How to Create a School Calming Room
Stress, anxiety, and the trauma of a pandemic are acute issues that are affecting our teachers and students as this new school year begins. Although the academic impact of these issues is hard to measure, we know that overstressed and anxious minds are rarely primed to be ready to learn. These realities aren’t new for many of our students pressed by the chronic strain of poverty or other life events. For these students as well as others, creating a calming room in your school can help alleviate this stress.
Because of the challenges this school year brings, you may need to look at designing both digital and physical serenity spaces. For virtual students, create a safe online space for them to decompress, like this school counselor from North Carolina did. In-person students will benefit from creating a physical calming room that helps lower stress and aids in healing.
Consider these key aspects when designing a physical calming room in your school.
A Calming Room Should Be Used for Emotional Regulation
The central purpose of a calming room should be to help students regulate their emotions. When stress and anxiety rise, all humans struggle to make excellent choices. We struggle in having productive conversations, and we lose focus on the tasks that lie in front of us.
The goal of your calming room should be to reduce negative sensory input and provide calming visual, auditory, and tactile experiences to help students destress. The room should be used to help students de-escalate and emotionally reset.
Even if you don’t have the space for an entire room, you can still find creative ways to accomplish this goal. Think about turning an empty refrigerator box into a calming reading cave, or find other creative ways to make a space for students to decompress.
A Calming Room Should Be Used for Purpose, Not Punishment
Spaces designed for quiet or moments of serenity should always feel like they have a noble purpose and avoid any scent of punishment. Students should not be sent to the space; they should choose to go there to cope with their emotional needs.
Start by taking the time to unpack the purpose of the room with students. Outline three to four functions of your space, and model the positive opportunities that can come from being in the right environment to care for yourself.
Explain to students the benefit of reducing stimuli when they are over-stressed. Using these spaces to reduce actual noise or emotional noise can be hugely beneficial in helping students focus and improve their attention spans.
Walking them through these benefits will help quash any hints that your calming room is for punishment, and help ensure positive results.
Students Should Understand What They Should Be Doing in the Room
Don’t assume that students know what to do in a calming room. Though some students may have experienced similar spaces at school or home, it is important to introduce not only the purpose of the space but the behaviors and actions that students should be showcasing there.
Near the space, post a checklist of behaviors and actions that are acceptable. In addition, you can post images of those behaviors so that students can decide from the visual prompts whether their behavior matches the expectations of the space.
There Should Be Consistency Throughout the Space
Students should know what to expect when they choose to be in the quiet of the calming room. Along with knowing what behaviors are acceptable, they should know what the furnishings will be, and they should know what to expect in the way of lighting and sound. They should also know two to three consistent things they can do there to support their emotional needs, such as read a book, use a fidget tool, or draw a picture describing their emotional state.
You Should Provide Positive Ideas for Mindfulness and Calming
Although consistency is essential, it is also important that you think about a set of rotational experiences that can be present in this environment. Having some new experiences will encourage students who have been in the space to return to learn new tactics for emotional regulation. These could include working on a sorting activity, listening to music to calm down, or playing a quiet video game. Having new or rotating options will also help students who haven’t received relief from the standard activities in the space.
Your Calming Room Should Provide Comfort
Finally, being in the calming room should feel like a hug (something many of us long to have more of in our COVID-impacted world). The best parts of a hug include feeling connected, gaining positive energy, and muting the world around us for just a moment.
When designing your calming room, think about the hug metaphor. This will allow you to connect the physical design with the emotional needs or wants of students. Provide some or all of the following:
- A variety of comfortable furnishings
- Tactile fabrics or surfaces
- Active seating that students can rock or sway on
- Low lighting (avoid harsh overhead lighting)
- Things to fidget with and distract an anxious mind, such as fidget toys, stress balls, puzzles, coloring pages, play dough, or calming jars
- Whiteboard tables, mobile whiteboards, personal lapboards, or other writable surfaces for drawing or doodling
- Noise-canceling headphones
- Quiet ways to expel energy, such as the Classroom Cruiser
- Soft, calming colors
Don’t Forget to Focus on Staff
In addition to designing a calming space for your students, consider designing a space for your teachers and leaders as well. All of us need space and time to be our best selves so we can bring ourselves fully to each day. We need to be in a good mental state to figure out solutions to the difficult and unique teaching and learning conditions that we face today.