OWATONNA — In an effort to teach students how to get back on track when things feel off-balance, within the last few weeks Lincoln Elementary has rolled out activities designed to help kids recalibrate while remaining in the classroom.
Called “self-time kits,” the boxes include a mix of putty, coloring sheets, brain games, fidgets and more assembled with help from school social worker Amanda Griswold. Each also comes with a five-minute timer, with the idea that children will give themselves roughly that long to work on the activities before returning to whatever the class is doing at the time.
“We know kids do the best when they’re in their classroom with their class,” explained Griswold, of the reasoning behind the kits. “One thing I really like about this tool is that it allows kids the ability to be in their classroom, self-regulate when they need to and then be able to reengage with their class in a fluid way.”
In order to make the kits a reality, Griswold and Principal Mary Hawkins applied for a grant from the 761 Foundation last year — ultimately receiving $800 which helped them roll out the self-time boxes this winter. At first, Griswold explained, she assembled and gave them out to certain classrooms for students who had been identified as in need of the support.
Now, educators opt-in to having a box in their classroom and kits can be available to all students. First-grade teacher Alex Heise said she was initially only using the box with a few designated kids.
“Eventually, I wanted to introduce it to the whole classroom,” she explained. “I had one of the special education instructors come in and she introduced how to use the box, what self-time is and why we use it to regulate our body and our brain.”
Griswold added that the concept of “self-time” plays a large role in the school’s special education instruction, which is now helping inform the building-wide initiative. While at first, Heise had to suggest self-time to students that she saw becoming fidgety or frustrated, she said students have quickly become better at deciding when to use the box on their own.
“Self-regulation is something we need to teach kids,” explained Griswold. “It’s like any developmental milestone — they’re not just going to get it. We need to teach them that their feelings are impacting the choices that they’re making and what they’re doing.”
Heise added that students are typically expected to use the box no more than once per hour, and both staff members emphasized the importance of setting clear ground rules within each class. While in Heise’s classroom, the box is located at a small desk along one wall, she explained that she typically lets students take it wherever is best.
“For one of my kiddos, it’s better for him to go out into the hallway just to get out of the room. He does a really good job of going out there and coming right back in when the timer’s done,” she explained.
Griswold added that if students go a little over the allotted five minutes, teachers are good about identifying if more time is needed or not.
“If I know that [students] are still not ready to go, I ask them, ‘Is this working for us to get our bodies and brains back to where we need to be, or is there something else that we need to try?’” said Heise. “From what I’ve seen in the past three weeks, they’re pretty good about doing what they need to do in those five minutes and getting themselves back on track.”
In crafting each box, Griswold said she brought in knowledge of what materials worked well with elementary students from previous interventions. She also noted that a similar concept, often called a “calming corner,” has been gaining ground nationally and giving rise to a lot of online resources.
Heise added that when she was a teacher at McKinley Elementary, many classrooms also had baskets of similar activities or spaces in the room where students could go to reset. At Lincoln, as well, Griswold said a handful of teachers were using a calming corner before the self-time kits rolled out last month.
“But we haven’t had anything like this building-wide that we’ve pushed out as an option,” she explained. “We were so grateful that we were able to have the money from the grant. Otherwise this kind of stuff is hard to find the money for.”