Written by: Nicole Silva and Ashley Gasparro
You’re right in the middle of a lesson and you have the students’ attention; you feel like they are actually understanding the concept! Students are raising their hands, contributing to the discussion ...when suddenly one of your students gets angry, frustrated, or just needs a break. It interrupts the flow of the class as you try to redirect that student and get him or her refocused. You lose momentum and the class loses attention.
This is what commonly happens when students have not yet acquired the skills to help them gain control of their emotions. However, when given the right tools, students can start identifying exactly how they are feeling and begin to understand how to self regulate.
The cool down book bag started out as the cool down center. It was an area of the room we designated for students to go to calm down and refocus. As a class we brainstormed things we could do to help us relax in a stressful situation. Students drew pictures to remind themselves of these strategies and we pasted the drawings on a trifold board in the center. This worked well for the class that year, but the following year we saw that students wanted more control of the situation.
So, we decided to give it to them. We placed all the items from the cool down center into a book bag (“The Cool Down Book bag”) and told students they could take it and go wherever they felt comfortable in the classroom. As time went on and more and more students started to use the book bag, they even made suggestions for other items to be added inside. For example, a group of boys asked if they could put a joke book in. This made the cool down book bag more their own and it allowed students to take more ownership of their skill learning.
What works well for one student may not work as well for another, so the book bag has various items that students can choose to use. There’s a notebook for students to write down their thoughts and emotions, and also blank paper for students who express themselves better with drawing. There is a deep breath Velcro board where students can monitor their breathing by moving a check mark up and down to count the number of deep breaths they take. The book bag also includes a sand timer that students can use to watch the sand fall, and it holds lists of various emotions (one that has a picture of the facial expression that correlates with their feeling and another that provides an extensive list of emotions that can open the students' mind as to how they are truly feeling). A real favorite is the calm down jar, where students shake a bottle filled with colorful glitter and take deep breaths as they watch the glitter fall.
As the year progressed, if we were in the middle of a lesson and someone needed a time out, they would simply say “ I need the book bag”, and they would go to calm down on their own. When the class was working on their own I would go over and consult with the student who was calming down. Sometimes the student would go back after a few minutes on their own and ease back into the lesson.
The cool down book bag has helped students take control of their emotions and also take the spotlight off of them in a stressful situation.
Nicole Silva, is a third-grade teacher at Nathan Hale Elementary School in Carteret, who recently received the prestigious $25,000 Milken Family Foundation Award. Ashley Gasparro is a Carteret School Social Worker