Every classroom has students quick to anger, students with anxiety, and students extra sensitive to the ways of the world. One of the most effective ways to help students self-regulate at school is through the use of peace corners. They are trauma-informed and truly benefit individual students as well as overall class culture. I’ve written before about how I rolled them out at a previous school. Whether you call them a peace corner, calm corner, regulation station, or zen den – they rock. After lots of questions over the past couple years on Instagram, I’m adding this post to share more strategies for effectively using classroom peace corners. For a lot of this, I’m providing some of the scripting that I use both with students and teachers.
How do you introduce it/how do you teach students how to use it?
“Have you ever felt really upset before at school? Maybe you felt super sad, or angry, or you got really worried about something. I want everyone to think about a time they were upset at school. When you felt like that, were you able to learn? Were you thinking about what your teacher was teaching you? Probably not. It was probably also really hard for you to make good choices. When we have strong uncomfortable feelings, our brains have a tough time learning and being the best we can be. It happens to everyone! That’s why it’s really important for you to learn how to take care of your feelings.
In your classroom, you are going to have a Peace Corner. The Peace Corner is a special place you can go to to take care of your feelings and help your brain be ready to think and learn again. It’s where you go when your feelings are so big that you can’t be safe or you can’t learn. It’s a safe place to go to calm your brain and body down. In the Peace Corner are tools that you can use that will help you take care of your feelings. Did you notice that I called them tools and not toys? Why do you think I did that? Right! Because a toy is something that’s for playing and for fun. These are tools to help you when you’re having a tough time. I want to show you how to use each of these tools so that you understand how they work and then you’ll have a chance to practice using them as well!” In the younger grades, we practice whole group. Sitting in a circle, I pass out about 4 of the tools throughout the circle. Students take turns with the tool, counting to 5 while they’re using it, then passing it to the next student. With the older grades, I set up centers for each tool and we spend about 2 minutes at each. Often times, I have students keep track of how helpful they thought each tool was, and then end the session with an exit ticket that serves as a plan for how they can use the Peace Corner in the future. At the end of the lesson, I ask the students “What are some expectations we should have for the Peace Corner?” Collaboratively, we create some “yes’s and no’s” for the peace corner. These expectations cover both when (and when not) to use the peace corner as well as how to use it when they’re there. For example, some of the “no’s” would be “when work is hard, when I’m a little annoyed, when you think this is boring and I don’t want to do it.”
What things do you put inside the peace corner?
I find that every school, every cohort, every class responds differently to the tools. I wish I could say that elementary kiddos will willingly self-regulate in a peace corner with only free items, but it has been my experience that investment in using the peace corner is in part due to the tools inside. Here are some of the things I’ve found to consistently be a hit in my office and/or in classrooms (some of these are affiliate links):
- Sequin pillows (you know, the kind that you can sweep your hand over and the sequins reverse). The weighted sequin animals are pretty cute too.
- Soft stress balls (NOT the foam kind – I loved the ones I found in the Target dollar spot last fall. You can make similar feeling ones with balloons and flour or try these Amazon ones).
- Liquid Timers (Or mind jars are pretty cool too. I like 1 part glycerine to 3 parts warm water, plus 2-3 drops of dish soap, 2 drops of food coloring, and glitter)
- Stuffed animals (big and fluffy is preferred)
- Something stretchy to pull and wrap – I got ones from the Target dollar spot and have also gotten these similar things from Amazon
- Breathing Visual (Ok the truth is that they don’t love breathing – my kiddos will do mindful breathing with me guiding, in class lessons, in small groups…but not independently when they’re upset. That said, I think it’s incredibly important so I continue to include it.)
- “Pin Art“ – None of my classrooms have this, but I have one in my office and it is everyone’s faaaavorite thing to use. I don’t know if I would call it calming, but I think it provides both a sensory and cognitive experience that grounds kids and gets them out of their negative headspace.
- “Hoberman Sphere“ – Pricey, so not a must have or super feasible for an entire school, but this is definitely a big win in my office.
- Slinkys are also a huuuuuge hit in my office, and last spring I bought a set of mini-ones that I loaned out to kiddos who wanted to borrow one for a little bit on tough days in class.
- Coloring stuff – easy mandalas and colored pencils or crayons.
- Coping Lapbook – I started off making these for individual students who needed additional support and incentive to self-regulate, and then I realized I should have been putting them in all of the classrooms.
Who pays for peace corner materials?
The first few years I used this strategy, it was only in a few classrooms and I just used my own money or things from my office. Then my school had money (it was a unicorn year!) and I wrote a brief proposal for using some school money for tools and my admin agreed. And then I opened a brand new school and we wrote peace corner tools into the budget. It’s really not that pricey! Especially compared to educational supplies from some of the big companies. Every year, I’ll admit that I end up supplementing them using some of my own money (hello Target and Dollar Tree!) and last year, many teachers chose to buy some of their own supplies because there was a delay in our orders come in. I also usually use donations and DIYs for a bit: someone always has extra stuffed animals and I’ve emailed teachers a quick “Hey! If you drink water out of water bottles, please consider getting a Voss one next time and letting us use the bottle!”. I know lots of counselors that have used Donors Choose, as well.
What does a peace corner look like?
Sometimes it’s fancy. I had classes with amazing corners that had diffusers, bean bags, tents, etc. I also had classes where the peace corner was a pillow sitting next to the bookcase. I was lucky to have designated space in my office where I could even hang visuals on a bulletin board. Whatever you’ve got, it’s all good!
What if students start overusing the peace corner or use it to avoid work?
This will be a novelty and it’s exciting! So I expect some overuse and the need to remind students of expectations in the first week. After that, it is rarely an issue. When it is, then the teacher re-teaches the expectations. Usually, it’s only a couple of students using the space incorrectly, typically as a means of work avoidance and/or because they enjoy the attention they receive for using it. In those situations, I use “Peace Corner Passes”. They get 4 passes and hand one to their teacher each time they need to use the Peace Corner. After a week or so, we move down to 3 passes. Students inevitably ask “What if I am really upset and need to use the Peace Corner more than 4 times in a day?!” Our response “If you’re getting super upset that many times in a day, then I think we should have a conversation with your parent. That might mean you need some extra help taking care of your feelings.” It’s honest and it works.
What do you say to people who think their students will just use it to play and that it takes away from instruction?
“When we take the time to teach procedures for the Peace Corner, we eliminate most of the issues of it being used incorrectly. The truth is that a student that’s truly upset isn’t going to be learning if they’re at their desk, and it might take all day for their brain to be ready to learn again. If they have access to a space and tools to regulate themselves, there’s a better chance that they can be productive students.” I’ve gotten several questions about faculty investment. The truth is that there are teachers who will roll their eyes. Teachers who will think it’s a waste. Teachers just don’t get it. That’s ok. You can get them on board. Here are some suggestions for how to think through this:1) Do you have admin investment? At my last school, during start of year in-service, our admin presented briefly on “non-negotiables” for the year. Peace Corners were included. And then the PBIS team included peace corners as part of our SEL plan during that in-service presentation. Having admin support makes a big difference!2) Consider asking for a teacher or two on each grade level to be the “pilot” for it. Then when they see how helpful it is, they will share their experience with their colleagues.3) Address some of the push back at the very start by sharing how to prevent overuse and by explaining that a dysregulated brain isn’t a learning brain!
What other questions do you have about peace corners/calm corners? Let me know and I’ll continue to update this post!