A Beginner’s Guide to Calm Corners

Calm Corners. Cozy Corners. Break spot, calm down spot, break chair, cool down desk, mindfulness corner, destress wall, etc.

Whatever your call it, they’re trendy. They’re controversial. You may or may not have heard someone mention them; or perhaps you had a teacher in your school put one in their classroom; maybe you’ve even gone to a PD where an administrator announced that they were putting one in everyone’s room and you stared with incredulity about “yet another thing” you have to add to your full plate.

But what’s all the hype about? Why Calm Corners? What do you do with them? How do you make one? What if students are just using the spot to get out of work? What if all my students want to be there all the time? How do I fit it into my already full classroom? And how do I train the kids on how to use it, and fit that into my already full teaching schedule? How do I afford all the cool gadgets and “tools” that people say I have to have? And what does it mean to my teaching?

Well, never fear. I’m here to answer all (or, at least, most) of your doubts and questions with a quick tutorial of “The Most Important Do’s and Don’t’s of Creating a Calm Corner in your Classroom.”

Do – Find a space in your classroom

Right now. If you’re in your classroom, stop reading and look around your room. If you’re not in your classroom, close your eyes and imagine your room in your mind’s eye. I’ll still be here in a minute after you’re done that.

Got the general layout of your room? Look for a space, not necessarily a ‘corner,’ but just a space. My space is in front of the cupboards by my teacher desk. That’s just where it fit.

Don’t – Think of this as a Dunce Corner

This is not a shaming tool, it’s a teaching tool. If the space you found has an element of “Go stand in the corner and think about what you did” then find a different space.

Do – Think about lines of sight

A Calm Corner should be placed where you can easily see what the student is doing. It doesn’t have to be in plain sight, but just so you can keep one eye on how (not really what) they are doing. Are they ready to join the class? Do they look like they are actually calming down? Do they need additional support? Are they about to hit melt down or blow up?

Don’t – Put them on display

Again, this is not about shame or punishment. It’s about connection, teaching self-regulation, self-care, restoration, and relationships. A Calm Corner should be somewhere easily seen by you, but not as easily seen by the students. It doesn’t have to be in the “back” of the room, but just somewhere in your line of sight and out of their classmates’ line of sight. Out of sight, out of mind. This way, the dignity of the cooling down student is kept intact while the curiosity of the remaining students is squelched.

Do – Provide something cozy and calming

An office chair repurposed in my colleague’s corner.

Before you go out and spend hundreds of dollars on cute bean bag chairs shaped like lady bugs, look around at what you do have. Are there throw pillows at your house that have been sitting in the closet since your mother-in-law gave them to you at your wedding? Do you have extra blankets? Does someone in your family/friends/colleagues/circle of influence have anything that can be the ‘cozy’ and ‘calming’ element of your ‘calm and cozy corner’? An old camp chair. An exercise ball that was used once then abandoned. A bean bag from someone’s basement. I got my beautiful red chair from a retired teacher who was cleaning out her classroom. Think outside the box (or, chair) on this one.

Don’t – Use an extra desk and chair

If all you have, for now, is an extra desk and chair, then you can make it work for you. But a desk and chair implies punishment, which leads to shame (yes, I know I’m sounding like a broken record). My first cozy corner was a spot at my small-group table in the back of the room. If we weren’t using it for small groups, the student needing a break could go there for a minute or two. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked. I made sure to take away anything resembling “work” while that student was there (the pencil box, the curriculum books, the lined paper). I also let them sit backward in the chair, or lean back, or sit on their knees, or on the floor, or stand at the table – whatever they needed. The problem was the feeling like they weren’t really “taking a break,” just moving to another spot in the room.

My next iteration of Calm Corner was a bean bag chair – it worked much better in the task of calming down the student to return to learning. My current Calm Corner is now my favorite. I even sit there to plan my lessons and respond to email after the students have gone. 😉

Do – Get a bunch of calming tools

A Break Box, Calm Down Kit, Coping Skills Bag – it has a lot of names. The point is that Calm Corners work better when students have something to engage their senses. Something to touch, see, smell, or do. You can buy kits ready-made from websites who want to capitalize on this trend. Or you can assemble your own toolbox for (almost) free.

  1. Look around your house. Do you have toys, stuffies, anything that your kids are done playing with or that you have left in the closet for a while. I equipped my Calm Corner with all the stuffed teddy bears that my children had been given but never played with.
  2. Ask your family, friends, and colleagues for similar items. You can also find some at garage sales. I found some toys at a garage sale for free. When I told them that I was making a calming corner for my kindergarteners, they just gave them to me.
  3. Go to the dollar store. For under $20, I made out with five stress balls, two puzzles, four squishy toys, and a Rubik’s cube.
  4. Pinterest it! There are literally thousands of ideas on how to make a calming corner on your own for free or on the cheap. You can look it up yourself, or look through my own Calm Corner Beginner’s Guide Pinterest board here.

Don’t – Use the tools as toys

At first, before you’re able to set up expectations and a culture around Calm Corner, you’ll get kids throwing toys, playing with them in disruptive ways, and seeming like the purpose of all your work on the corner is useless. Don’t stress. Students have to be taught that there is a time and place to “play” with the tools, and that this is not the time nor place. I have taken away many “tools” because they have become “toys.” One example is a student using a stress ball to see how far he can throw it straight up while remaining in his seat, then (of course) it bounces away, he falls out of his seat, and no one is calmer. I simply went over to him and in a calm and quiet voice told him that a stress ball was for holding, not throwing, and that he could remain in the Calm Corner as long as he followed that rule. The first day this happened, he did loose the privilege of the Calm Corner and the stress ball. But the next day he needed that resource, he handled it better.

Do – Teach proper self-regulation of Calm Corner

Just like teaching the appropriate use of tools, not toys, we have to train our students on how to use the Calm Corner. This is a new development for all of us. Kids are used to “Time Out” in which there is shame and a loss of love attached. I discovered that when I started using Calm Corners it was just a glorified time out. I would call it “Reflection Time” or “Break Time” or “Refocus Time.” But the kids knew. It was Time Out. That was because I hadn’t taught them to take this time not to reflect on their actions, necessarily, but to focus inward and onward.

Kids can’t comprehend their actions toward others until they begin to comprehend their own internal states. Calm Corners, when they’re not used as Time Out, guide students to recognize the basic emotions behind their behavior. “I am mad,” or “I am sad,” or “I am hyper.” Then they can start to bring those emotions back to neutral in order to either repair harm done, or return to focused work, or just have a good day.

I ask students to reflect on these questions while taking a break:

  1. What is going on inside of you? (i.e., mad, sad, frustrated, tired, hungry, upset)
  2. What do you need to return to the class?

Don’t – Allow abuse of the corner

Like my student abusing the stress ball, kids will test out the parameters of how and when to use the Calm Corner. My best way to illustrate this is with an example from a first grader in my room.

She was upset that she didn’t get a turn in our game. She came to me, as is my policy, and asked for the break chair. I gave her a hug and said (like I always do) “Let me know when you’re ready to come back to the class.” She sat there, hugging one of my teddies, until the time came in the game for the students to choose the next turn. She brightened up and said she was ready to join the class. She jumped in and waited to get chosen for a turn. In my class, I have students choose the turns. She didn’t get a turn a second time, pouted, and returned to the Calm Corner and the teddy.

That’s when I intervened. I went over, while the other students were engaged in their game, and calmly and quietly told her that it was ok that she was sad about not getting a turn, but that it was not ok that she used the break chair like she was. She could either take a break, which meant that she couldn’t jump back into the game whenever the turns changed, or she could join the class, which meant her time in the break chair was done.

That day, she chose to sit in the break chair until the end of class. That’s what she needed that day. It was more important, long term, for her to learn the lesson of self-awareness and self-regulation than to participate in anything we were doing in class. The next time this situation came up, when we played the same game for the last ten minutes of class, the same sequence played out in exactly the same way. No turn, break chair, back to class, no turn, break chair. This time, though, when I told her the choices between remaining in the chair or returning to class, she chose to return to class. She was still upset about not getting a turn, but she participated. I saw it as a small victory toward her emotional maturity.

Find what Fits

This may come as a shock to you (LOL), but I am not the end-all-be-all expert on Calm Corners. I have learned, through trial and error, the best way and some not-so-best ways to use this resource in my classroom. Instead of doing five years of trial and error, I’m hoping to have you skip to the efficient part. But, each teacher, classroom, and set of students is different. These tips are generalities from my own experience. Find what fits for your kids. I had one fidget toy that kept getting stolen. I would buy another one, just to find that it had been stolen less than a week later. Instead of getting upset, I realized that I had found the one thing that worked the best to calm and motivate kids. I just had to find a system for not getting it swiped.

Also, find what fits for you, your personality, your teaching style, and your classroom. High schoolers are not going to need a teddy to calm down (or they might, sometimes teenagers surprise you!). And kindergarteners are not going to be able to read and 4-step calm down poster.

Make it your own. Add more Do’s and Don’t’s below as you go through your own trial and error. Please upload pictures of your corners in the comments! Share with others! Here’s a couple more pictures I stole from teachers in my building.

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