The Importance of Calm Spaces in the Classroom

Chicago Friends School

At Twenty-One Senses, we help schools, businesses, and families understand the importance of regulation, especially those with sensory needs. Post covid we are seeing many children struggle with regulation, emotions, and interactions in large groups. In short, most children are struggling with the adjustment of getting back into the classroom.

This has been a topic many educators are talking about, specifically how to develop self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills (SEL) in classrooms. What they often overlook is how the environment affects those things. They haven’t been trained on what to watch for and how to help kids who are struggling to regulate based on environmental factors. Schools are working towards creating a space where the children learn how to identify their needs and emotions while providing a safe environment where children can get away from environmental triggers.

Recently, I was privileged to visit one such school. Chicago Friends School in Edgewater has created a learning environment that not only educates the students with core subjects such as math, science, and English but they also are very mindful of the child’s well-being from a regulation standpoint. As I met the staff and children, I couldn’t help noticing that all the children were very happy, and there was a sense of peace and nurture in every classroom.

Chicago Friends School has taken the time to create calm corners in every indoor space where the children will be throughout their day. Many parents understand each child is different and have unique needs. The calm corners at Chicago Friends School have very thoughtful and comforting items such as headsets, fidgets, blankets, bean bag chairs, vocabulary posters, and activities that help a child calm down, re-regulate, and better express their emotions. The best part of these calm corners is that they introduce a sense of privacy. Each classroom does this in a different way; however, they all have a common goal, to give the child privacy while they are feeling all of their emotions.

Calm corners are never a punishment but rather a resource each child can use. A teacher may remind their students that the calm corner is available, but it is ultimately up to the child whether they would like to use it.

Mental health is an important part of being your best self. Individuals flourish when you are understood and encouraged to take a moment to work through your anxiety, frustration, and emotions. Chicago Friends School is an exemplary example of what all schools should be doing in terms of supporting their students not only academically and from an SEL perspective but also how to support their students’ nervous systems (regulation engine). The small act of creating a space where students can be themselves in a safe space has an enormous impact on the lives of the students and their ability to learn.

Learn more about Chicago Friends School

Halloween Tips for Disabilities and Allergies

Halloween is almost here! For many of us, this time of year brings about an exciting night of costumes, trick-or-treating, haunted houses, and scary movies. With that being said, many children who have sensory sensitivities or food allergies are often left behind in the fun and excitement of Halloween. By following these few tips and precautions, everyone can enjoy Halloween equally and help give parents peace of mind

Halloween Tip #1 Sensory Friendly

Many kids love the flashing lights and loud noises associated with Halloween, but for children with sensory sensitivities, these things can make Halloween unbearable.

  • Children with tactile sensitivities may be sensitive to fake spiderwebs. Place these fake spiderwebs higher off the ground so the child cannot reach them.
  • A child with tactile sensitivities may not wear an obvious costume due to uncomfortable materials or tags. Be understanding and know that some costumes may not be very noticeable.
  • Keep the music at a lower level to help child who are sensitive to sound.
  • Avoid strobe lights to help children who are sensitive to light.

Halloween Tip #2 Autism Friendly

If you see a child out trick-or-treating with a blue pumpkin, this is signaling that they have autism. 

  • A blue pumpkin represents that the child has autism. Be patient and try to make them as comfortable as possible.
  • Autistic children may not wear a costume or may have trouble looking you in the eye. Be understanding that they made this effort tonight. 
  • If they have trouble interacting at all, a parent may come up to the door with them to get their treat. 
  • Put out a seperate bowl for autistic or other special needs children so they can look through more easily. Having a bowl separated from people can help the child to feel more comfortable and gives them more access. 
  • Not all children with autism will be carrying a blue pumpkin, as their parents may feel it points out their differences. If a child is acting “differently”, be patient and understand they may have underlying disabilities.

Halloween Tip #3 Allergy Friendly

Some parents are scared to let their children go out and trick-or-treat because of a severe food allergy they may have. 

  • Create a seperate bucket of candy that is allergen-free. Some children have such severe allergies that even smelling something, such as peanuts, can send them into a severe allergic reaction.  
  • If you are nervous about making sure to have an allergen-free bowl, fill a bucket with fun Halloween-themed toys instead.  
  • When creating an allergen-free candy bucket, some common ingredients to check labels for include wheat, milk, soy, peanuts, and tree nuts.

Halloween should be a time where everyone gets to enjoy themselves, and following a few of these tips can make the night fun and enjoyable for everyone! 

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Coaching Testimonial – Prof. Sarah

“I just want to say how much I enjoy working with you.  I truly always look forward to a meeting with you when I see it coming up on my calendar.  I don’t always feel that way about every meeting but I think it is because I feel like I can be real and honest whenever we meet and I never feel judged.”

Prof. Sarah Smith, UNH, Research Partner

Kids Storytime with Samantha and Friends

Check out this really cool new YouTube channel: Kids Storytime with Samantha and Friends! What makes this channel so great is its unique approach to storytelling and engagement: Samantha, a charismatic and cute-as-a-button 9-year-old reads shares her passion for reading and learning by reading to kids of all ages!

We all know the benefits of reading and being read to: increased vocabulary, improved listening and language skills, and social emotional connection and development. Not only does having a peer read to your children improve their comprehension and social connection, but it can also provide some added motivation to work on their own reading.

Make sure to check it out if you’re looking for a run way to spruce up storytime.  (And the bloopers at the end are not to be missed. So cute!)

Happy listening!

A note from Jennifer (Samatha’s mom):

Kids Storytime with Samantha and Friends was created during the beginning of COVID-19. I saw a need to make literacy captivating for children who might not find reading a joyful experience. 

My 9-year-old daughter loves to read and was often found as little as 3 years old pretending to record herself reading books. She now is involved in an amazing theater group and performing dance troupe. These two opportunities have expanded her talents when recording and acting. She honestly just loves to make people smile and laugh.

My husband is a professional photographer, but has work experience in the audio visual realm. He truly loves to make things look easy, but only produces the best result. He loves to really put all the smallest details into each book recording.

My background includes: special education and at-risk preschool teacher, developmental therapist, tutor, respite worker, and the best job of all: being a mom. 

With my love for getting children of all abilities exposed to literacy, I came up with an idea to start our YouTube channel. We have supported local authors as well as mainstream authors. It has been truly a blessing to see the families that I served and continue to serve feel fulfilled by the stories. 

We continue to seek more books for our channel and ways to make each video a bit of its own creation. Finally, please don’t forget our bloopers, because who doesn’t need a good laugh these days. 

Hope the book videos bring you joy as they have brought to so many children and their families. 

–Jennifer (Samantha’s mom!)