Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Creating a Safe Zone For Kids

Hi! I'm Ayn and I am a Ga. Pre-K teacher, serving 4 and 5 year olds in an inclusive setting. I share my classroom adventures on my blog, little illuminations. 

Childhood is a magical time. It can also be very frustrating! Learning to navigate our own feelings and emotions and dealing with others' as well can be a slippery slope. Much of the time that children are acting out, they are actually struggling with managing their emotions. 

One of the ways I help children in my classroom learn to deal with emotions is by providing a "safe zone" for them to get away. Not so long ago, "time out" was the suggested way to deal with difficult behavior. A safe zone is NOT a "naughty chair/spot" or a time out area in the traditional sense. It does provide the child with an area to go for a "time out", but not as a punishment. The safe zone is a place where children can go to release emotions and take a few moments to regain composure. There may be a few times that I might suggest a child go to the safe zone to collect themselves, but most of the time the area is self-selected by the student without any adult prompting. Again, this is NOT a "time out" or punishment area!

One of the big conversations we have at the beginning of the year centers on talking about our safe zone. We discuss the reasons we have it, how to use it properly and the items that are available in the safe zone. I emphasize that it is not a punishment and that it is to be used only for a few minutes. 

Some of the items in our safe zone:

***soft toys to cuddle

***puppets to help act out frustrations and feelings

***a "squeeze" toy to release anger

(This one is just a stocking with a few rags stuffed inside and a face drawn on. )

***calming toys (I sometimes have a pinwheel in my box.)
***sensory bottles

***a writing box so children may write or draw about their problem

***picture chart of emotions

***books about emotions or anger

(I change the book titles out regularly. See below for some other great titles to add to your safe zone.)

***cushions, pillows, rocking chair (soft seating of some sort)

If a student has a particular item like a doll, blanket, book or other item that is soothing, they may bring it into the safe zone, as well.

I also have a few "portable" safe areas that can be used if the safe zone is in use, or the child prefers a different setting.

Some of the other "safe zones" in classrooms around our center:

One of the things I keep an eye out for is making sure that shy students are not using the area to withdraw from socialization. While this does happen, I have found that with guidance, the children most likely to withdraw can use this space as a place to "warm up" to the idea of interacting. After a few minutes, most children are ready to join a friend and begin playing.

I have also found that this is a great place for children with separation anxiety to transition to for a few minutes until they are ready to join the group. It is much less traumatic to sit in the quiet zone for a few minutes than to break down in the middle of the class. 

The sensory bottle pictured above is sweeping the blogosphere as a "time out" bottle. It is so easy to make and is so soothing to watch. I wish I could capture the beauty of the glitter in pictures, but photos just don't do them justice. All you need is a clear bottle and some glitter glue. I used about a half bottle of glitter glue and some warm water to dissolve the glue. I glued the top on to the bottle to secure it.

If you are looking for more sensory bottle ideas, I've devoted an entire post to sensory and discovery bottles here on PreK+K Sharing. You can find it here.

I hope you'll consider offering a "safe zone" in your home or classroom for the children in your care. It is one of the easiest ways to to help children self-regulate their emotions. I've found that the more ways I help children learn how to mange their emotions and frustrations, the less conflict and behavior problems I have to help them handle. 

Stop by and visit me anytime at or visit the little illuminations fanpage on facebook! And be sure to check out PreK+K Sharing EEE!


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