Calming Center Ideas to Help Your Students Self-Regulate

Calming Center ideas
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Self-regulation is hard for some kids. I’ve written about neurodiverse students here, here, and here. Children who often find themselves embroiled in or starting conflicts may be having some trouble with their big emotions. Some kids lash out when they feel anxious, overwhelmed, or sad. They may even have trouble keeping it together when they’re tired or hungry. Little people don’t have the vocabulary or the metacognition to understand their own emotions and reactions yet. These skills develop over time and need to be taught. A calming center is a great way for you to support your students as they learn to self-regulate.

Calming Center or Calming Bucket

Students struggling with emotional regulation need to have their big feelings acknowledged. We then have to give these kids the tools to handle them. One such tool is a calming center, corner, or bucket. It’s a place a kid can go sit in clear view of the teacher to chill. Our school counselors provide stress balls, fidgets, and other items in a small bin that anxious children can use in the calming corner when they’re having a hard time. This corner is not punitive. In my classroom, children did not have to ask to use this area. I limited their time to five minutes or so depending on the level of distress a child was in.

Class-created calming area

I had a high-conflict group one year where many of the children had trouble regulating their emotions. Many of them dealt with their feelings by going at a classmate. Or me. I tried to address the problem first thing in the morning. The kids came in at 8:45, and I took them to resource class at 9:10. I created a whole set of prompts which gave students the opportunity to write about certain emotions and how to address them. I phrased each prompt as a sentence starter for the kids to finish. At 9:00, right before we left, I gathered them on the carpet and had a few share their responses. This drew their attention to the emotion they were trying to navigate, gave them the opportunity to handle it in their own way, then let them trade ideas and stories with classmates. 

After I took them to class, I would staple or bind their responses together as a class book. I put each book we made in the calming center. When children headed over to the calming bucket, they could pick out a class book when they calmed down a bit. Many of them would flip through to see what their classmates had written about different challenges, or the one they were experiencing at that time.

If you’re interested in my prompts, check here.

Here are some affiliate links for products you may want to purchase for your calming center if your school doesn’t provide one. Remember, you won’t pay a penny more if you purchase through my links, but I may make a small commission.

Here is an example of one of my calming centers complete with my Mindful Moments Class Books!

Stress Balls

Here is a link to some positive squishies for kids to handle when they’re stressed. These have fun messages on them.

If you don’t want to purchase any, keep an eye out at local businesses. They often have stress balls with their logos on them that will work perfectly for your calming center.

Fidgets

There are all sorts of pop toys, spinners, and clicky cubes that kids can use when they feel anxious or restless. These are fun for kids to play with, so you may have to make sure that your kids aren’t heading to the calming center just to play. HA!

Here is a link to some pink-themed fidgets.

These fidgets are a variety of colors with many different types.

Water Toys

I love those toys with the colored, glittery liquid inside. It chills me right out to flip those little containers around and watch the sparkles flow. These are fairly easy to make with items around your house; just make sure you glue them closed!

Here is a link for some bubblers that I think are cool.

Sensory Brush

Soft brushes that students can safely rub on their hands or arms are very calming. There are actually brushing protocols for neurodiverse children that help with sensory issues. Including a brush or two in your calming center will give your students more options to use.

Here is a set of two therapy brushes just for this purpose.  

Slinkies

Including a Slinky in your calming center is just fun. Here’s a colorful plastic one you could put in your bin. Encourage your kids not to tangle him up though!

Sensory Seating

Having cozy seating is comforting for your special corner. You can always grab some extras from your house or visit thrift stores and yard sales to find these. I’ve never had great luck with bean bags, but kids do love them!

I like these cushions, but they are designed more for younger kids.

If you have money to spend, this seat is cool.  

Wobble stools and balance balls are fun, too, as long as you set parameters on how they should be safely used.

Final Thoughts

Creating a calming center will help all your students learn to regulate their emotions and soothe themselves when they are overwhelmed. We all need a break sometimes, and a spot to chill will help all your children.

Before You Go:

Follow my Teachers Pay Teachers Store for new products and freebies.

Check out my positive behavior incentives here.

Teaching sight words using the “heart word” method? Check out my heart word flashcards for daily review.

Working on letter and sound recognition? Check out this bundle of activities for teaching the alphabet!

Need some decodable readers? Here are some to get you started.

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