Classrooms can quickly become noisy and overwhelming, leading to inappropriate and challenging behaviour by children. Understanding the impact of sensory input from the environment is important in helping a teacher make the necessary changes to create a stress-free classroom for focused learning. There are many aspects to consider when looking at creating a sensory smart classroom, but today I want to focus on the benefit of having a quiet space for children to escape to when it all gets too much to cope with.
A quiet space is a designated space that children can retreat to when they feel overwhelmed and overloaded by the sensory input from the immediate environment. It gives them time and space to calm their sensory systems and take control of their emotions again. An effective quiet space should always be used exclusively for calming down. It needs to be away from the desks, in a quiet corner if possible. It can be as simple as a very large box with one side cut out to allow the child to get in and out, it can be a small tent or even a desk that stands to one side, covered with a large blanket or sheet.
There must be a clear way for a child to indicate that he or she needs to “chill out”. There must also be a set of rules around the use of the quiet space and all children should show the necessary understanding and respect for the users of this space.
Setting up your quiet space:
- Choose calming colours, like shades of blue and/or green.
- Use comfortable “furniture” like large fluffy cushions and soft blankets to create a calming and cosy atmosphere.
- Have a variety of soft toys – hugging a bear can go a long way to calming a distressed child.
- Books can help a child distract him- or herself from the emotional state that he or she is experiencing.
- Art and colouring can be very therapeutic in helping one to calm down and express feelings.
- Have a CD player/iPod with a set of headphones nearby, loaded with classical or other calming music.
- Make a Fidget Tools Box with some of the following calming tools in:
- Stress balls – squeezing stress balls help channel negative emotions
- Calming bottles – looking at water filled plastic bottles with glitter or jelly beads will help children settle their breathing and emotions
- Small puzzles to help them refocus
- Elastic bands or Thera-bands of different colours and strengths so that they can pull and stretch
- Pipe cleaners to bend, stretch, twist and turn
- Noise cancelling headphones to block out overwhelming noise, and to help the child self-regulate
- Sunglasses/eye covers to escape from bright light
At some or other point, most of the children in the classroom will need some time out from the overwhelming environment. Having a safe and peaceful place to go to, helps the child take ownership of his or her ability to self-regulate emotions and sensory systems, which are crucial for focused learning.
Annabella Sequeira is a Specialist Sensory Intelligence® Facilitator for Parents and Teachers.
She holds a BSc (Occupational Therapy) degree from the University of Cape Town, backed by 22 years’ experience in both the public and private sector. She has extensive practical experience in the area of Sensory Integrative Dysfunction in children and is passionate about empowering others to improve functionality and quality of life.