Self regulation in the classroom

Posted on February 15, 2014. Filed under: educational, Grade 1 & 2, Kindergarten, reflection, teaching and learning |

I don’t know when the buzz word of “self regulation” first set foot into the education circle’s vocabulary, but for the past 4 years- I have been committed to the idea and the practice. It started when I taught Kindergarten and had 2 boys who would get very emotional and wild at the drop of a hat. One was diagnosed with autism, and the other one had FAS. We had a spare locker in the Kindergarten classroom, so I designated it as an area for those boys to go calm down. Even though they were bigger than normal lockers, there wasn’t a lot of room inside.


Even so, they loved having a special place to go and be by themselves; cut off from the rest of the group. We used that locker until our LRT suggested using a child sized tent that would become their safe haven. She found a Toy Story tent for $9 in the States that weekend. It worked perfectly. I used neutral colour material to cover the tent so the Toy Story pictures on the side weren’t so distracting, and I eventually decided that every child should be able to use the self regulation area.

toy story tent
From that point on, my life was changed. Every time a student came in crying about something – a kid stepped on their toe, or they didn’t get to be “it” at Recess, I would ask them, “Hmm, do you need to use the self regulation area?” They would almost ALWAYS answer yes, and it was magic. They went in crying and upset, and would come out calm and ready to learn. I was sold. I loved having the kids regulate THEMSELVES. Sure I still handled big issues and helped them work through things they needed to, but for the little stuff, it was BEAUTIFUL!
My self regulation area as changed over the years, but its magic hasn’t. Though I had to leave the tent at that school when I was transferred, I have since made my own self regulation areas in my classroom now. This year I teach grade 1/2 and the students still use it often. I now have 2 self regulation areas in my classroom. One for the majority of my students, and one special area for my boy with autism. I found that it was important to give my autistic student his own area, because if he was on the verge of a meltdown and needed to self regulate, it wasnt fair to kick out another student who also needed to self regulate so that he could go in and calm down.

I have found that all children,autistic or typical, like having closed off areas. It must be something about the protective feeling of shelter and seclusion. I guess it’s a classroom version of hiding under your blankets. The “classroom” self regulation area is tucked away in the corner of our classroom between a big cupboard and the wall. It has sheer fire retardant material hanging from the ceiling making a canopy that closes the student off to the rest of the world while allowing me to see in and make sure everything is alright. In that self regulation area I have a cushy chair, a mini bookshelf with books that talk about different feelings (including the 5 point scale.) I also have little fidgets and stress balls for the students to work with to help them if that’s something they need. I used to have crayons, pencils and a feeling journal in there until the walls got vandalized by some crayon happy 6 year olds last year… Self regulation at its finest- really what did I expect to happen?!
My other self regulation area is a special cut out under our cupboards. When my autistic boy was in grade 1 last year, the teacher found that he really liked to crawl under her tables when he was upset. Perfect. This covered area would be great for him.

self regulation
In his area I have some material, pillows, a weighted lap belt, and calm down strategies posted on the walls. He goes in there on his own terms or if I can see him getting upset, I might suggest it- but I never FORCE a child to use self regulation. That’s not something I get to decide.
It is important to recognize that self regulation is VERY different than a time out. I have lots of parents coming in and hearing from their child about this “corner.” They almost always ask if their child has had to be put in the time out area. It is a great way to start a discussion about self regulation.
I know my use of classroom self regulation will change and grow with time, and I would love to hear from other teachers using their own forms of self regulation in the classroom.

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