This was the first post I wrote about implementing Calm Down Corners at my school, and it shares a lot of great lessons of what not to do and how to do a lesson about them. I wrote a second post sharing even more ideas and problem solving tips that you can find here!
Two years ago, my co-counselor and I were given money in the school budget to create calm down boxes for each homeroom. We were JAZZED about this. We spend copious amounts of time finding approved vendors, DIYing our glitter jars, and trying to master Boardmaker. The first week of school we gave them to the teachers and gave some suggestions on how they could introduce them to their students. Cut to the end of the year: the boxes were never really used. We found them on high shelves behind teachers’ desks. We found them hidden behind things on the floor. We went into rooms we couldn’t find them at all. We talked to students who looked at us like we were crazy when we asked about them. It was a total fail. At first I was angry; then I realized I was to blame.
1) We gave them to teachers the first week of school and expected them to hear and remember the words coming out of our mouths. In our excitement for students to have these tools (and, admittedly, excitement to have the boxes out of our already cramped and tiny offices), we forgot to think strategically about the timing of their release.
2) We asked our teachers to teach the students how to use the calm down box because we didn’t want to use up one of our lessons for it. This was silly because a) this is really in the counseling wheelhouse and b) it’s not good practice to add to teachers’ plates unless absolutely necessary.
This year we remedied our mistake by planning for our first lesson in 2nd-4th grade to be about classroom coping skills where we would teach and practice use of the calm down box.
I had originally planned a few read alouds to kick off the lesson (affiliate links): Mouse Was Mad for 2nd grade, Moody Cow Meditates for 3rd, and Even Superheroes Have Bad Days for 4th. I didn’t end up having enough time to do this for my 45 minute lessons, but if I had a whole 60, I would have gone for it.
Once I got a better sense of how long the rotations part of the lesson was going to go, I instead started with a short discussion with the class about feeling super upset (mad, worried, sad) and how sometimes those feelings make it hard for our brain to learn. Then I introduce the calm down box – a set of tools or strategies you can use to help yourself feel better so your brain can go back to learning
After explaining that we’d be practicing the strategies in rotations, I explicitly teach and model how to use each of them. For example, I show and explain that the stress ball will always stay in our hands (not the floor, our desks, or the air) and that we squeeze the ball super tight for 5 seconds, relax our hand and arm muscles for 5 seconds, and then repeat. As I teach each tool, I have a volunteer place the rotation directions and practice tools on top of a table or desk grouping.
For 3rd and 4th grade, we practiced 6 tools and had 6 rotations: mandala, ‘My Happy Place’, deep breathing, glitter jar (or visual timer), stress ball, and ‘Hug an Animal’. With 2nd grade I narrowed it down to just ‘My Happy Place’, mandala, visual timer, and deep breathing. Last year we didn’t have stuffed animals in the boxes, but both my co-counselor and I witnessed the power of the stuffed animal in our offices and decided to include them.
*Side note – my mind jar recipe as as follows: 1 part glycerin to 3-4 parts water, 4 drops dish soap, 3 drops food coloring, and glitter
They really only needed 2 to 3 minutes per rotation which was a surprise. I used my phone timer in the upper grades because we needed to stay on track to get through all six stations, and used my chime in 2nd grade where I could just gauge their readiness before rotating them. Big kids also scored each rotation in a recording sheet in a dry erase pocket as they went to show how helpful each strategy was for them.
In rooms where we had extra time (i.e. rooms that managed the logistics of the lesson without us needing to stop and review expectations), students completed exit tickets. I really loved this piece because I find that students do excellent when learning coping skills but they struggle with using them in the moment – this exit ticket helps them anticipate when they’ll need to use the calm down box.
In high need rooms, I also introduced the visual communication board. Each year, I have a number of students whose emotional dysregulation results in a total shut down. I used a similar board the last couple of years and found that many of these students respond really well to being able to identify their emotion and need non-verbally like this.
I love how this lesson turned out (I experimented with coping skills rotations a few years ago) but, as always, I have a “next time I do this…” for it. This could be even more powerful if I broke it up into two lessons. The first would be a focus on identifying strong emotions in themselves, including the physical clues of the feelings. The second would just be the rotations and exit ticket.