Sensory Strategies to Help Kids with Self-Regulation in the Classroom
The Importance of Self-Regulation Skills
Self-regulation is the ability to calm yourself down when you are upset and cheer your self up when you are down. In the classroom, students may need help with self-regulating their emotions and managing their behaviors. The ability for students to learn how to manage their own emotions and behaviors can be vital for them to be able to learn in a school environment. Teaching students how to appropriately express their feelings, act towards others, handle stress, receive criticism, calm down when they are angry or think positive thoughts about themselves are just some of the ways self-regulation skills are so important.
Self Regulation in the Classroom
Managing a classroom can be difficult when you have multiple kids you are responsible for. When you have kids that are acting out and being disruptive this can limit your ability to teach to all of the kids in the classroom. Teaching self-regulation skills to every kid in the classroom can be helpful for everyone, but especially children that have more difficulty in this area.
Also, think about how your classroom environment is set up. Do you have enough area in the room to allow for movement breaks or a corner in the room that children can go to if they need a break? Do you have a positive environment in your classroom for the students? What do you have on the walls of the classroom?
How can we teach self-regulation skills in the classroom?
First of all, make sure you are modeling the appropriate behaviors you would like your students to model. Think about yourself as a teacher, are you able to handle stress and stay calm when your classroom is chaotic? Find ways to demonstrate a calm body yourself when teaching your students.
Provide opportunities during the day to practice self-awareness and coping strategies. We can teach body self-awareness through breathing exercises, movement breaks, and yoga poses. Do you have a minute as a transition between classroom activities? Take a minute to have everyone take a deep breath or get up and stretch. If you have more time, go through some yoga poses together as a class.
Build up the student’s self-esteem by going around the room and telling students what they are doing well at. Provide a wall in the room to allow the students to write uplifting and positive messages to their classmates or place positive and encouraging posters around the room. When your students see value in their work and efforts they will be much more likely to succeed.
Teach students about feelings and how they may be feeling during a particular activity. The first step to managing emotions is by teaching them to recognize their emotions. Ways to work on recognizing their emotions would be through emotion flashcards or social stories. Provide pictures of various feelings and have the students identify them. Allow them to share with you how they are feeling during the school day by having a poster of feelings and they can place a sticker on how they are feeling at that moment.
Another tip could be using a visual schedule for the kids in the classroom so they can be prepared as to what will be going on during the school day and make them feel more secure about what will be happening next.
Sensory Strategies to help with Self-Regulation
Providing students with a variety of sensory experiences and strategies can also help teach them self-regulation skills during the school day.
Heavy Work Activities
Heavy work activities are activities that involve providing input to the child’s joints and muscles. These could be things that provide pressure to their bodies. These can be calming for some students.
- Giving themselves a hug/squeeze
- Cleaning up the desks, pushing in the chairs, and lifting and putting away books
- Squeezing a fidget toy
- Using something weighted such as a vest or lap pad
- Push hands into the base of the chair to provide pressure into their hands
- Yoga Poses
- Carrying a heavy backpack between classes
Oral Motor Activities
- Having a water bottle available to drink from
- Sucking through a straw
- Blowing bubbles
- Chewing gum
- Having a snack break
- Sucking on hard candy
- Using a visual schedule to help with the school routine
- coloring activities
- arts and crafts activities
- positive and uplifting visual posters around the room
- think about the lighting in the classroom, can you dim the lights for calming activities?
- listening to music
- singing songs during transitions
- singing songs during the lessons
- clapping hands
- wearing headphones or earplugs to block out the noise
Movement Based Activities
- Getting up to stretch between activities
- Singing head shoulders, knees, and toes and moving to the song
- having students run errands for you to take something to the office
- playing follow the leader around the room
- providing a variety of seating options for the students to be able to wiggle while learning
- bean bag chair
- exercise ball
- wiggle cushions
- standing desks
- the ability to lay down on the stomach and use a binder to hold the paper to write
Teaching Self-Regulation skills in the classroom can be vital to help students learn to the best of their abilities! Taking time during the school day to take breaks and be aware of how you are modeling self-regulation skills to your students can be helpful. Helping students manage their emotions and behaviors will have a lifelong lasting impact for them to be able to participate in a variety of activities as they get older.
Sara Anderson is a pediatric occupational therapist as well as a sibling to a teenage brother with autism. Her family has created the blog www.learningforapurpose.com to help parents and professionals support teens with autism. We share valuable resources we have learned as a family on our journey to help my brother become an independent adult. We have a Teachers Pay Teachers Store with resources for teaching life skills. You can follow our journey on Pinterest and Facebook.