Here are 10 soothing activities for special education classrooms even during social distancing.
Individual Soothing Boxes
Before we dive in, I want to talk about creating individual soothing boxes for your students. You may have already heard of creating individual reward boxes for your students and right now it’s going to be a good idea to do individual soothing boxes in addition to reward boxes. You may already have a Calming Corner, a calming space. Just a note, this space is NOT a time out. Students should request to go to the space because they know it’s what they need to do to calm down. The idea of a Calming Corner is to prevent behavior escalation. A common Calming Corner that may not be possible this year because of sanitation requirements. Instead, we’re going to take that same idea and break it down for individual students. Instead of making it a shared space with shared materials you can make individual boxes with individual items.
Individual Soothing Items
The first thing that you can include in the box is some basic coloring pages. You can tie these pages to what you’re working on in school right then or you can have it just be a pretty design. I actually use coloring pages myself at home with coloring pencils, and I find it to be a soothing activity. When you’re looking for pages, don’t forget to yourself.
The second idea is to have individual fidgets in the soothing boxes. You can buy them on different places like Amazon or anywhere online really. They come in little bags of fidgets. This way you can distribute them and not have to pay individually for a group of fidgets. Distribute them between the boxes based on which ones you think will serve each child best.
I think that is a good idea to include sensory toys especially what I call squish toys. I find at Walgreens and CVS drug stores in the children’s area. These little plastic, rubbery toys contain air inside. Some of them look like animals with cute eyes. They come in all different shapes and bright colors. Little soft spikes cover the outside. Kids like to pull the spikes to make pinging sounds. When students aren’t around, I play when them too. Don’t tell!
Mini Play-Doh goes great in an individual soothing box. Keep in mind if you have students who are on a gluten-free diet, Play-Doh is not gluten free. I have celiac disease, so I’m always hyper aware of gluten, where it is, what it is in. I don’t like to even touch Play-Doh because of the gluten. Students with Down Syndrome they are at higher risk for celiac disease. Also just in general a lot of our students are on gluten-free diet. If you can’t use regular Play-Doh, there are lots of recipes on Pinterest that you can find and make your own that will be safe for your kids
The next idea is to use yoga cards. You can print off from Teachers Pay Teachers. I don’t have favorite one to recommend or anything, but find ones you like, then print them out, and put a few in each bin. You’ll need to teach the poses initially, but then the students will work on doing the pose from the picture independently. Doing the relaxing poses can help them learn to self-soothe
Sensory Trace Cards
Use sensory tracing cards instead of a big sensory path this year. Your school may have one in the hall, but with social distancing your school may or may not let you use it right now. Think of all the hands on the walls, for example. I don’t know what your school will decide, that’s going to be a campus decision, but you can get some similar benefits with a sensory trace card. The cards show fun designs for finger tracing. Laminate it and then add texture to it. You can add texture to the lamination by using hot glue, just make sure you let it dry, of course. Use sticky gemstones for some 3D texture. You can glue on yarn onto it or anything that makes an interesting texture that follows the shapes. Differentiate by adding characters that your student loves, stickers,or whatever makes your kiddo happy. Print it on their favorite color paper. The options are as limitless as your creativity.
Whole Group Soothing Activities for Special Education Classrooms
Now that we’ve talked about individual soothing boxes, let’s talk a little bit about some whole group activities that you can do when everybody is amped up.
I love doing meditation in the classroom. It is really helpful. You would be surprised how quick kids catch on, and they really do respond. I like to turn the lights off and guide my students through the process.
You can also do whole class read-alouds. One of my favorite memories from third grade was when my class would come inside after recess and my teacher would read. We were allowed to put our heads on our desks. That’s how I heard Charlotte’s Web for the first time and it’s it’s a favorite memory. It really did help our class settle after recess. We stayed at our desks instead of going to a gathering spot. We were actually in a really small portable classroom.
I’d recommend listening to music but only kinds that resonate with your students. That’s going to depend on your particular group of kids. One of my favorite songs to share with students is a cover of The Beatles “Here Comes the Sun” by Yo-Yo Ma and James Taylor. I love it more than the original actually. I know that’s blasphemy, but it just it gets me mellow and it helps me stay calm.It’s a good reminder that even when things are difficult that the sun is going to come back out
The last idea is to listen to a book recording. Using recorded books it changes things up and when you have a recording going on you can be doing more monitoring for your students.
There is one item that I hope that you will avoid doing this year that would normally be soothing but is probably not the wisest thing to do right now. Avoid singing because it is considered a super spreader event. Because of the way the air is pushes out even if you’re wearing masks; it’s probably just best to avoid using singing as a calming this year. Other years when it’s safe be my guest.
I hope that these ideas for soothing activities for special education classrooms have been helpful for you. If you have other ideas on how you want to help keep your students soothed and calm this year drop them in comments. As special education teacher we don’t all have to reinvent the wheel individually. We can work together and find what is working for one class and implement it in our own. We can use creativity together and make things better for all of our kids. Remember to take care of yourself this year too.