In this blog post, we’re covering what you need to know about regulation stations, or a central space to focus on regulation needs. This can look like regulation centers or other group self regulation activities, or a “safe space” to meet regulation needs. With learning differences on the rise, there is a big need for self regulation, both in and outside of the classroom. Having a central space, or station, to target specific self regulation skills can be helpful, especially when it comes to emotional check-ins, and behavioral supports that meet the needs of self regulation needs. Students can not effectively learn if they are not in their just right zone. If a student (or students) arousal systems are not well regulated, it has an effect on everyone in the classroom. A well regulated student will begin to struggle when surrounded by learners who are out of control.
Teachers are turning toward using calm down corners, centers, or different areas in the classroom for self regulation. Let’s talk about coping and regulation station ideas.
what is a regulation station?
A regulation station is a catchy term for a calming station, sensory corner, or other area designed to support self regulation needs. A regulation station can be a designated space for learners to use coping tools or supports as regulation tools and strategies to meet specific and individualized needs. It can be referred called a calm corner, regulation station, break area, sensory path, or sensory break place, to name a few. Using sensory supports as a regulation system, the regulation station is a consistent learning tool for different environments.
This sounds a bit like a sensory diet, right? As a seasoned OT, I love to use specific supports to meet individualized needs, and this can be a detailed, scheduled regimen, or it can be open-ended like a sensory room might be.
This does not have to be exclusively in a classroom. Regulation stations are also helpful at home, daycare, camp, amusement parks, the airport, or other sensory loaded environments. Basically, the regulation station is a place to calm or re-organize in a personal bubble, meeting regulation needs so learning can happen.
While practicing self regulation, be sure to emphasize that all emotions are ok, and that it’s ok to identify as one emotional level or another. And, we need to recognize that everyone experiences a full range of feelings throughout the day. What we are working on is the behavioral response to these feelings.
The goal of the sensory space/coping tool/calming corner/regulation station is to create a climate where learners feel safe and supported, no matter their zone or arousal level. Using a regulation break to meet needs can mean adding a few attention-boosting classroom breaks, depending on the needs of the students you serve.
One thing you might see in the school setting, is kids that walk in the hallway or in a busy classroom and bump into others. They might need that proprioceptive input to regulate themselves to create inner organization. We talk about this in our post on tips for walking in line and standing in lines. Having scheduled sensory input breaks in the form of a regulation station is a great way to support those kids.
ot toolbox resources and self regulation programs
Here is a great overview article from Colleen Beck of the OT Toolbox about Zones of Regulation and Self Regulation Activities. In her post you will find self-regulation activities (emotional, internal, and physical regulation strategies) to work on through interactive games.
Colleen mentions other programs to help with self regulation, including; The Alert Program, and programs available on Amazon (affiliate links):
how to implement a self regulation area
Adding any new system to a classroom can seem overwhelming.
By following a some strategies below, adding your own regulation station can be easier than expected:
A emotional regulation space, or even a self-regulation center activity in the classroom serves as a positive and non-punitive space designed to assist students in managing their emotional and sensory states, fostering self-regulation and emotional well-being. This supports the individual in emotional intelligence.
It is not a disciplinary measure but rather a proactive tool to support individuals in navigating different levels of regulation (various emotional and alertness states). It can even look like a check in that happens in the classroom.
Engage the entire class in deciding a suitable name for the self-regulation space. This can help to promote student involvement and ownership.
Using a self regulation area in the classroom, in a school-wide system, or even as a check-in when arriving to therapy is a great asset for emotional needs! Address the needs of learners across different levels of self-regulation, especially those prone to impulsive behaviors that impact learning or safety. The Regulation Station provides a proactive approach to help individuals maintain a sense of well-being by allowing their nervous systems to relax.
Self Regulation Centers
Setting up centers in a classroom can be a beneficial approach to support various aspects of child development. In an educational context, centers typically refer to specific areas or stations within the classroom where students can engage in different activities.
Here’s a simple plan to set up occupational therapy centers:
Identify Self Regulation Goals:
For a group activity that focuses on areas occupational therapy supports, like self regulation, you won’t have individualized goals. You might have a classroom-wide or grade-wide goal based on general expectations for the grade level. This can include something like identifying emotions, identifying responses to emotions, etc.
Then, you’ll want to break down the goal to determine the learning objectives you want to achieve through the centers. These could be related to cognitive, social, emotional, or physical development.
Select Appropriate Self Regulation Activities:
Choose activities that align with the learning goals and are suitable for the age and developmental stage of the students. For instance, activities might involve fine motor skills, problem-solving, or collaboration.
Figure out the space needed for Self-regulation centers:
If you’re doing a gross motor activity, the space might need to be a larger area like a hallway or a gym. If you are using brain breaks as a self-regulation too, these can be done in the classroom among desks. Designate specific areas within the classroom for each center. Ensure that there is enough space for students to move around comfortably and engage in the activities.
Organize Self Regulation Materials:
Gather the necessary materials for each center and organize them in a way that is easily accessible to students. This includes any instructional materials, tools, or equipment needed for the activities. Things like deep breathing posters or emotions play dough mats can be printed off and stored in binders.
Establish Rules and Procedures:
Clearly communicate the rules and expectations for each center. This helps maintain a structured environment and ensures that students understand how to participate appropriately.
Consider periodically changing the activities within the centers to keep students engaged and provide new learning opportunities. This can also cater to diverse learning styles.
Rules for a Self-Regulation space
When it comes to implementing a self-regulation space in a school or other space where there are many variety of needs in one area, it’s important to come up with rules and protocols for success.
Here are some general guidelines to consider when setting up a self regulation area:
Assessment, Flexibility, and Planning:
- Begin with a comprehensive needs assessment to identify the unique sensory requirements of students who may benefit from the sensory room.
- Design the sensory room with flexibility in mind, allowing for easy modification of the environment based on individual needs and preferences.
- Make sure use is understood by others who might use the space. Is a schedule needed? Should a sign-in and sign-out access be used?
Design, Equipment, and Budget Considerations:
- Ensure the sensory room is well-designed with sensory-friendly elements, such as calming colors, soft lighting, and comfortable seating, while also considering budget constraints.
- Optimize the use of cost-effective sensory tools, exploring affordable options without compromising on quality or safety.
Accessibility and Environmental Factors:
Allow for flexibility within the centers to accommodate different learning paces and preferences. This fosters an inclusive environment where each student can thrive.
- Make the sensory room easily accessible to all students, taking into account environmental factors such as location, noise levels, and proximity to classrooms.
- Consider the impact of the sensory room’s location on its effectiveness, avoiding high-traffic areas or spaces with potential disruptions.
Supervision, Training, and Adaptability:
- Provide thorough training for staff on the purpose and use of the sensory room, emphasizing adaptability in responding to diverse student needs.
- Foster an environment where staff can adapt interventions based on real-time observations, ensuring the sensory room remains a dynamic and responsive resource.
Consent and Communication:
- Obtain consent from parents or guardians for sensory room use, clearly communicating the benefits. This might be something that is included in an IEP or 504 plan.
- Maintain transparent communication with parents about budget constraints, involving them in discussions about cost-effective solutions and potential fundraising efforts.
- Integrate the sensory room into therapeutic plans, collaborating with occupational therapists to align interventions with evidence-based practices.
- Implement a monitoring system that tracks not only the efficacy of the sensory room but also its cost-effectiveness and potential areas for improvement within budget constraints.
Other things to consider:
Clearly define expectations for the use of the self-regulation station, covering aspects such as the number of students, frequency of use, appropriate utilization, cleanup procedures, and respect for materials.
Recognize that some students may require more frequent use, and frame this discussion around the principles of equity versus equality.
Consider placement suggestions for the self-regulation area, preferably off to the side of the room but not at the back. The goal is to ensure visibility and audibility of instructional activities while striking a balance between privacy and safety/inclusion.
ideas and rules for implementing your new regulation Area
Sensory spaces can be set up in the classroom, this can be beneficial for students who need a calming space to retreat to on a frequent basis. A timer can be used to show the student how long they can stay there for. A visual schedule can also be used if needed.
Consider the self regulation environment, and consider how to support a variety of self regulation needs using sensory supports, deep breathing tools, or calming and regulating items. Calm down strategies can be different for every individual, but having a toolbox of supports helps.
The space could look like:
- Furniture or a separator like a curtain that could be used as a separator, e.g. bookshelf
- Cozy space like a table with cloth draped over it, or a pop up tent
- a corner of a room
Consider resources within the space:
- Relaxation breathing tools like visual posters
- sensory swings
- Alternative seating
- Small beanbag, cushions, blanket
- Lava lamp
- Fidget toys
- fairy lights
- Sensory bottle (water with glitter etc. in a bottle
- Sensory bins: sand, stones, rice, pasta etc.
- Homemade stress ball
- Zoom ball
- Pillows, blanket
- Over ear headphones
- Hand cream/lotion
- Mini trampoline
- Peanut Balls/Therapy balls (different sizes)
- Scooter board
- Stepping stones
- Balance Board
- Therapy Ball
- Body Sox
- Heavy Blanket
- Large cushions/Bean Bags
- Resistance bands
- Heavy work (Try these themed heavy work activity cards)
- Deep breaths (try these themed deep breathing cards)
- Listening to music
These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to supporting needs using supports and tools.
adding to your regulation station
Every great strategy including the regulation station, needs a few ideas to make it work. Here is a post with some great Children’s Books on Self Regulation
Here are some Self Regulation Games to incorporate into your space to work on regulation. Challenges in the ability to self-reflect impact functional performance, social emotional skills, and learning. How about some Self Regulation Activities to get you started? The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook by Colleen Beck, has a great overview of sensory processing, and is a strategy guide.
regulation station ideas
Your regulation station can be as unique and customized as you like. It is meant to be a fluid space that changes depending on the needs of the learners who use it.
Generally you will have some sort of calm down area. This is useful for anyone, but targeted for learners in the red or yellow zone. You may also have a quiet area for reflection for those in the green zone, or coming out of the yellow zone, and an quiet alerting area for those struggling with low arousal (the blue zone).
Those students in the red zone are already out of control. They might exhibit anger, rage, physical touching or aggression, inappropriate behaviors, or extreme feelings. In the yellow zone, students are headed toward the red zone, but still have some self control. Students in the yellow zone might be silly, wiggly, anxious, worried, or having difficulty staying on task.
Regulation needs for different students
While creating a sensory regulation station is definitely a challenge, once it is in place and working well, you will see such a change in your classroom, it will be well worth the time invested. Remember, no two students are alike, and not one day is the same as the next. Having several different options in your regulation station, and being open to change, are a couple of the keys to success.
Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.