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Keep Calm and Take a Break

At any given time during the school day, kindergarten teacher Robin Gaudio might catch one of her students quietly showing her a “T” with his or her hands. 
 
“We do a sign if we need a break or are in a mood,” says a student. “You go over to the Take a Break chair and have choices of things to do to calm down.” 
 
The children volunteer emotions that might warrant a visit to the Take a Break chair, including mad, sad, worried, not focused, silly, out of control, and wiggly. 
 
“The chair makes you feel calm and better so you can be a good listener,” says another student. “It’s soft, you get to be patient. It helps you every time.” 
 
The Take a Break chair is a new element of the Responsive Classroom curriculum at Primrose Elementary School, used to teach children to identify and manage their feelings. Responsive Classroom is a key component in the district’s commitment to Social and Emotional Learning. 
 
“It is not a naughty chair,” says Gaudio. “It is not a consequence. The idea is to give them ownership of their feelings, because at this age they sometimes need a break, but we also want them to know that changing emotions are normal. 
 
School Psychologist Regina Kaishian and School Counselor Katie Bergin are introducing the Take a Break concept to some classrooms at Primrose and in others they are connecting existing Take a Break chairs to Zones of Regulation, which help kids identify their own emotional and physical experiences. By dedicating time to talk about the chairs and zones to all students at Primrose, the counselors are normalizing the use of the chair. 
 
The area around the chair in Gaudio’s class is stocked with crayons, a timer, and cards suggesting different strategies to help a child get back into the “Green Zone”, which describes the feelings and behaviors present when students can do their best learning. 
 
“We saw a need for it,” says Bergin. “We saw children struggling with feelings and struggling to be resilient. They need guidance that it is ok to feel this way, but they need to have strategies to deal with it.” 
 
The counselors at Primrose are creating calm kits for every classroom and shared space in the building, including specials areas, the cafeteria and the nurse’s office. The calm kits are being funded with help from the Parent Teacher Association and the Special Education Parent Teacher Association and will include tools such as timers, stress balls, glitter tubes and breathing exercises. The hope is that no matter where students find themselves, they will have tools to help them regulate their feelings and their bodies.