of cleaning (washing dishes), mopping provide self regulation through the sensory actions (scrubbing, water, movement). 

Our Dance Studio: A space where students can dance and move at any time in the day. We have an iPod and the children can choose the music that they would like to use. We have also added yoga mats for stretching or practicing different poses. This space truly provides an often unavailable space for children in the classroom - somewhere for them to move and to not have to regulate their movements because of space restrictions. They can move freely, express themselves, connect with peers and change their energy levels. 

What ways do you support self regulation through your environment, interactions, and approaches to teaching? Share in the comments below or via Twitter using #connectinglearners

Interested in learning more?
Join us this summer!


  1. It is so interesting to read about the calming options that you've considered around your room and for all of your different learners. Your classroom size/space reminds me of the room that I had last year, and with this size, I found that we could provide so many different spaces. This year, I moved schools, and our room is MUCH smaller. We also have 32 students compared to the 23 that I had last year. My teaching partner and I have been talking a lot about this dance/movement space. We think it would benefit some of our students, but we're struggling with figuring out where it can go so that it does not interrupt other students that would find it dysregulating. Any advice? Have you or others tried to create this space in a smaller room? I'd welcome ideas! Thanks!


  2. Great question Aviva. We have been in two different rooms. The other space we had was smaller and different in structure, but still a relatively decent size. We moved the space a few times before we were happy with where it was.

    Without knowing or seeing your room it is tricky to give the "right" response, however, we have found a few things with colleagues who have implemented similar areas with challenges.

    Sometimes music/dance is incorporated into an area that is already being used (e.g., building). It sometimes becomes a dance studio, other times becomes a space for building.

    We have seen hallway spaces or cubby areas serve as a space for the dance studio too!

    If noise level and acoustics in a small space is an issue:
    One colleague used 2-3 iPods to support the noise level with dancing, which depending on acoustics of the room could help too but requires that investment.

    You could define a corner or a space in the room using mats too, if that helps.

    In our room, we also take a long time to introduce and support the dancing and movement space. We talk about volume and support the students in verbalizing to their peers if it is too loud (e.g., "Can you turn down the music so that I can concentrate on my writing?").

  3. Love your article and have a few questions
    How did yo introduce the bike to the children? We have recently been funded for two spark bikes for our kindergarten classes ( there are 4 in our school) and we curious how to introduce them and what rules you may have about using them. thanks your help would be greatly appreciated

  4. I am totally fascinated of your language use, process description, your love and care for children, the way you work, the way you teach us, your generosity!! THANK YOU

  5. Thank you Nino, that is really kind of you to say! Thanks for taking the time to comment <3