Please take a moment to check in on the class feelings board if you would like.
People often talk about the importance of self care without actually internalizing the why, and often without creating a regular, routine practice. We often hear about self care as a way of recharging, once we are already nearing a state of exhaustion.
In terms of social and emotional learning, self care is a way to prevent emotional dysregulation. There are habits we can help our students build that will help them level out their emotions throughout the day, simply by taking care of their body. Helping students build these routines will actually make them better students - emotional regulation and connection helps students perform better on tests, behave in class, feel more focused, and increases motivation.
The first step is to help students create a routine that properly attends to their physical needs. This includes habits of sleep, movement, diet and hydration, and mindfulness. Beyond that it can even include socialization to promote connection, mental enrichment, making good choices about screen time, and spending adequate time outdoors.
Just like with anything we teach, the goal is to isolate the skills, teach them, and then practice, practice, practice! Below is a fun framework to help students build these new habits. It is beneficial to create a common language between school and home if possible, so that children can practice these skills all throughout the day.
Simple Self Care Practice: One very simple activity is to ask students to print out this handout, or something similar, and ask them to check off each item across the week.
Piloting Your Plane: This activity is a complex metaphor, but tends to resonate very well with young students. For a fun example of how to explain this analogy to students, watch my own videos here: Piloting Your Plane. (I made these today quickly to give you an example - the sound quality is not stellar. If anyone wants a better quality version to actually use in class, let me know and I can remake it.)
You'll need to give kids some way to keep track of checking in with their bodies all day. Here is a sample worksheet you could ask them to use for this activity. Some other ideas: you could ask them to check in on a spreadsheet or document in Google Classroom, or use Padlets.
The script goes something like this:
"Imagine your body is a plane, and your mind is the pilot. Your mind is in charge of keeping the plane flying smoothly, without crashing. When you have tantrums, overreactions and large emotional outbursts, that is like your plane crashing. If you pay attention to piloting your plane, you can fly it smoothly all day.
Just like a real pilot, there are important gauges you can check to make sure you are flying smoothly all day. It is important to stop and check on your gauges all throughout the day. These gauges are:
Temperature: When you are feeling calm, you are in the green. If you check your gauge and it is green, you can go back to your normal activities. If you are in the red, that means you are very angry, frustrated, or upset for some reason. It is important to stop what you are doing and calm your body back down to green. Blue means you are feeling sad, or lonely, or disappointed, and perhaps could use a hug or something that makes you feel happier.
Fuel: Your fuel gauge measures if you are hungry or thirsty. Take a minute to check in with your body, and if you are running low on fuel, fill it up! Being hungry or thirsty can actually make our emotions overreact to situations.
Energy: Your energy gauge tells you if you are too full of energy, or perhaps too low on energy. If you are too full of energy, do some exercise and movement to help release it. If you are not getting enough exercise and movement in your day, then your energy gauge is going to get too full and could cause a crash. If you are low on energy, allow your body some rest - if not a nap, then perhaps reading a book or just relaxing on the sofa for a bit.
Weather: Your weather gauge tells you if your plane is going to run into some turbulence ahead! Think a little forward in your day - is anything coming up that might cause your emotions or body to not fly smoothly? Something exciting, or difficult, or a change of routine? Preparing for bad weather ahead can help you to handle it better."
This analogy can extend further than teaching kids to check their gauges. Here are some additional pieces you can add on to this activity.
The Watchtower: The Watchtower is essential to flying a real plane, because there are events or conditions that a pilot cannot detect by themselves, even if they are very good about checking all of their gauges. Let's take a moment to think who acts as our watchtowers? Often, this can be your parents or teachers, and perhaps even siblings. It is important to listen to our watchtowers about our emotional well being, because they often see things we don't see ourselves.
The Rocket Ship: When something really big or exciting is going on, sometimes our everyday plane turns into a rocketship!! When this happens, it usually means our emotions are turbo charged!! This means we have to be even more careful about checking our gauges often, and taking care of our bodies all day. When we blast off for a big event, we have to look out for not only bad weather turbulence, but also asteroid fields and meteors!! When in our rocket ship, we fly fast, and that also means we can crash fast! It can be really helpful to take extra good care of your body when you are flying in a rocket ship.
Habit Tracking for Older Kids: Older students may not need the full 'piloting your plane' analogy, but they do need to learn about taking care of their bodies. For teens, a helpful activity is to ask them to track for themselves:
3. Screen Time (non academic)
4. Socializing Time
5. Outdoors Time
Ask them to draw connections between their activities and their feelings/energy levels. What is one habit they want to keep in their daily life to feel better? Have them set a personal habit goal and check in on it weekly.
Mindfulness - Nature Walk: One mindful activity that is often satisfying for young children is going on a nature hunt. Ask them to take a magnifying lens if possible, and to walk slowly around their yard or neighborhood looking for nature. They can analyze leaves, look for insects, find snails, notice spiderwebs...there is so much to discover. Ask them to remember the things they are seeing and to come back and journal them.
GoNoodle - not just for movement!: GoNoodle has a number of video series that are helpful for self care, beyond their movement and exercise videos. One that is good for self care is: Take on the Day,
Movement and Exercise: Since movement and exercise are so critical to emotional regulation and sleep quality, it would be beneficial to offer students ideas for how to stay active at home. To get you started:
Station Rotations (sit ups, jumping jacks, push ups, plank)
Games (tag, Simon Says, hide and seek, freeze dance, animal workout)
Dancing - zumba videos, Kidz Boop, Just Dance
Cosmic Kids Yoga or simple yoga on own
Mental Enrichment: Students may need mental stimulation beyond school work. It could be fun to brainstorm a list together of things students can do to stay busy beyond school, ideally without devices. To get you started:
Board Games and Cards
Helping parents with tasks or chores
Learn a new skill
Writing stories, poems, comic strips, etc.
Building (Legos, scrap materials)
Acts of Kindness
Up Next: Emotional Regulation