Calming Toolboxes housed in Calming Corners are all the new rage. And let’s be honest - they have reason to be! Heck, even I want to run into a calming corner to relax in the middle of a stressful day. After a tough IEP meeting, I long for a beanbag, some calming music, and maybe a back rub. Okay, so Calming Toolboxes don’t usually include back rubs, but they do include many other self regulating tools.
From breathing balls to weighted blankets to fidget toys, Calming Toolboxes are filled with beneficial tools! The purpose of these tools is to help students who have become dysregulated or emotionally overwhelmed become regulated.
So if a student needs a break from the instruction or group activity, the student can access the Calming Toolbox to support self-regulation while being able to stay in the classroom to do so.
But Calming Toolboxes are pointless if they're not teaching students a skill.
If the purpose is to help students apply social emotional learning skills when their emotions become dysregulated, then, we should work to increase students’ Executive Function skills. Executive Function skills can be learned through active participation in motor control activities, activities that require waiting - you know, the reverse of impulse control - or mental focus, breathing exercises, and/or cognitive distraction activities.
But don’t ditch the Calming Corner with its Calming Toolbox. Instead, teach students a sequence for using these tools so they can learn to independently self regulate.
First, regulate the emotion. The goal here is to change the message your body is sending to your brain. For this first step, students can use breathing exercises, look at pictures of nature, use position of caring, tighten muscles and relax, or use a breathing ball. Think about calming the mind.
Next, develop focused attention and practice pushing through distracting thoughts. Motor activities are the best way to target this skill. Think word searches, finger mazes using a student’s non-dominant hand, search and finds (Highlights magazine has these), or glitter bottles.
Third, develop response inhibition skills. Provide students with challenging tasks for this step (but not so challenging that they are frustrating) So think simple motor tasks like dot to dot, Buddha boards, or putting pipe cleaners in a cheese shaker. The purpose of this step is to focus on the goal of a goal-directed task and learn to suppress unexpected behaviors.
Finally, the student should prepare for a return to the task that they left to use the Calming Toolbox sequence. During this step, students can read and repeat affirmations. You might like these affirmations (Student Positive Affirmations).
The best way to learn how to regulate your emotions is to practice when emotions are not heightened. Try to provide all students with three minutes of daily practice to become independent in application of this skill. Pretend you are the yoga instructor, guiding your students through a three minutes mindfulness sequence.
By Miss Rae