Setting up a Calming Corner in Your Classroom

Whatever age or grade you teach, all kids need opportunities to practice managing their emotions throughout the day. Creating a safe space where your students can take a break to reset is one way you can help them practice. Read on for more tips for making a safe, inviting calming corner.

As a teacher, administrator, counselor or coach, you know how challenging it can be to not only help kids learn but also to support their emotional wellness. A calming corner (or peace corner, reset zone, calming space, calm-down corner, etc.) is a safe, designated spot in the classroom where students can go to regroup when they are experiencing strong emotions or simply need a break. Reset spaces provide kids an opportunity to be more aware of how they feel and to practice managing their emotions in healthy ways.

No one is born knowing how to cope, so we all have to learn healthy ways to manage our emotions. Setting up a space in your classroom that is free to whomever needs it, whenever they need it (no questions asked), helps:

  • Teach your students it is OK and normal to take a break and practice healthy coping strategies.
  • Empower your students to regulate their emotions and manage their stress in helpful ways.
  • Allow your students to get to a place where they’re ready to learn and enjoy class (in the short term).
  • Instill confidence in your students’ abilities to handle challenges that come their way (long-term).

There are many ways to create a calming corner. Here are some general tips to keep in mind as you create one that works for your classroom:

  • Limit distractions. You want your students to feel comfortable and safe using coping strategies without distractions, so try to find a spot that is somewhat out of the way.
  • Provide structure. Even though kids may resist it, structure and clear expectations make them feel safe. Work with your students to establish clear guidelines about how the calming corner should be used. It’s important that everyone understands the space is not a way to escape learning or other responsibilities, but rather a place to take a break and reset.

    Make agreements about:
    • How long students can stay in the space (consider including a sand timer, and practice using it ahead of time).
    • How students can signal if they need more time.
    • What behaviors are safe or unsafe in the space.

  • Teach coping skills. Introduce and practice new coping strategies when everyone is calm (instead of in the heat of the moment). Encourage students to try lots of different coping strategies to help them find what works best for them.
  • Provide choices. A coping strategy that works for one student may not work for another, and what is successful one day may not be helpful the next. Be sure to include multiple options in the calming corner so your students can choose what works best for them.
  • Practice coping skills. Whether it is practicing yoga poses, deep breathing or squeezing a stress ball, practice each coping strategy that is available in the space so your students feel confident using them on their own.
  • Be a positive role model. If your students see you taking a minute to manage your emotions in healthy ways, they are more likely to do it themselves.

In order for a calming corner to work well for your classroom, your students need to know it’s not a punishment, time-out or penalty.

  • Set a positive tone. It takes confidence and vulnerability for someone to admit they need to pause and reset, and your students won’t use the space if they feel any shame or judgment for doing so. Be mindful of how you speak about the calming corner, and encourage all your students to keep it positive. The more you embrace it and allow kids to use it without question, the safer it will feel.
  • Promote independence. It may be tempting to question a student’s use of the calming corner from time to time, but doing so may jeopardize the effectiveness. Whenever you catch yourself doubting a student’s intentions with the space, try to remember that the goal is for students to use it independently. Allowing students to practice identifying when they need to take a break or use coping strategies leads to more trust and confidence.
  • Encourage use of the space. If you feel like a student could benefit from using the reset space (but isn’t), try encouraging them instead of forcing or persuading them. Licensed therapist Jody Baumstein, LCSW, suggests gently saying something like, “I wonder if you might feel better if you hung out in the calming corner for a little bit. What do you think?” Remember, this space is not a punishment, and if kids feel like it is, they won’t use it. Do your best to help them see it as a positive experience and something they can choose to use to help themselves feel better.
  • Adjust as needed. If you notice your students rarely want to use the calming corner, it might be a sign that something isn’t working. Have open conversations with your students about why the space isn’t getting used. Maybe they don’t feel comfortable there or don’t understand the expectations.

Once you have found the right spot in your classroom for the calming corner, it’s time to decide which items to include in it. (Don’t forget to include your students in the process!)

A calming space doesn’t have to be fancy to be effective; it simply needs to be comfortable and inviting.

Some ideas may include:

  • Something comfortable to sit on. It’s hard to relax when you’re uncomfortable. Whether it’s a soft bath mat, blanket, pillow or beanbag, give your students a spot where they can sit back and let go.
  • Something to squeeze, play with or hold. Having something to squeeze, hold or manipulate can help students work out tension in their body or feel comforted (e.g., stress balls, fidget spinners, pinwheels or reversible sequin pillows).
  • Calming glitter bottles. Combine clear glue, water and glitter to represent how emotions can feel in our bodies. A still, settled glitter bottle represents a calm body. A shaken glitter bottle represents strong emotions. Consider making a few different bottles with varying amounts of glue. A bottle with more glue takes longer to settle, giving students more time to concentrate on slowly breathing in and out as the glitter settles.
  • Visual prompts. Sometimes we need a visual reminder of what coping skills are available to us (especially in the heat of the moment). Have your students help decorate the space with feelings and coping skills written, drawn or printed out. This could also include visuals of different stretches and yoga poses, too.
  • Coloring pages. Coloring is a great tool for kids of all ages. Some kids find the rhythmic motion of coloring to be soothing, while others may use it as a form of self-expression.