If you were to ask me about one place in my Kindergarten classroom I could not do without it would be my think space. I look at it as a bridge for my students ability to access the curriculum, making meaningful relationships and learn to self regulate. These are powerful skills I hope to teach each of my students throughout my time with them.
You may be asking yourself “What is a think space? It can and will look different in every classroom. Our classroom think space has a small blue rug in the corner. Included within that space are books about emotions, fidget toys, cushions for children to get comfortable, pictures hung on the wall of all their families/loved ones and small mirrors hung on the wall with the words “You are awesome! You can do it! You are loved.” There is also a feelings poster with children’s faces showing many different types of emotions.
At the beginning of the year I introduce the think space by modeling what it looks like. We discuss the emotions we all have inside of us that make some days difficult. Through situations and discussions I model going to the think space and what I can do with the items within that space. We read texts that are stored in that area which discuss emotions. We also practice calming belly breathes. The main purpose of the Think Space is to go to this space and think about the feelings we are having. It’s a time for reflection and at my age group it is helpful to have the poster of children’s facial expressions of different emotions. I often see children pointing to the poster of how they feel at that moment. This makes it real for my students, almost showing them in a way they are not alone and these feelings are normal.
I always have students at the beginning of the school year who have difficulty with transitions into the school day. They struggle with the separation from their parents or loved ones. The pictures posted on the wall of all the families/loved ones help with this. I had a student every day for the first two months come into school crying. After I introduced the Think Space which happens the first week of school he would come in and ask to go there. I would always say yes. Gradually his tears were less and less and one day he came in and said “Mrs. Sousa can I just go to the think space in the morning right away everyday. It’s what I need.” “Absolutely”, I said. Every day after he entered the room, hung up his things and then spent about 5 minutes in the think space gathering his thoughts and feelings and then started on his way. Giving him that moment and space allowed for him to be successful in school whereas before he would be in tears for most of the morning otherwise.
Not every child may need or want to visit the think space in the classroom. That’s ok. What’s more important is that it is there. In our classroom the children are taught that they may need different things to help them learn throughout the year. They always know they have access to the tools but also know its not something they are required to use.
I recently attended a conference and author, Lynda Mullaly Hunt was the keynote speaker. She spoke of her childhood and how it flows through her stories. During the keynote she had a visual of a blender. That blender is full of emotions and that is where anger stems from. We as teachers need to remember that behaviors from our students are not a direct insult to us. The anger that comes out of a student through unpleasant ways is the blender switch being turned on full force without a lid on the top. The anger wildly spews out for peers and teachers to witness. These students don’t want to be “bad”. They don’t want to act this way. They simply don’t know how to deal with the emotions they feel. The space created in my classroom allows for students to deescalate, learn self regulation skills, practice meditation and breathing techniques.
Teaching reading, math, writing, science and social studies skills are clearly important to me but its also equally important to teach such important social emotional skills. It’s amazing the success students have when they learn these important social emotional skills. I have seen students do well in my room academically because of the think space. It allows them to recognize their feelings, think about their behavior and flip their behavior or emotions to a positive light to then be able to interact and learn from their peers and myself.
I know I am writing this from a Kindergarten mindset but I believe forms of the think space can and should be used across all grade levels. We all know as teachers we have days where we are going through tough stuff and days where we are feeling a mix of emotions. We are human, but so are our students. Give them the grace and understanding they need in order to change their day and be successful and uplifted.