It is a universal truth that we all get upset at times. And having a place to retreat, regroup, and feel calm is an important part of learning self-awareness, self-regulation and self-care.
At QAE, teachers make sure to have a designated quiet, safe place in the classroom. We call these physical spots "Positive Time Out Spaces" or PTOS. Each classroom has its own name for them. In Ms. Colondo's room, the PTOS is called "Cloud City" and in Ms. Leckie's room, it is called "Hawaii".
PTOS are not for punishment. Kids go to a PTOS when they need to calm down (down-regulation), or if they need to get centered and focused (re-regulated). Any kid can lose their cool during the day—school is intense and kids feel the stress. Upsets can come from conflicts with friends, difficulty with learning new material, or can be stress carried in from home.
QAE teachers want kids to learn that upsets are part of everyday life for everybody, even grown-ups. The teachers intentionally give them an arena in which to practice getting calm and centered, which have several "tools" that help kids get calm. With lots of practice, kids become fluent, and even masterful, at self-regulation.
Grown-ups have PTOS too. We don't usually think of them in such a formal way, but they are our go-to places to get focused, calm (er), or recharge our batteries. Sometimes, they are physical places, like a quiet spot in your home or a backyard hammock. Other times, grown-ups have rituals or activities that we use to feel grounded, such as that morning cup of coffee or going for a run. We can even have imaginary PTOSs, like the memory of a beach that you went to as a kid.
Likewise, grown-ups use tools & strategies to get calm or to get focused. It can be as small as having a favorite pen that helps you feel in the mood to write that hard to start report. Or as automatic as listening to quiet music in the car during a long commute. Or as intentional as a daily meditation practice.
The essential difference between kid PTOSs and grown-up ones is that grown-ups have learned through experience what things tend to trigger upset, how to recognize that we need to re-center, and what spaces, tools, and strategies help us best. Kids are still learning, and curricula like Zones of Regulation and Kelso's Choice will help them learn. And having PTOSs gives them a safe place to try out tools & strategies to find out what works for them.
The SEL committee is working this year on enriching every classroom's PTOS with sensory items, fidgets, movement, and weighted items. We encourage you to talk with your child about his/her class' PTOS. Ask them to tell you if anything works really well.
We also encourage you to have a PTOS at home. It can be much less formal, just a bin or old backpack where you keep some favorite comfort items. We have put an ideas list on the SEL Resources page. We've also put some of the "strategy sheets," like the one below.
Remember, getting upset or overwhelmed is often a part of hard work. And kids need years of practice to master self-regulation. Supporting this process with PTOSs at school and at home will help them to be more resilient and pro-social.