Education News

Early Childhood Guide: This outdoor classroom provides tools for social-emotional learning

A CHILD PLAYS at Wren’s Nest Forest Preschool.

Beneath a tree, at the edge of our outdoor classroom, there is a blanket with a box filled with self-regulation tools. There is a feelings chart, a breathing ball, books, and sensory toys. This is “the calm corner,” a safe place to feel big feelings and learn how to self-regulate. At the beginning of the school year our class made a community agreement that the calm corner is a one-person space, meaning only one student at a time may occupy it. When a child needs space or is having a challenging feeling, they may choose to go to the calm corner. When the teachers see someone in the calm corner it’s a signal for us to check in and see if they want or need adult support. The calm corner is a safe haven for everyone and it is deeply loved by the teachers, students, and families at our school.

The calm corner is just one of the many ways we incorporate social emotional learning into our everyday experiences at Wren’s Nest. We also focus our curriculum towards this lens by reading stories that help students process challenging feelings and social situations that arise in our community. Mindful breathing is a tool we use throughout the day, especially during transitions. We have social and emotional tools attached to our backpacks, so we can lean on these supports when we need them on our daily hikes into the forest. 

Here’s the catch though, you can’t teach what you don’t know. Teaching self-regulation skills often requires educators to learn those skills themselves and to make sure they are regulated when supporting children with big feelings and emotions. Our team is committed to doing this work ourselves and creating a system that supports this. Part of that system is “checking in and checking out” when one of our teachers needs support or space to regulate. We have a code word we use when we need to take a break. When another member of the team hears it, they step in with no questions asked. We take space and use the same tools we teach our students, to ensure that we are showing up mindfully and responsively. 

Why do we make such an intentional effort to incorporate social-emotional learning into our everyday experience and routines? Because we value supporting the development of the whole child and believe that developing self-regulation skills leads to better mental health outcomes for people of all ages. It also equips students with the skills needed to be in an optimal state for learning. Our hope is that with our guidance and support, the students at Wren’s Nest will gain the skills they need to be resilient, confident, and independent long after they leave our care.

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