For young (and old) children, a great calming classroom tool that supports learning, social participation, and school tasks is the calm down corner. A calming corner in the classroom can be a great sensory strategy to support emotional regulation needs in students. Let’s go over fun calm down corner ideas to support various regulation needs in the classroom.
Calm Down Corner
A classroom calming area can include a variety of movement and sensory based activities or tools.
- Flexible Seating tools – bean bag chair, movement seat, deflated beach ball seat, couch, soft chair, floor mats, large pillows
- Soft surfaces – yoga mat, gymnastics mat, or soft rug
- Headphones – with or without music, sound machine
- Visual schedule of sensory strategies
- Things to look at – books, magazines, pictures, lava lamp (refrain from electronics that have a screen, as they are alerting)
- Calming corner printables and other visual calming strategies – Check out these calming sensory stations for Spring
- Timer – visual timers with countdown options are great
- Preferred sensory items such as tactile toys, chewing items, plushies, fidgets, etc.
This list is just the beginning! A calm down corner can include any item from the list above or classroom sensory diet strategies, based on the needs of the individual student.
This article on supporting self regulation in preschoolers offers valuable information on this topic.
Calm down corners can be quiet soothing areas to decompress for certain learners, while others need a more active calm down area in classrooms.
How to Add movement to a calm down corner
There are many different ways that children can calm down. Movement is one of the most beneficial and complicated ways to manage feelings and emotions.
There are two different types of movement patterns that support the sensory system.
Both of these types of movement activities increase awareness of where a body is in space, calms the central nervous system and regulates emotions in an amazing way. Movement is complicated as it can be alerting and calming. Picking the right activity for the desired outcome is tricky, but effective.
Help your learner understand what they need for self regulation, rather than bouncing all over the calm down corner.
How is movement calming?
Have you noticed that children seem to pay attention longer after moving around for a while? This isn’t just because they are tired after completing an active task. Children and adults are able to attend for longer periods of time when movement breaks are embedded into their daily schedules due to the sensory benefits it provides.
For adults that have desk jobs, it is widely known that every 20 minutes, they should stand up. This not only helps blood flow, but also awakens the body. When children are engaged in circle time, implementing movement based activities within circle (like freeze dancing, jumping and marching) is beneficial to improving attention.
Movement has many benefits, including helping calm down when feeling overwhelmed with emotions.
When the sensory system becomes overstimulated due to internal feelings and frustrations, some people are quick to seek out movement activities to calm down. Adults may go for a walk or run, chew gum, lift weights or kick a ball. This strategy directly affects proprioceptive input.
There are many ways the body processes movement. This impacts the central nervous system in different ways.
- Proprioceptive inputs is one of the ways the body processes movement. It tells the brain where the body is in space. Proprioception is guided by skin, muscle, and joint receptors in the body, to connect to the brain through the nervous system. In this way, a person knows where their body is in space, and what the body is doing, without needing to watch the body parts move. A great example of proprioception, is being able to walk down the stairs without looking at ones legs or feet
- Heavy work, or tasks that involve heavy resistance, offers input to the muscles, joints, and connective tissue, and is essential to regulating the sensory system
- In this article on neuroplasticity, evidence suggests the sensorimotor cortex that governs proprioception is not fixed, and can be changed through external manipulation.
- Vestibular movement, like proprioception, also helps alert us where our body is in space. This system operates through the inner ear, passing information to the brainstem, affecting many areas of the body. If a person starts jumping, rocking to music, or dancing to calm the body, it activates the vestibular system. This article on vestibular activities does a great job explaining this system.
more about the vestibular system
Receptors in the inner ear, found in two structures (the otolith organs and the semicircular canals), respond to linear/angular/rotational movement, gravity, head tilt, and quick movement changes.
The receptors in the ear, provide information to the central nervous system about the body’s position in space. Information is used to:
- control posture, eye, and head movements
- correct the eyes with head and body movements
- muscle tone and postural adjustments
- perceive motion and spatial orientation, and integrates somatosensory information
Through the vestibular and proprioceptive systems, the body processes information about where it is space, interprets movement patterns, and recognizes touch and joint pressure. These senses greatly impact the ability to calm down by triggering pressure points through movement (such as rocking or swinging).
When a child (or adult) becomes upset or overwhelmed, it is helpful to utilize the vestibular and proprioceptive systems as intervention tools. This helps a person calm and self regulate, in order to process their feelings and problem solve.
Because children often need sensory strategies to self regulate, having a designated calm down area set up in the home/classroom makes redirecting children to the appropriate calming activities much easier.
The Soothing Sammy program is a great way to encourage children to take part in creating their own calm down corner through a story about a dog, Sammy, a golden retriever. As children help build Sammy’s calm down area to use when overwhelmed, they are gently taught that it is okay to have a variety of feelings. As children look through the book, they learn how to use objects in their calm down corner when needed, including drinking water, wiping their face with a cloth, jumping on a small mat (proprioceptive and vestibular input) and much more.
There are so many items that we can add to a calm down corner and every calm down corner will be different based on individual children’s needs. In the Soothing Sammy curriculum, there are recipes for lavender bubbles, slime, tactile fidgets, paint, and others.
Proprioception Calm Down Corner Ideas
Here are some great proprioceptive strategies to include in a calm down corner:
- Calming Corner Printables- Print off the sensory stations listed below. These support heavy work needs (and vestibular input)
- Jumping mat or small trampoline. When children jump, they put pressure on their joints
- Weighted blanket. Weighted blankets provide deep pressure over the entire body, making this activity one of the an effective whole-body proprioceptive strategies to help children calm down
- Watering plants. Lifting a watering can, can impact joints all over the body. As children stoop down to pick up the watering can, moving it over plants of different heights, they are getting great input
- Weighted ball. Lifting and rolling over a weighted ball increases proprioceptive input in the hands, arms, shoulders, and core.
- Play Dough. Squishing, squeezing and pulling apart playdough or clay, increases proprioceptive input in hands and small joints.
Some of these activities can be alerting or calming, therefore some trial and error may be needed.
Vestibular Calm Down Corner Ideas
Movement with changes in positioning can be calming as well. Think slow, rocking movements. Here are some Vestibular strategies to include in a calm down area:
- Farm Brain Breaks – These simple, yet fun activities, provide visual ways to complete vestibular activities
- Calming Corner Printables- Movement like yoga poses or those offering brain breaks can be just the calming input needed.
- Swinging – Help your child move and sway in different directions with an indoor or outdoor swing. A Sensory Swing for modulation is an amazing way to provide an option to swing in a home or preschool setting
- Trampoline – Provide a small trampoline for your child to jump on. (Amazon affiliate link:) This toddler trampoline with handle is perfect for indoors spaces
- Dancing – Any type of movement to music, including freeze dancing or shaking instruments (such as a tambourine, bells, maracas) or using scarves, are wonderful additions to a calm down corner
- Yoga Poses – There are several themed yoga poses perfect for children. Add a yoga book or cards like these Unicorn Yoga Poses to any calm down area
Calming Corner Printables
Over the years, we’ve created seasonal sensory stations that support regulation needs. We’ve received wonderful words of thanks and feedback letting us know how loved these sensory stations have been.
Check out each of these seasonal calming corner printable packets. Pick and choose the ones that support your needs in the classroom, therapy clinic, or home:
- Summer Sensory Stations
- Fall Sensory Stations
- Winter Sensory Stations
- Christmas Sensory Stations
- Spring Sensory Stations
Additionally, other calming corner printables might include deep breathing posters. We have many free deep breathing exercises on the website, including:
- Rainbow Breathing
- Clover Deep Breathing
- Oral Motor Bunny Exercise
- Outer Space Deep Breaths
- Pencil Breathing
- Football Mindfulness Exercise
Finally, a brain beak printable like our popular alphabet exercises makes a great wall poster for a calming corner of the classroom.
A final note on setting up a calming corner in classroom
Calm down areas should incorporate all the senses, as every mood, trigger, situation and response is different. Equally important is the co-regulation aspect, which relates to responding to the mood and behavior of those around us, or the peers that may be present in a classroom or home setting.
By utilizing a variety of calming tools in a calming corner, or calm down space within the classroom, children will be able to identify what they need, the moment they need it, while still engaging in active learning.
It can be daunting and complicated providing for the needs of all of your different learners, however, by incorporating vestibular and proprioceptive materials in a calm down corner, children are able to use these powerful movement strategies when they need them the most, all while taking a multisensory approach to academics.
Jeana Kinne is a veteran preschool teacher and director. She has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Her Bachelors Degree is in Child Development and her Masters Degree is in Early Childhood Education. She has spent over 10 years as a coach, working with Parents and Preschool Teachers, and another 10 years working with infants and toddlers with special needs. She is also the author of the “Sammy the Golden Dog” series, teaching children important skills through play.