Calming Strategies for the Classroom
Getting students to settle down at any point in the day is daunting, but directly after lunch or recess can feel like you’re scaling Everest.
Kids look forward to those precious minutes that they get to spend outside or in the cafeteria. And they should! Recess is a necessary part of the day that gives students the chance to play, and it complements the rigors of physical education as well as academic time in the classroom. Recess helps with socialization skills and can even improve cognitive performance.
The concern — which every elementary school teacher has likely come across — lies in getting your kids to focus afterward if they can’t seem to switch back into “student” mode after their time on the playground. Thankfully, there are several calming activities that can be implemented in the classroom. Here are a few of them.
10 Ways to Calm Down a Classroom
Whatever strategy you choose, your students will benefit more if you stay consistent with it. Predictability in their schedules is essential in giving them structure and making it easier for them to know what behaviors you expect from them.
1. Create a Calming Atmosphere
Let’s face it — harsh fluorescent lights, bright decor and 30 little ones crammed into a classroom is not a calm environment. So how can we fix that? For a short period after lunch or recess, dim the lights. Have students put their heads down and gently rest their cheeks on the cold desks.
Play soothing music. Classical music, slow jazz or soft acoustics are good options. Let your kids drift off to the sound of violins or peaceful piano notes. Instead of music, you could also put on other relaxing sounds, such as ocean waves or a soothing storm. Video and music sites have vast collections of calming music and sounds. You can find playlists like “Peaceful Piano,” “Floating Through Space” and “Sounds of the Rain Forest.”
In a similar vein, you can also find relaxing videos to play. Maybe your kids are more visual and need something to focus on. Aquarium and nature videos are great options for this. You can also find videos of outer space scenery, waves lapping on the beach and even a crackling fire for those cold winter days.
When you’re transitioning the kids from recess to class, make sure they understand how to travel and walk quietly with you. The longer they are allowed to be rambunctious, the longer it will be before they are calm in your classroom. It may also help to split kids up into small groups when they reenter the classroom, especially in winter months when kids can get rowdy while taking off their cold-weather gear. This option gives them more space and fewer distractions. Another approach could be to give students short time limits to get in their seats and be quiet — “You have 30 seconds to get in your seats and put all eyes on me. Go!”
2. Independent Work
After lunch or recess is a great time to focus on independent work and do activities like sustained silent reading (SSR). Hopefully, the students will get absorbed in whatever they’ve chosen to read or write about and will settle down to focus. There are several types of independent work that kids can do. Here are our top five:
- SSR: Sustained silent reading has been around for a while and involves setting aside a specific amount of time each day for students to read a book of their choice. It encourages consistent reading and can positively influence kids’ attitudes toward reading. You can do SSR at any age level. A trip to the school library at the beginning of the year is a great way to get them started.
- Writing: One way to improve writing is by doing it consistently. Having students write each day is an excellent method for increasing how much they write. It gets them in the practice of writing, so they use what they’ve learned. Plus, having them write by hand is an effective way to improve their spelling and composition skills. Compile some writing prompts appropriate for your grade level and put them up on the board each day.
- Journal: Aside from assigned writing, you can also give your students time to journal. Have your students designate a notebook for journaling and give them time to write every day about their lives.
- Doodle or color: Leaving room for artistic endeavors in the classroom is a fun way to get students focused. Printable coloring pages are a convenient, low-budget approach to getting exciting designs in front of your kids. Depending on your classroom setup and your budget, you might find it easy to give them a box of crayons or markers to share. You can even collect and display their masterpieces on the wall if they aren’t unmanageable in number.
- General work time: Another route that may work best with older kids is not to assign anything specific, and leave students time to catch up on work, read or do whatever they like that is quiet and productive or relaxing. This approach also provides an opportunity for students to ask you questions.
3. Lead Yoga or Stretching Exercises
Yoga can be an incredibly relaxing activity. It can reduce stress, increase muscle and improve posture. It stands to reason that kids can benefit from it too. Have them spread out and make some space. Dim the lights and get stretching. With many poses, you can encourage the kids to act out some of their favorite animals. Here are a few poses you can do with children:
- Cat Pose: Get on all fours. Arch your back, and tuck your chin toward your chest.
- Downward-Facing Dog: Bend down and put your palms on the ground in front of you. Lift your rear end upwards, straighten your legs and relax your neck.
- Mountain Pose: Stand up straight, press your palms together in front of you, with your elbows out.
- Child’s Pose: Sit down with your knees tucked in, so you are sitting on your heels. Lean forward, so your face is close to the ground, and keep your arms parallel to the rest of your body. Touch your hands to the ground in front of you.
- Tree Pose: Stand on one leg. Put the bottom of your other foot against your inner thigh.
- Warrior II Pose: Step back with one foot. Raise your arms up at your sides, parallel to the floor. Twist your arms, so they are in line with your legs.
You can even get helpful posters to display the poses and remind kids of the things they are emulating when they do them, like a strong surfer, a friendly dog or a wise owl.
4. Lead Breathing Exercises
These can be done during yoga or by themselves in a peaceful atmosphere. Controlled breathing can bring down anxiety, manage pain and discomfort, help balance unpleasant thoughts and even fight inflammation. Below are some breathing techniques that your kids may benefit from and have fun with. Similar to the yoga poses, many of these can be animal-themed. You may also want to use something like a timed breathing video to help students visualize their breaths.
- Bunny-breathing: Inhale or sniff in short bursts and exhale in one motion.
- Balloon breathing: Kids can pretend they are blowing up a balloon by exhaling slowly, then deflating the balloon by inhaling slowly too.
- Bumblebee breathing: Slowly inhale, then release the air with a light buzzing noise.
- Belly breathing: Sit up straight or lie down with one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Breathe in and out slowly, making sure to exhale through your nose. Pay attention to the movement of your stomach.
If you do these regularly, you can even let students lead the class.
5. Use Guided Imagery or Read Aloud
Guided imagery can be impressively helpful. In one study, children who listened to guided imagery CDs several times a week saw a 63.1% decrease in pain levels, compared to 26.7% of kids who received only standard medical care in the control group.
One useful scenario from that study had the children picture a particular object that melted like butter in their hands. It made them warm and shiny, and they would place their hands on their stomachs to spread warmth and light. This placement would create a barrier that prevented anything from irritating their bellies. While this approach applies to pain, guided imagery can also work for relaxation.
Similar to guided imagery, after lunch or recess would be an excellent time for a read-aloud. Gather everyone onto the rug and have the kids circle around you as you read to them. Bringing the class together for a listening activity like this can help keep them quiet and focused on you.
6. Do Warm-Up Exercises and Brain Games
Find simple activities that require enough focus that your kids have to pay attention, but not so much that they will miss out on essential content if they are still a little inattentive. These warm-up activities can include:
- Math problems: Ask the students to work a problem based on the skills they’ve been learning.
- Grammar practice: Have students make corrections to a sentence that has errors in grammar or spelling. This practice is a great way to keep concepts in mind that they may not have seen for a while.
- Beach Ball Toss: This one requires a little more work on your part. Use a marker to write different numbers on a beach ball. These numbers correspond to categories and questions that you have on a list. Throw the ball to a student. Whatever number their right thumb is closest to is category they have to answer. You’ll read questions that go with the number.
- Simon Says: Simon Says isn’t as educational, but it can help kids lose any extra energy they’ve got and pay attention to you.
- Opinion Questions: Ask students introductory questions about the topic they’ll be learning about. If they’re learning about a geography feature, you could ask them if they’ve ever seen it and where. If they’re learning about an animal, you can ask them what their favorite kind of animal is and why.
7. Teach Mindfulness and Self-Calming Strategies for Students
Mindfulness is a psychological practice that focuses your thoughts on the present. It encourages you to pay attention to your environment, feelings, emotions and senses. In kids, mindfulness can help them become more self-aware and start to assess how their emotions affect their behavior. Mindfulness is not about “clearing” your mind like some might associate with relaxation techniques. It is more about focusing your mind on your present environment.
Some mindfulness practices include what you would expect, such as yoga-like deep breathing. Other activities tend to focus on the senses. Note that these are all done with eyes closed, except for the sight activity.
- Body Scan: This scan is a great way to get your kids to relax their muscles, especially if they’ve been running around and are still full of energy from recess. Doing this works similarly to the guided imagery, in that they listen to you or a recording that instructs them on relaxing the different parts of their bodies. As they release tension from their muscles, they slowly relax their whole bodies.
- Taste Test: Give your students a small piece of food, such as a raisin, and set a timer. You may want to start at 30 seconds and build your way up to longer times. Have the kids put the piece of food in their mouth and not eat it. They can roll the candy around, feel it on their tongues. This activity encourages them to focus on the sensory details of the experience and not about whatever else is running through their brains.
- Sound: Again, have the kids close their eyes. This time, ask them to focus on a sound they can hear. It might be cars whizzing by on the highway, the rickety ceiling fan above them or a teacher’s heels clicking down the hall.
- Feel: Have kids find something to feel. This item can be their desk, a pencil bag, their coat or whatever is in reach. Set your timer and have them touch the object. They can run their fingers across it, pinch it, rub the back of their fingernails on it, whatever they like to help them focus on it and think about the way it feels.
- Sight: Have your kids pick an object in the room and focus on it. They can take it all in and pay attention to the colors, the brightness, any reflections or small pieces.
- Gratitude: Being thankful for your present situation is another component of mindfulness. Ask your students to list off three things they are grateful for that day. Doing this will help them focus on the good, less-stressful aspects of life and build a foundation for positive thinking.
8. Play Educational Videos
If you’re using videos in your lesson plan, now would be a great time to show them. It’s a great way to kick off students’ learning and draw them in. You can also just show them cool videos that are good for their development in general — a spotlight of a unique artist, general life skills or something else. There are a variety of calming videos online that blend elements of guided imagery and relaxation videos. Older kids might enjoy TEDEd’s collection of animated student talks.
9. Make a Designated Space to Destress
This method is more for those few students who can’t seem to calm down with the rest of the class. These designated areas are sometimes called calming corners or quiet places, among many other names. They provide a space for children to address their emotions and cool down. These work well for kids with behavioral problems and any student having problems with focus or energy. In addition to short-term results, a quiet area can teach calming techniques for students to use outside of class.
A calming corner is typically separated from the rest of the classroom with a divider, like curtains or other low partitions. Remember, you’ll still need to be able to see the student. You can furnish the corner with cozy, peaceful items, like a soft rug, a beanbag or butterfly chair and pillows.
This space can also include mindfulness activities. Relaxing music or sounds with headphones can be a nice distraction for students, as can magazines and books. You may also want to put up posters to help students understand their thought processes and mindfulness exercises. You’ll want a timer as well, so the students understand the purpose and limitations of the quiet place. It is a place to collect themselves, calm down and rejoin the rest of the group, not hang out in all day. It requires a clear discussion with the students, so they understand why and how they’re using it.
Sensory toys are another item you can put in here. While primarily used for children with attention disorders and special needs, some sensory toys are designed for relaxation as well. A glitter jar, for instance, can be used to redirect a students’ focus. Other sensory toys include stress balls, putty and tangles.
10. Handwriting Practice
Even if your school has done away with cursive, having students sit down and write by hand for a few minutes every day can have impressive benefits.
The act of writing by hand has been shown to do several things for the learning process. It improves working memory — a fantastic plus for the pre-lesson environment. Taking notes by hand uses more processing power and can be especially helpful for retention. Practicing the skills needed for effective writing and note-taking can be beneficial for students’ learning while focusing them in on one task.
Aside from writing by hand, the act of writing, in general, can be beneficial. Asking your students to write expressively about their lives can lead to several mental and physical health benefits. Multiple studies have shown positive results associated with writing, such as less frequent doctor’s visits, lower blood pressure and increased liver functioning. Expressive writing can also improve mood and reduce depressive symptoms. It often works by allowing the writer an outlet to discuss problems in their lives that they might otherwise not feel comfortable discussing. Kids who have trouble expressing their emotions may find significant benefit here.
Keep Your Classroom Calm
While you’re working with a room full of high-energy kids, remember that you’ll need to stay calm too. Most of these calming techniques for students will work just as well for adults. When they do deep breathing, do it with them. When they take time to color, join them. This can bring you closer to your students and decrease your stress levels as well.
If you still can’t get your students to calm down, they might need a better way to get rid of all their energy during recess. A playground that’s designed to thrill can tire them out and keep them from fidgeting all day in your classroom. To learn more about a playground that can bring more benefits to your kids’ recess, reach out to a Miracle Recreation® representative today.