The calm down area in our school age program has gone through several different versions since I began working here 4 years ago. There were times it was non-existent and there were failed attempts at hanging curtains from hula-hoops from the ceiling that came crashing down. For a long time, it consisted of a large dog bed pillow on the window bench with a couple of breathing visuals slapped on the window beside it. One thing it never seemed to be was inviting and, as a result, it was never used.
I assigned myself a mission: create a space that felt safe, inviting, and that a school age child would actually choose to use in the event they needed a self-imposed “time out”. I thought about the spaces the children created for themselves; our kids love to build forts. With three large boxes purchased from Home Depot, a utility knife, rubber cement, and spray adhesive, I spent a week crafting what we have come to affectionately call “My Space”. We perched the single-person cardboard fort by the window and decked it out with cushions, books, fidget toys and some homemade visuals to guide breathing and help identify emotions. The outside was decorated with paper shingles to make it look like a tiny home. It was open for business.
During our community time, we introduced the space and explained the purpose and expectations surrounding it. Anyone in My Space is to have their privacy respected, no peeking or knocking on the walls. The space is for everyone to use, but our friends who need a moment to calm themselves have priority if it’s in use. Children who are using it as a quiet space have a 10 minute turn if there are others waiting for a turn. As a team, we discussed how to encourage the children to choose the space when they needed to calm down. It is always mentioned as an option to the child, but never forced or used as a part of any consequences. We always give a lot of positive praise when it is chosen by a child.
My Space has been a part of our environment now for several months and I’ve been able to reflect on the difference it has made in our program. It is used on a daily basis, mostly by children who simply want a moment of alone time. We have seen a reduction in behaviour from those children who find themselves overwhelmed at the end of a long day at school and decide to wind down in My Space. They are able to engage more successfully with their peers without becoming easily frustrated, and when they are feeling frustrated they hop back into My Space for a little more quiet time before joining their peers again. These are self-regulation skills that would not have been developed without our successful calm down area.
Last week, a child with ASD turned to me after a difficult situation and said, “Amanda, I feel like I am going to cry, can I go to My Space?” When she returned ready to try again, I beamed with pride as I told her, “That was such a good choice when you asked to go to My Space, good job!” Can you believe this moment was made possible by three cardboard boxes and some glue?
Amanda Murphy, RECE
Children’s Village at Stoneway