Self Regulation Group Activities

Today we are covering fun ways to use self-regulation group activities to support regulation, social emotional skills, and coping strategies in a group setting. While the concept of self regulation is an individualized concept, there are many ways that a group activity like the ones described below can support individual needs. Let’s explain…

self regulation group activities

Self regulation group activities are appropriate for all ages, from preschool groups to small groups of middle school or high school students.

Self Regulation Group Activities

The term “self” and “group” in the title are oxymorons. Self regulation refers to “the ability to understand and manage your behavior, and your reactions to feelings and things happening around you

This being said, there are many times that sensory strategies can not be done in isolation. A classroom is a good example.

Many schools have a sensory room. This is a great location for group self regulation activities. Read about various ways to meet coping needs in our blog post on how to create a sensory room on a budget.

In this post we will review Self Regulation Group Activities, talk about the benefits, and discuss drawbacks to working on self regulation in a group.

self regulation in a Group

Before getting into Self Regulation Group Activities, we should take a minute to review.

Self regulation is used to:

  • regulate reactions to strong emotions like frustration, excitement, anger and embarrassment
  • calm down after something exciting or upsetting
  • focus on a task
  • refocus attention on a new task
  • impulse control
  • behave in ways that help you get along with other people.

As your child grows, self-regulation helps them:

  • learn at school – because self-regulation gives your student the ability to sit and listen in the classroom
  • behave in socially acceptable ways and control their impulses
  • make friends – self-regulation gives your child the ability to take turns in games and conversation, share toys, and express emotions in appropriate ways
  • become more independent – self-regulation gives your child the ability to make appropriate decisions about behavior and learn how to behave in new situations with less guidance from adults

All of these concepts can be covered and developed in a small group setting.

benefits to working on self regulation group activities

While there are certainly challenges to working on self regulation in a group setting such as a classroom, there are also benefits:

  • Efficiency – working with 25 children all together is much more efficient than working individually with those same students.
  • Peer learning – self regulation group activities foster peer learning and interaction. Students learn positive and negative interactions from those around them.
  • Improves group attention – learning to work in a group while also working on oneself takes more attention than individual lessons because students need to filter out group noise and movement.
  • Empathy development– discussing social emotional concepts in a group fosters empathy.
  • Great for data collection – while students are working in a group, adults can watch for trends, negative/positive responses, and pick out difficulties among a crowd. When comparing children together in a group it is much easier to see who is struggling than when seeing them all individually.
  • Group work is one of the key elements of school dynamics – self regulation group activities are often fun and rewarding. Practicing group work in this manner helps build a foundation of working together.
  • Executive function – a set of mental skills that include working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control.

drawbacks to working on self regulation group activities

Just the term “self” indicates it is preferable to work one on one rather than in a group. There are definitely some challenges to working on this complex and individual task within a large group:

It may be difficult to meet the needs of all students when discussing self-regulation strategies in a large group you may have different levels of learners, and more importantly different arousal levels and needs. Child A might need a “pick me up”, while Child B could benefit from a calming activity. The answer is to pick activities that foster general improved self regulation and arousal level.

The group setting may not be the best place for supporting a disorganized student. If your student is already overwhelmed or dysregulated, and in a high state of arousal, adding 24 other children is likely to set them over the top. This is the challenge in a classroom.

Difficulty with data collection – if 12/24 students are struggling in your self regulation group activities, it will be hard to gather data about each of their skill levels, behavior, and deficits.

Group work may make using the individualized self regulation strategies more difficult, unless the whole group is practicing one specific tool, all at the same time. If the purpose of self regulation is to: calm down after something exciting or upsetting, focus on a task, refocus attention on a new task, and control impulses, it is going to be tough for your students to do this while in a group.

ideas for self regulation group activities

While balancing the benefits and drawbacks to self regulation in a group, there are some great activities out there. Some of these ideas incorporate proprioceptive input for body awareness and others incorporate talking and learning about self regulation concepts.

  1. Brain gym – the is a popular program that incorporates 26 activities to work on learning through movement

2. Yoga for kids – yoga is an activity that can increase and decrease arousal level. It is a type of proprioceptive and vestibular activity that is grounding. These partner yoga poses can be a great activity for self regulation in a small group. Other ideas include:

3. Obstacle courses turn your gym or classroom space into an obstacle course. Students work on their own self regulation while working in a group. They can crawl under desks, step over and around chairs, hop across tiles, do wall push ups, and more. This will help improve arousal level while working on key components of turn taking, social function, impulse control, and behavior.

4. Sensory play – sensory play can be an individual activity done in a group. Each student can work on their own project while the rest of the class is doing the same. This can include art, play dough, sand, building activities, or noise making

5. Sensory stations – similar to an obstacle course, sensory stations are a path that is followed with different experiences at every stop. This might include hopping, jumping, crawling, push ups, deep breathing, clapping and more. These are great in hallways and classrooms.

6. Centers – center time allows for a large group to be divided into smaller groups that rotate through different activities. You can hand pick which center a group of student needs most. Maybe these five need the quiet reading nook, while another five need playdough at the table.

7. Gross motor coordination activities – while an organized structured activity is preferable for working on focus and regaining self control, there are times when free play gross motor fun is great. Send the group out to play on the playground. Set out riding toys for all of the students. Throw a basket of balls around the gym. While this may be disorganizing for some students, it might be just the fast paced input several students need

8. Sensory eating – oral sensory input is a large part of sensory integration. Put on an audio book while giving your students some great sensory snacks. These might be popcorn, sour candy, twizzlers, crunchy veggies, flaming hot Cheetos, etc. While I am not a huge fan of giving kids junk food, it is rare that students will snack on carrot sticks and celery.

9. Group chores – why not enlist your group in a clean up session. Everyone can crawl around on the floor picking up paper shreds. Students can stack chairs or wipe off tables. We used to have to clack the erasers together, but smart boards did away with that fun task.

10. Emotional Regulation games– Pull out one of these games for teaching self regulation skills.

11. Talk about feeling words, and emotional responses to situations. Playing “what would you do” in a small group facilitates learning because students can hear the options and ideas that other group participants offer. This is a way for the students to build their emotional vocabulary.

reflection on self regulation group activities

Group activities have a benefit, as well as posing challenges. As the proverb says, “necessity is the mother of all invention”. Sometimes there are no alternatives to working in groups, or the benefits of group interaction outweighs the struggles.

The best compromise is self regulation group activities in which the student is more or less working individually while in a group setting. This takes strategic planning, but can be done successfully. Imagine a karate class where everyone is working side by side in a group, but focusing on their own balance, breathing, and coordination.

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.

teacher leading group of children in a reaching exercise. Text reads "self regulation group activities"

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