Creating a safe place for students in our classrooms is so important as it allows them to take a break, develop coping skills, work through their emotions, and ultimately, feel safe, regulated, and calm so that they can learn. Safe spaces come in all shapes and sizes and help a variety of learners. Here are a few of my examples:
I typically incorporate visuals of emotions from the social-emotional program(s) we will be learning that year (such as Zones of Regulation, Mind Up, Inside Out + Zones, Circle of Courage, etc.), good/poor choices cards, and breathing/calm down/yoga activities. I like to keep the space cozy and sensory-focused with sensory bottles and/or fidgets, noise-cancelling headphones, weighted and non-weighted stuffed animals and blankets, and a personal space like a comfy chair, cushion, couch, or tent. As the year goes on, students will identify a tool-kit of strategies that works for them that is available in the area. The idea is that they can use the area as needed, identify how they are feeling, and self-select (or accept) a strategy to regulate and get back to the task at hand. I find that having a safe space actually increases student learning time as long as explicit instruction about the area/strategies occurs. Best of all, students are more regulated and calm!
Our school Learning Improvement Plan (LIP) focuses on writing. In Grade One the writing curricular expectation is that students write 5+ sentences on a familiar topic, with a main idea and details present in 6+ word sentences. The sentences must include capitalization, appropriate spacing, and beginning punctuation use. Students use new vocabulary learned, accompany their written work with illustrations, and engage in “fix-ups” with teacher support. The writing progress that Grade One students display from the beginning of the year when they are still working on writing their names and/or copying single sentence models to the end of the year when they are engaged in the beginning steps of the writing process is truly remarkable and one of the reasons I think teaching Grade One is the best!
In my room, I am ensuring that students have a strong writing foundation to work from. We are focusing on the basics of letter formation using prompts, songs, and materials from the Handwriting Without Tears program and a multi-sensory approach. My students have loved creating letters with the wood piece set that comes with the program and we are often found singing “Start Your Letters At the Top.” This week we put my whiteboard tables to use to put “pen-to-paper” so to speak but with a ton more student engagement! The students keep asking to write their letters again and they were able to work for a half an hour (I planned for 10 minutes tops but there was no stopping them)!
We will be writing our letters in shaving cream trays next week. We will also be using play dough and wikki stix for letter formation. With their engagement levels high and their interests peaked, it will be no time until they are reaching the writing goals! It makes my teacher heart oh-so happy!