Calm Down Corner

calm down area in classroom

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 ideas and tips

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:

  1. Summer Sensory Stations
  2. Fall Sensory Stations
  3. Winter Sensory Stations
  4. Christmas Sensory Stations
  5. Spring Sensory Stations

Additionally, other calming corner printables might include deep breathing posters. We have many free deep breathing exercises on the website, including:

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.

Receptive Language

receptive language

This blog discusses the importance of receptive language and how it impacts development. Learn why understanding directions directly correlates to a child’s behaviors. You will discover receptive language activities to support preschoolers in complying with age appropriate requests. Read in this blog how auditory processing and attention play a huge role in receptive language.

Receptive language information and tools

What is Receptive Language?

Receptive language refers to how we understand spoken words, the language around us, and the ability to hear/understand/comprehend spoken language. Language is needed for learning, play, communication with others, understanding directions, safety, and participation in everyday activities. Functional participation requires receptive language in order to thrive and communicate wants, needs, thoughts, and ideas.

Receptive language can include spoken, written, and implied language. It is the intake of information, therefore receptive language can include un-spoken words. 

How about Expressive Language?

Receptive language is the information that is taken in.

Expressive language, in contrast, refers to the use of language to communicate with others. Expressive language is “expressed” through speech, sign, written words, picture symbols, gestures, body language, or alternative forms of language to communicate wants, needs, thoughts and ideas.

Receptive and expressive language are different aspects of language but are closely connected.

Receptive and Expressive Language

Expressive and receptive language fit together like important puzzle pieces. Any form of communication such as sign language, alternative forms of communication, and non-verbal cues, are types of both receptive language and expressive language. 

There are many different components that affect a child’s behavior, including the environment, co-regulation, sensory needs, emotional vocabulary development, relationships, and developmental milestones. 

As children develop, their comprehension skills and ability to interact with the world changes.

Receptive and Expressive Language in Tantrums

Miscommunication occurs between adults and preschoolers when children are given directions in ways they don’t understand. When a child has difficulty with understanding what is asked of them, the result is often a tantrum. The same is true when a young child does not have the words to express themselves.

There are many reasons why preschoolers have difficulty following directions, or responding to age appropriate prompts. Sometimes they do not understand the directions.

Other times, toddlers do not want to do what is asked of them. When they are upset, overwhelmed and uncooperative, give children the tools to settle down.

Once a child has calmed down, try giving the direction again. Encourage them to use words to communicate why they are feeling frustrated about the direction, and if they have a different idea on how to complete a task.

You can see how the receptive language input and expressive language communication output, along with auditory processing, or sensory processing of auditory input, all connect and impact one another as they play a role in tantrums vs. sensory meltdowns. It is all connected!

Why is receptive language important? This article covers receptive language development.

Receptive Language Development

Toddlers and preschoolers learn new words at a rapid rate. One morning you may hear your child say a three word phrase, and the next day they say a five word sentence. A child’s brain is magnificent, growing rapidly through the first five years of their life. Because development is complicated, it may feel overwhelming to new parents. This article explains important milestones by age. 

When children are born, they understand facial cues, the sounds and tones in voices, and follow gestures. As they grow, children start to understand pointing, hand gestures, spoken words, and picture vocabulary. Receptive language is the foundation to a child’s ability to understand what is being asked them, or others in their environment. 

As children learn about the meaning of gestures and words, they are able to anticipate and respond to the needs of those in their environment. The process of how our brains collect and decode language, is complex.

When children are learning how to process language, adults can support their comprehension by providing directions in simple phrases, incorporating gestures, and being patient when a child forgets to complete a task. Being mindful of the environmental surroundings also plays a key role in making sure children are able to focus on the words being directed towards them, with minimal sensorial distractions. 

For instance, if a parent yells a three-step direction from the kitchen while their four year old is watching a television show in the other room, it is likely the child did not hear the entire direction.

They may hear the first, middle, or last part of the phrase instead. When a child is given a direction that is new to them, or that they don’t fully comprehend, it may take a few moments for children to process and understand what is asked of them.

One important tip for receptive language skills is to give a child a moment to process directions before repeating them. If they still do not understand, speak slower, with shorter commands.

Students who are strong in these skills may be auditory learners.

The Anatomy behind language

This peer reviewed article on “The Functional Neuroanatomy of Language states:

  • Recognizing speech sounds is carried out in the superior temporal lobe bilaterally
  • The superior temporal sulcus bilaterally is involved in phonological-level aspects of this process
  • The frontal/motor system is not central to speech recognition, although it may modulate auditory perception of speech
  • Conceptual access mechanisms are likely located in the lateral posterior temporal lobe (middle and inferior temporal gyri)
  • Speech production involves sensory-related systems in the posterior superior temporal lobe in the left hemisphere
  • The interface between perceptual and motor systems is supported by a sensory-motor circuit for vocal tract actions (not dedicated to speech)
  • It is very similar to sensory-motor circuits found in primate parietal lobe
  • Verbal short-term memory can be understand as an emergent property of this sensory-motor circuit.” 

No wonder language is so complicated!

Receptive language activities and strategies for receptive and expressive language

Receptive Language Activities

Focusing on receptive language activities support the development of receptive and expressive language, because these types of language are so closely tied together.

Talk

Encourage children to take part in everyday activities to build language comprehension, understand social cues, and follow directions given to them on a daily basis.

Talk with them all the time. Have conversation in the car, name all the items in the grocery store, talk about their daily schedule, and encourage opportunities for them to express themselves.

Age-appropriate activities

When children are provided with age appropriate cues, and a calm down spot to process their feelings, they can thrive in all aspects of development.

Focus on auditory attention during these age-appropriate tasks.

Here are nine simple ways to ensure your kids are hearing and understanding directions:

  1. Make sure to give directions in simple form (one step directions for children under 20 months old; two-step directions for children under three years old; three step directions for children under five years old).
  2. Use visual and auditory cues when giving directions, such as pointing, gestures, words and picture cues. 
  3. Give directions when you are in front of the child, kneeling down at their level. 
  4. Make sure you have their undivided attention (no television, music, electronics, or other distractions).
  5. Encourage eye contact if appropriate (some children with neuro-diverse needs have a harder time making eye contact and this is not appropriate. It is always important to address individual needs, strengths, and goals).
  6. Make sure what you are asking the child to do, is developmentally appropriate for their current skill level. 
  7. Use these first/then visual cards to communicate what you are requesting. 
  8. Implement a visual schedule to support requests around transition times. 
  9. Try the activities in the Auditory Processing Kit found on the OT Toolbox. This printable resource offers tools to support listening skills, whole body listening, listening comprehension, active listening, and auditory processing needs. This printable packet contains active listening activities, hands-on strategies, activity cards, visual cards, handouts, and more.
  10. Try a DIY whisper phone to focus on auditory attention, sounds, and focus on a whisper.

Why is receptive language important?

Receptive language development directly affects all areas of development, from attention span, to literacy, social skills, and many more.

Receptive language development is important for:

  • Learning
  • Comprehension (hearing and deciphering between auditory cues- suffixes, pronunciations, tone, etc. in speech)
  • Communication skills
  • Social emotional development
  • Safety
  • Play and interaction with others
  • Functional development
  • Many other task and participation skills!

It’s easy to see how language challenges with nuances of receptive input can impact so many areas. These are just some of the difficulties a child with delayed receptive language development may present with. 

Challenges related to receptive language include:

  • Attention and concentration challenges- Sustained effort is involved in understanding language, and being able to hold that information long enough to get the task done.
  • Behavior challenges- Not being able to understand and perceive directions, can result in social emotional challenges, or maladaptive behaviors.
  • Literacy challenges- Reading and writing struggles can occur in the classroom with if a person has receptive language struggles.
  • Social skills concerns- Participating in social situations can be difficult when engaging in reciprocal interaction with others (either verbally or nonverbally). This can impact social situations, social emotional learning, and functional participation.
  • Sensory processing needs- Auditory registration of sounds, language, and information can be impacted through sensory processing disorders. 
  • Executive functioning requires using auditory information that is received and processed, to complete higher order reasoning and thinking skills, following directions, participating in tasks, and using working memory.
  • Expressive language delays- Expressive language can be impacted by not understanding language from others (receptive language delay), because it is not accurately received correctly, in order to be processed. 
  • Planning and sequencing concerns- Receptive language impacts direction following, and accurate sequential completion of multi-step tasks 
  • Auditory Processing issues- Difficulty in the ability to hear sounds, distinguish between similar sounds or words, and separate relevant speech from background noise.

A final note on receptive language

Receptive language impacts a variety of areas of development. When teachers and other caregivers slow down speech, and support receptive language skills, all other areas of a child’s life will benefit.

Starting at birth, singing, talking, and reading to children, helps develop neuron and synapse development in the brain. 

Don’t forget to check out all of the great resources on the OT Toolbox, including the Auditory Processing Tool Kit.

Auditory Processing Kit

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.