The other day, I looked over at a student in my grade 5 classroom who had that really frustrated turning-red-with-smoke-coming-out-of-his-ears look, and thought… Oh boy… Which of my classroom management strategies will I need to apply today?
Then, I saw something that blew my mind. The student used one of the coping skills I had taught and practiced with my group a few months before (I’ll tell you the exact strategy later in this post – You don’t want to miss it!).
Nothing could make me happier as a teacher!
Fortunately, this is an awesome pattern I see over and over again in my classroom.
Something I’ve learned in my 10+ years of teaching in French Immersion Schools is that the best way to make classroom management easier is to teach my students emotional regulation. Like, in an explicit way!
To help my students develop their emotional intelligence (in order to develop coping skills for anxiety and for other big emotions – like my student’s frustration), I’ve got a few social emotional learning activities up my sleeves!
Mainly, my secret sauce is implementing mindfulness for kids activities in the classroom – they are a game changer!
But before I dive into any of these simple teaching strategies and classroom mindfulness activities, I have to say one really really REALLY important thing.
When it comes to social emotional learning and mindfulness activities for the classroom…
Routine and repetition are the keys to success.
Let’s hear that again.
ROUTINE AND REPETITION ARE THE KEYS TO SUCCESS.
I feel like a broken record repeating myself over and over again with this, but without routine and repetition, teachers will never see moments like I shared earlier with their students!
If we want our students to self-regulate, we need to practice self-regulation exercises often and explicitly. We can’t just teach them a strategy a few times and think they’ll use it on their own. They need to practice it a minimum of 7 times (and I would say more like 10-15) to solidify their new strategy and to use it on their own. (And on this, don’t expect students to be completely engaged from the start, they’ll wiggle and giggle and roll their eyes – and that’s ok! You will see progress over time, sometimes lots of time. Be patient!)
Furthermore, it’s important to teach these SEL techniques when students are calm and in a good place, NOT when they’re already in an elevated emotional state!
Lastly, as teachers, we MUST model the strategy for our students. This means practicing the self-regulation strategy WITH them. By doing this, we are co-regulating with our students and practicing trauma-informed teaching. When the teacher models finding calm and focus, students are more likely to find calm and focus too. Students are simply mirrors of us, the teachers!
To conclude this part before we head into specific teaching strategies, remember that routine and repetition are the keys to success. Practice emotional regulation activities when students are already calm and make sure you as the teacher participates in the activity too!
Over time, students will start to apply the coping strategies they’ve learned and classroom management will become easier. Be patient! Just like teaching students how to read, it takes time and lots of repetition before we start seeing progress.
Ok, now into the 6 specific SEL classroom ideas!
One of the best calm classroom activities ever if you ask me! We love using the highly effective 5-Finger Breathing Strategy when we first introduce our students (of any grade) to mindfulness.
Use the pointer finger of your other hand to point at the place where your thumb and wrist meet. Take a deep inhale and trace your finger up to the tip of your thumb. Now exhale and trace down the other side of your thumb. Inhale, trace up your first finger. Exhale, trace down the other side. Continue with all fingers.
Place your hands on your belly and imagine that your belly is a balloon. When you inhale, fill your balloon belly up and feel it pressing against your hands. When you exhale, empty the balloon and feel your belly softening against your hands. Do this for 10 or more deep breaths.
Print a copy of the snowflake breathing poster when you download our ebook and students can simply trace it as they breathe. This one is great because it’s so visual and students can focus on the poster (and not on all the distractions around them!).
The spring theme and summer theme counterpart to the snowflake poster, students can trace the petals as they inhale and exhale.
Same same but different! Trace and breathe… With a variation to hold the breath in this mindful breathing kids activity.
Teach your students to find calm by taking deep breaths and getting them to imagine their calm place through their 5 senses. Ask them to close their eyes, breathe deeply, and to imagine what their calm place sounds like, looks like, feels like, smells like, tastes like, etc. This is a mindful strategy students can use anytime they want to feel more calm (as long as you practice it repetitively with them so it becomes an engrained strategy for them!).
In the no-prep breathing exercises and mindfulness activities pdf, there are two posters that will help you with this calming strategy for kids.
One of the best classroom decor themes is a calm classroom decor! So, with beautiful posters and activities to create a positive classroom environment to boot, you’re well on your way to improve self-regulation and classroom management!
These social-emotional learning activities are perfect for kindergarten all the way through grade 12 in the regular classroom, the special education classroom, the counselor’s office, the homeschool, etc.! And work great for parents and families who want to incorporate more mindful moments with their kids into their day!
Moreover, if you teach in French, in a Core French classroom, or in French Immersion, you can get all of the posters mentioned in this blog post en français as well!
Just remember, routine and repetition are the keys to success. Students will only use their coping strategies independently in difficult or emotional moments if they’ve practiced them often in a calm state!