Calm Body Spaces in the Classroom

Every classroom K-5 should have a calm body space.

What exactly is a calm body space? Simply put, it is a place that any student can opt into, taking a break when THEY feel fit. It is NOT a time out space for students a place to be sent to. The space should be selected by students and constructed hand in hand with the teacher.  All students have access to it, at anytime during the day. Students are never sent there because they are misbehaving. It is not a punishment place but a place where students can regulate their own emotions and to return to the class when they are ready.

When I first started working at Queen Anne, I learned about calm body spaces and I was a bit confused. At first glance, I could tell it was different than a time out space but I didn’t quite understand how much ownership students should have in creating and defining the calm body space.  What follows is a quick guide to what it is, what it isn’t and how to create a calm body space in your own class because your students really need it.

What it is: A calm body space is a space that students have identified as place to go whenever they feel the need. Students should select and name the space together through a whole class meeting.  In a follow up meeting we will set and define  clear parameters about how we use this space.  These agreements hang in the Calm Body Space as a reminder.

In the past the calm body space in my classroom was under the classroom loft and had names such as : The Shark Den, California ( don’t ask) and just Calm Body Space. The name doesn’t particularly matter as long as students get a choice in naming it. The space should be out of the way of the rest of the class and should feel calm. At Queen Anne we had a fish tank, some pillows, a lap weight, headphones,  some paper and pencils but not much else. You may find that your students can handle more or less tools in the space. Last year, my class decided that those tools were helpful for getting calm  but weren’t so tempting that they wanted to stay and play.

One thing I wish I would have added was a five minute sand timer so that students could time how long they had been in the Calm Body Space. I teach students that it’s okay to spend five minutes there and then I will check in, if they need a couple of more minutes, okay,  but after that they either need to rejoin the class or go problem solve with another adult in the school such as the counselor or principal.

What a Calm Body Space is not:

A space to send misbehaving students. It is NOT a punishment space.

A space outside the classroom. Calm Body Spaces are in the classroom so the child is still in the classroom. Students should never be sent into the hall because they are deregulated.

A space that students can just hang out in all day and opt out of learning. The goal of a Calm Body Space is to help teach students to identify and regulate their own emotions. If they are spending large amounts of time there, there is a bigger issue. It’s our job as teachers to figure out what that student needs to be successful in that lesson. Is the content too challenging? Are they going through trauma and can’t access the curriculum? Are they sick and need to go home? When a student spend a lot of time in the Calm Body Space, we need to work with them to figure out why and get them back learning with the class.

How to begin:

First, I would get the book, Jared’s Cool Out Space . This is a great story about Jared and how he builds his own Calm Body Space in his bedroom. Many of students go home after this read aloud and build their spaces at home.

Next, lead a class meeting about where you could have a Calm Body Space in your classroom. Allow students to select and name the space, it should be place in the classroom you all agree would work well for calming down. It should be inviting to students. Lead follow up meetings as necessary to set clear boundaries about the space.

Have all students take a quick tour of the space and add any tools that help with regulation.

Allow students to use the space when they need it. Remember it is a space that they should be allowed to access.  If it’s a very popular space, you may need a back up space  (there have been years when I have had two Calm Body Spaces) Below are photos from both of our classrooms. You can see the space under the loft in my classroom and in Molly’s classroom there are beach chairs ( her class Calm Body Space has a beach theme!)

To repeat with what I began with: All classrooms should have a Calm Body Space.   Every student deserves a spot where they can feel safe and regulate their emotions. Research tells us that students cannot learn when they don’t feel safe.  A Calm Body Space will make a huge difference in your classroom.

-Alicia

Stop and Breathe

IMG_4042As I drove today, composing this blog post in my head, I was so tempted to title it something like “The One Thing You Can Do For a Calm and Focused Classroom” or “The Secret to Classroom Management” and while those titles are flashy and accurate in a sense, they imply there is some great big secret out there that can solve all your classroom behavior problems  with some magic potion. And in reality what I have discovered is painfully simple. Ready for it?

Breathing exercises for transitions or any old time your class needs to return to a calm and happy state. Plain and simple.

My class this past year was very energetic. More so than the average first grade class. Transitions were to be a huge challenge and problem in our classroom. We tried everything, problem solving as a class, very structured clean up routines, timing ourselves to see how quickly we could clean up while staying safe, you name it we, tried it. After a few weeks of trying different solutions, all of which had limited success, we began using a Hoberman Sphere to breath right before our class meeting. And it helped. And then a student suggested we use the Hoberman Sphere to help us calm down after recess. And that also helped. There is a great deal of science behind breathing but what really interested me was how dramatic of a difference I could see in my students and myself from 10 -15 deep breaths. It was remarkable. Then I went to a training and learned a new breathing exercise, which I promptly brought back to my classroom. And another. And soon we had about five breathing exercises that we used for every transition or anytime the energy in the room was beginning to rise.  And while it didn’t transform our classroom into a utopia, it did help the classroom to be a calmer place where we were able to minimize transition time and increase learning time.

Our Classrooms Top 3 Breathing Exercises:

  1. Hoberman Sphere -fun and a great visual
  2. Square breathing: inhale for 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4
  3. 4, 7, 8- great TED talk about this here

Mindfulness In the Classroom – How my 1st graders taught me that slowing down is good for all of us.

 

“I am aware.   I am safe.  We are connected.   These 3 simple statements had a huge impact on my classroom.  They were proposed by  my school’s climate committee as a way to help all of our students be more mindful. (Not only in the classroom but in the halls, on the playground and in our overcrowded  and very loud cafeteria.)  Social Emotional Learning is already at the heart of my school’s curriculum.  We explicitly teach students how to recognize, understand, and express their emotions.  We give them tools to help them self-regulate.  In every classroom at Queen Anne Elementary you will find calm body spots – spots that students can go to if they need a break. (Not sent to – as a time out) Students have access to noise canceling headphones,  a variety of fidget tools and other materials that help them focus on learning.  We believe that our students have different needs and there is no “one size fits all”  approach.  Our classrooms have flexible seating so that students can pick a space that makes sense for their needs. We give all of our students the power to make decisions that help them learn best.  We have daily classroom meetings run by the students with agendas that include a complement circle and problem solving.  So when our staff decided to make these 3 simple statements a part of our common language I wasn’t sure  they would add that much more.  But they did. They became a kind of mantra in my classroom that helped students become more calm and focused on learning.

It started when one of my students, whose job that week was the Class Breather, (this is a coveted job in my classroom – the student uses a Hoberman sphere to lead us in deep breaths when needed) decided we should say these statements after each breath.

I am aware.   Breath

I am safe.    Breath.

We are connected.   Breath. 

It was an idea that stuck.  And the more I watched my students, and did the same practice myself, I saw  we were all benefiting from this 3 minute activity. My students were more calm.  My most fidgety students were able to focus longer.  And we felt more connected.   But there were other ways I was incorporating mindfulness in the classroom. For the last 2 years I have integrated the mindset for learning strategies so skillfully laid out in Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz’ incredible book called A Mindset for Learning- Teaching the Traits of Joyful, Independent Growth.  These mindsets – empathy, flexibility, persistence, resilience and optimism,  are taught explicitly and my students use these mindsets throughout the year. I see evidence of it everywhere. They come up during goal setting, in conversations and on sticky notes that are left in  books.

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I also started using Go Noodle.  Go Noodle is a website that features short videos designed to get kids moving. But they also have videos that teach mindfulness, specifically  ways to enhance focus, practice compassion, build self control and manage stress. IMG_1131

I turned to Go Noodle after I realized that my kids were returning to the classroom after lunch (remember the previously mentioned overcrowded lunchroom above?) extremely amped up.  I tried everything –  A class read aloud, a moment of silence, a time to just sit and draw.  Didn’t work.  The energy level was too high.  One day, I turned down the lights, met the students at the door, asked them to find a brain and body spot and when we were ready I would play a Go Noodle mindfulness video. My students just naturally started sitting Criss Cross Applesauce and using the time to shut their eyes and think about their breath.  When all or most of us were ready – they would either continue sitting or standing depending on the video. And again this was 3 minutes of our day that made my kids less stressed and ready to take on the 1 1/2  hour of Math and Science still to come.   And I’ll be honest these brain and body breaks were helping me as well.  I found I was  more calm and was a much better teacher in the afternoons.

All of this had an impact on my personal life as well.  I’m now spending my summer reading about meditation, mindfulness and listening to the 10% Happier Podcast which features so many stories of people who are practicing mindfulness in their own lives and in their very different workplaces.   http://abcnews.go.com/Health/deepdive/10-percent-happier-dan-harris-44036003

I’m excited to hear other stories from educators who are seeing the difference that a few mindful minutes can make in the lives of their students.

~Molly