It gives me great pleasure to share with you our first guest post. Colleen Wildenhaus, of Goodbye Anxiety Hello Joy, is an elementary school teacher. She is also a mum to a 13 year old daughter suffering from severe anxiety and OCD. Drawing on her experience from both aspects of her life, Colleen brings you 7 Simple Ways to Improve Classrooms for Anxious Students.
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7 Simple Ways to Improve Classrooms for Anxious Students
Every morning children leave home and enter classrooms, prepared to grow socially, emotionally, and academically. For most of these children, each day brings moments of friendship and the possibility of excitement over mastering a new skill. However, 1 in 8 children suffers from anxiety that negatively affects their school experience. Anxiety can range from mild anxious moments that arise due to certain events, such as tests or crowded lunchrooms, to full panic lasting all day due to separation anxiety. While each child’s anxiety must be dealt with individually, classroom teachers can create an environment where all students can thrive regardless of their level of anxiety or learning style. If you are a parent with an anxious child, or a classroom teacher, read on to discover ways to develop a classroom where all children have a greater opportunity for success.
Anxiety, along with different learning styles, can lead to the inability to focus, excessive fidgeting, heightened agitation, or feelings of inadequacy in students. A few simple classroom tweaks can assist in all of these areas.
Dimming overhead lighting and adding lamps can improve the overall mood of students. Too much bright light is incredibly stimulating for our brains. This can lead to over-stimulation by the end of the day. Our bodies need light, but it should be natural and subtle. When possible, remove curtains from windows, allowing natural light to fill the classroom. Supplement with lamps throughout the room. If lamps are not an option, you can purchase light cover filters through school supply catalogues. The overall feeling of the classroom will become calm with just this one change.
Essential Oil Diffuser
Purchase an essential oil diffuser, allowing you to diffuse calming oils such as lavender, Valor, or peppermint throughout the day. Essential oils are shown to calm anxieties, increase focus and wakefulness, and even help fight germs. Children enjoy the scent that fills the classroom, making it an inviting place to be. As you learn more about oils, you will be able to diffuse different oils depending on your schedule for the day…are you testing, is there a lot of sicknesses, has the weather been keeping students inside for recess??? No matter what the situation, there is an oil for it!
Weighted Lap Pads
Weighted Lap pads and toys should be available in all classrooms for students to use when needed. They have been shown to improve attention, calm anxieties and help students relax. There are a variety of pads on the market from small rectangular blankets to cute weighted stuffed animals. These are not to be used all day, just when a student needs support in regulating their bodies.
Fidgets are useful for a variety of reasons and range from small cubes to sequenced textured throw pillows. They allow children who are struggling with anxiety or attention issues to self-soothe through the repetitive motion and/or tactile feeling, often removing distractions, either physical or mental. Without the distractions, anxiety can be better managed and attention can return to the task as planned. Another type of fidget would be to use stretchy resistance bands tied around the legs of a stable chair. The band allows movement for a child who “plays “ with it using his or her feet. Fidgets should not be used as a toy, which would lead to distracting behaviours.
With the accessibility of technology in classrooms, music can be used either individually or throughout the entire classroom. Slow music can help lower anxieties and hyperactivity, and increase focus. Students who have access to iPads or chrome books can utilise music as needed with earphones. Classroom teachers can play music for the entire class through speakers, Smartboards, or Apple TV systems. Some Youtube channels offer calming music with serene scenery for those who may benefit from the visual effects as well.
Flexible seating is a newer concept that allows a variety of seating options throughout the classroom for children. Allowing students to choose their own seat gives them ownership over their space as well as the ability to select a seat that physically feels good. Classrooms can have standard chairs, rocking chairs, wobbly stools, beanbag chairs, or even small carpet squares. Like fidgets, rocking chairs and wobbly stools allow some students movement that is needed in order to learn.
Studies show that movement improves brain function and reduces anxiety. Adding planned movement breaks into the school day allow opportunities for students to stretch, wiggle, and relax their mind. You can buy kid-friendly yoga cards to create a short routine after recess, introduce children to the crab walk or wall push-ups after a long assignment, or subscribe to a movement channel such as “Go Noodle” to use as needed. As with any activity, expectations should be clearly defined in order to keep the movement breaks relaxing and enjoyable for all students.
These simple classroom improvements will make the overall environment more enjoyable for everyone. Anxious students will benefit from the calmer atmosphere created by more natural light, uplifting oils, and relaxing music. Try at least one of these suggestions right away, and slowly work into implementing all 7 ideas. Comment below and share your success stories with us.
7 Simple Ways to Improve Classrooms for Anxious Students
I hope that you have enjoyed this post by Colleen and we very much look forward to hearing your success stories.
Until next time,