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News >  K-12 education

Longfellow Elementary goes to ‘calming boxes’ to help students in emotional states

School counselor Brittney Diaz talks about a “calming station” set up in the library at Longfellow Elementary School in Spokane on Dec. 14. Diaz created a poster identifying color coordinated reasons a child cannot focus on learning and tools to bring their minds back to learning.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
School counselor Brittney Diaz talks about a “calming station” set up in the library at Longfellow Elementary School in Spokane on Dec. 14. Diaz created a poster identifying color coordinated reasons a child cannot focus on learning and tools to bring their minds back to learning. (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

Elementary school classrooms are full of students who struggle emotionally, whether it’s ongoing difficulties at home, the loss of a loved one or pet or an argument with a friend on the playground.

In addition to teaching reading, writing and arithmetic, teachers also have to come up with ways to assist students so they can continue learning.

This year, students at Longfellow Elementary have been learning to use “Zones of Regulation” to talk about their emotional state. If a student is in the green zone, they’re ready to learn. If they are in the yellow zone, they might need a break to collect themselves. And if they’re in the red, they need to stop.

“We’re teaching regulation schoolwide,” school counselor Brittney Diaz said. “Disregulated students aren’t going to be good learners.”

Examples of green zone behavior are happy and calm, while red zone behavior includes yelling, anger and being out of control.

There are things students can do to help themselves depending on what zone they’re in, whether it is getting a drink of water or using a calming box. A calming box is usually a small box filled with fidget items and small sensory toys that students can use to calm themselves down without having to leave the classroom.

Last week, every teacher and learning specialist got their own calming box filled with timers, sensory toys and puzzles. The boxes and everything inside were purchased by Douglass Properties, which has been a longtime community partner. In addition to three types of timers, the boxes included a tangle, an infinity cube, a bendy man, a puzzle ball, a small pop-it and a Koosh light-up Hedgehog ball.

“Before this, it was teachers throwing their own things together, buying things out of their own pocket,” Diaz said.

The students will be taught how to use the items, just as they were taught about emotional zones and how to handle them.

“All of this has to be taught,” she said. “We’re all using the same language. We teach it really simply to start. We directly teach students how to access classroom and specialist regulation stations, which tools are effective for each zone, the associated feelings and how to work through those big feelings to get back to the green zone and ready to learn.”

Having a student sit in a corner and use items in the calming box is not punishment; it’s not putting them in a timeout, Diaz said. It’s a sensory break that can help students calm themselves.

“It’s very trauma informed,” she said. “Our goal is regulation and return to learning.”

Diaz said she’s noticed an increase in students having difficulty processing their emotions, whether it’s due to family issues or something COVID-19 related.

“The last two years have been hard,” she said. “The calming boxes are just one more tool.”

The calming boxes were distributed during a recent morning staff meeting that doubled as a holiday breakfast. There were appreciative murmurs from the teachers after the donation of the boxes was announced by Principal Adam Oakley.

“We work in a place where a lot of our kids really need us,” Oakley said.

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Correspondent Nina Culver can be reached at nculver47@gmail.com.

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