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Monday, March 2, 2015

Take A Break! {How I Use A Break Space To Support All Students}

Hello March! I'm starting this month with a promise to myself to be a better blogger. When I started out on this journey, I committed to myself I would blog each week. That hasn't happened just yet, but I'm not giving up. There. I've said it. Now you can publicly shame me when if I don't keep up.

If you follow me on Instagram (and if you don't, then you definitely should) you know that hubs and I have been battling some DIY projects at home. For those of you don't who know us, we are about as good at DIY as Gisele is at multi-tasking:

All this wall-cutting/building/plumbing/insulating/painting nonsense has really taken away from my blogging time. And don't even get me started on the dust. I actually found myself vacuuming my vacuum cleaner yesterday. My name is Nicole and I have a problem. Have I learned a lot? Sigh. Yes. Am I ready to have a very large glass of wine get blogging? YES.

Like many of you out there, my school takes a week long vacation at the end of February. Normally, I use this time to visit my parents in Florida, but this year I found myself at home with a week of uninterrupted time. After all the snow days we've had recently, I actually found myself BORED with all the free time (one week back at school and I desperately want it back).  So what did I do? Go to work, obviously, as all normal people do during their time off. It was time to tackle those projects that always slip under the radar, and up first was redesigning our classroom break space.

Why use a classroom break space?
Having a classroom break space is a powerful teaching tool that supports community, classroom management, and emotional regulation. By implementing a break space in the classroom, teachers give students the ability to regain self-control in a way that is both supportive and respectful, and provide them with explicit self-soothing strategies to be used for years to come. Many of my students have use of the break space as part of their IEP's, however, it's a space that is used by every single student in my classroom.  It's important for kiddos to have a place where they can decompress, whether they are frustrated, sad, overwhelmed, or feeling extra silly. Have you ever had a student that: cant stop banging on their chair, desk, or table, began to escalate over a conflict with a peer, became frustrated over a new math concept or writing prompt? If your classroom is anything like mine, I imagine this happens often. Cue the break space.

What does a break space look like?
Ideally, a break space should give kiddos some space away from the commotion of the classroom, but still allow them to hear what is going on. In my classroom break space, I have the following:

1. The Ikea Egg Chair: perfect for students who need more isolation during a break, or for those who have sensory needs, or struggle with transitions. 

2. A super-soft cuddly pillow. Because who doesn't like a snuggle when you're feeling down? Mine has a plush cover that provides calming sensory input AND can be removed and thrown into the washing machine (first graders do carry a germ or two). 

3. A box of calming tools:

This includes selected books about emotions, a few small stuffed animals, and the infamous glitter jar. 

Click this photo for a great tutorial from My Crazy Blessed Life!

4. A box of focus tools:

Ok, this one is little bit of a cheat. We use focus tools ALL over the classroom and not just in the break space, but it's a good home for them! Anything that is squishy, clicky (yes - I just made that a word), bendy, or stretchy works as a sensory tool. (That 90's hair clip is a HUGE hit in my classroom!)


Time management is a tricky concept for first graders, so I have students set a timer when they are in the break space. This ensures that students get what they need, but still return to the group within a reasonable amount of time.

6. Anchor charts to support emotional learning:

You can find these in my TPT store!

How does it all work?
On the day I introduce the break space, we read the story, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. This book lends itself to a wonderful discussion about emotions, and the fact that everyone has tough days. I then explain that we have the break space: a place to go when you have a lot of feelings.  We make clear that taking a break is not a punishment, nor does it mean your teacher is mad at you, this is just a way to help keep our bodies and brains calm and focused and ready to do our best learning possible.  During the course of the day, after extensive modeling and discussion, each student takes a turn practicing how to use the space. After this, students not only feel comfortable in the space, but have proven they are able to use the space in a way that is safe and supportive of their learning!

Ready to try a break space in your classroom? You can find all of these resources (and more!) over at my TPT Store or by clicking the picture below!

Thanks for stopping by!


  1. Great post Nicole! I teach a first grade inclusion class also and this break space would definitely benefit some of my little ones!! I love the Ikea egg chair, that might have to be a summer purchase I HAVE to have for my class!

    Teach Talk Inspire

    1. Thanks, Jayme! The egg chair is AMAZING! It's a good tool for all kiddos, but I've found is especially helpful to support students who struggle with transitions. They just head in there while the class transitions and come join us when we're ready to go. Makes everyone happy! Happy Tuesday! :)