Creating a Calming Center in Your Classroom: A Guide for Special Education Teachers

Special education classrooms can greatly benefit from having a designated calming center where students can go to self-regulate when feeling overwhelmed or frustrated. This calm down space provides a safe and quiet environment for students to regain their composure. Here's how you can create an effective calming center that suits your classroom and your students' needs.

Setting Up Your Calming Center

Start by identifying a corner in your classroom that can be transformed into a calming center. Use items like bookshelves, dividers, tables, or desks to section off the area and create a cozy nook. If you have the space, consider adding comfortable seating options like a bean bag chair and a soothing bubble lamp. Additionally, incorporate smaller fidgets and visual aids to help students calm down and self regulate when feeling frustrated or overwhelmed

Making the Most of Limited Space

Even if space is limited, you can still establish a successful calming space. Focus on including essential tools like visuals, fidgets, and sensory items. You can also create a portable calming basket that contains the necessary tools for students to use when they need a moment of calm, making it a flexible solution for smaller classrooms.

How Students Request Calm Time

To ensure a smooth process, establish a clear way for students to request time in the calming center. You can provide students with cards that they can hand over to request a break. The cards can have phrases like "I need a break," "I need a moment," or "I need to calm down." Decide on the wording that best suits your class. This empowers students to communicate their needs effectively and advocate for themselves when they need to use the calming center.
Talk about when and why to use the calming center and allow your students to give it a try. If you are concerned about students taking advantage of the calming center, you can also limit the amount of times students can use it by providing a set amount of break cards. Also, when students enter the center, have them set a timer so they can’t stay too long.

Teaching Deep Breathing Techniques

Preparation is key when teaching students how to take deep breaths for calming purposes.

Introduce various methods, such as square breaths, smelling flowers/blowing candles, and infinity breaths. Use the cards included in the Calming Center set to teach and to have students practice. Students can trace the square or infinity symbols as they breathe in and out.
For students who are working on a set number of breaths, they can use a token such as a mini eraser to move through the numbers until they have completed 5 or 10 deep breaths.
After practicing various types of deep breaths, let students choose the technique that resonates with them.
Encourage students to continue taking deep breaths beyond the specified counts if they feel like they need more.
Also included in the BSE calming set is a small set of on-the-go deep breathing visuals that you can hole punch and put on a keychain so you are always ready to assist students with deep breaths.

Calming Sensory Choices

Include a variety of sensory tools, such as fidgets, sequin pillows, bubble timers, pop its, stuffed animals (for giving a hug), putty, headphones and more!

Some other items to consider would be a weighted vest/blanket/lap pad, fuzzy blankets, yoga ball, sensory sock, and sensory brushes. See this list on amazon for my recommendations!

Use visual cards that show these choices and create customized calming choice boards or menus for your classroom or individual students so they know what they can choose when they use the center. The blank choice templates include 4 or 8 options which allows for personalization.

The calming choice cards can also be laminated, hole-punched, and attached to a keychain for easy on-the-go access (be sure to only use strategies that you can use on-the-go).

Incorporating Calming Videos

Consider incorporating calming videos as part of your calming center.

Tip: If you have a spare device, like an old iPhone or tablet, set it up to play calming videos. Download the YouTube Kids app and manually approve soothing videos. This can include scenes like ocean waves or underwater fish with relaxing music. You can then also use guided access so the device can only play those videos.

Don't just use these strategies in the calming center! Dim the lights and project these videos during times when the class tends to be agitated, such as after lunch or before (or after) field trips. Incorporating this calming time into your classroom schedule can have a positive impact on the overall classroom environment.

Implementing a Calming Center Schedule

Having preset timers available at the calming center allows students to regulate their time spent there. Set timers for durations like 5 or 10 minutes, depending on your students' needs, and let student's know which timer they will set when they go to the center. Hint: Use different colored timers for different groups of students as needed.

Walk the class through the schedule before they need to use it. The typical routine should look something like this:

  1. Set timer
  2. Practice deep breaths
  3. Choose a calming activity
  4. Return to class when calm

Encourage students to return to work when they feel ready or when the timer goes off. Flexibility is important, so if a student needs more time, feel free to grant it.

Set Up a Calming Center in Your Classroom Today!

By establishing a calming center and implementing these strategies, special education teachers can create a more supportive and soothing classroom environment for their students.

Grab this set of visuals to help set up your calming center for success!

FAQ about Calming Centers

Remember that each student is unique, so feel free to tailor the calming center to meet the specific needs of your class. 

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