Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati
A calming corner, sometimes referred to as a mindfulness corner, is a special space in your classroom where students can go when they need to manage their emotions. Calming corners are becoming more and more popular as they help students implement emotional and social learning skills.
The ideal calming corner should offer a wide variety of sensory tools. Some children benefit from reading books where characters resolve a conflict, while others prefer cuddling stuffed animals or playing with fidget toys. From breathing techniques and stretching guides to bubble wrap and coloring books, there are nearly endless options out there to help the kids in your class understand that their feelings are valid. Get inspired to create your own calming corner with the suggestions outlined in today’s blog post.
Strategy #1: Design the space carefully
- Think about where exactly the calming corner should be. Perhaps a location at the back of the room will work well so that the children who go there do not feel as though everyone is looking at them. Perhaps a location to the side of the main class is useful, so that the teacher can easily supervise the students in both the calming corner and the main class effectively at the same time. The space should be well-lit (natural light is best) and comfortable. There will be some types of classroom in which a calming corner might not be feasible (e.g. a Design Technology workshop, or a Science laboratory), so in those cases a designated classroom where the students can be sent to, or perhaps a calming corner in the school library, might work best.
- Choose comfortable furniture. As a bare minimum you will need a place where students can sit comfortably, and the size of this furniture will greatly depend on how much space you have. Bean bags can work well, and a small desk or table, or perhaps a lap-tray, can be useful if you want your students to complete some kind of reflection sheet (more on this later).
- Include sensory tools. There are many to choose from, but the most popular include stress balls, Sensory Stixx (which are a type of fidget toy), fidget spinners, cuddly toys and old-style handheld games like gel mazes, pinball games and other push-button manual toys. I wouldn’t recommend modern computer games as these days they tend to be designed to get players addicted and can cause more aggression feelings, rather than encouraging relaxation. However, I do believe there’s something to be said for having a retro-computer (not internet connected) such as an Atari ST or BBC Microcomputer with old-style games loaded onto the system, for students to enjoy playing. These systems can be picked up relatively cheaply on sites such as eBay, and the games tend to be simpler and more kid-focussed than modern multiplayer, online games, such as Fortnite.
Strategy #2: Include self-reflection tools and activities
Children who wish to go to a calming corner should be encouraged to reflect upon their emotions and thoughts. This is really good for building self-awareness, which is desperately needed in today’s world.
There are a number of well-established self-reflection tools out there already, and I personally would recommend the following:
- Learning journals: A simple notebook for students to write down their individual thoughts and feelings can be a great way for them to see the progress they have made over time. I would recommend giving each student a personal notebook, which could be kept by the student in their bag at all times, or by the teacher. In addition, an online journal via Google Docs or Slides could also work well, and students who go to the calming corner could spend time adding their thoughts and feelings to the journal. I’ve written at length about how I use learning journals to help students prepare for exams before, but the same principles can definitely be applied to situations in which students are reflecting on their feelings and thoughts.
- This great blog post by Martyn Kenneth goes through some useful acronyms that guide students through a self-reflection process. You may also wish to use his free pdf Reflective Journal for Students, and keep copies of this in your classroom’s calming corner.
- Get your classroom calming students to create a ‘Me Tree’ – a very effective and fun self-analysis tool. Follow the steps outlined here.
Strategy #3: Teach students about the Classroom Calming Corner
The Mindfulness in Schools Project is still a relatively new national initiative in the UK, and the majority of schools internationally are still novices when it comes to getting students to reflect meaningfully on their thoughts and emotions. For this reason, many of the children in our care are simply not used to carrying out detailed introspections, and will need training in order to do so.
Encourage students to visit the classroom calming corner regularly at first – perhaps on a rotational basis, and use the self-reflection tools outlined to get students to reflect on their learning, thoughts and (later) emotions. Once this habit has been established, and any taboo/stigma has been removed, allow students the freedom to choose when they wish to go to the classroom calming corner. Of course, this will take vigilance on the part of the teacher as we don’t want 20 students going to the corner when a challenging task is given in-class, for example. A good way to overcome this might be to set a limit on how many students can be in the corner at one time, and schedule times in your lessons when students can have a menu of activities to choose from – one of which being ‘reflection time’ in the classroom calming corner.
Recommended further reading
- How to Create a Calm Down Corner in 5 Easy Steps. The Art of Education University [Online]. Available at https://theartofeducation.edu/2019/01/21/how-to-create-a-calm-down-corner-in-5-easy-steps/
- Some Useful Self-Reflection Tools for Students and Teachers. Richard James Rogers’ blog for teachers [Online]. Available at https://richardjamesrogers.com/2021/01/31/some-useful-self-reflection-tools-for-students-and-teachers/
- Create a Me Tree – a Self-Reflection Activity. Action for Healthy Kids [Online]. Available at https://www.actionforhealthykids.org/activity/create-a-me-tree-a-self-reflection-activity/
- The Mindfulness in Schools Project [Online]. Available at https://mindfulnessinschools.org/