As New Yorkers, the noise and crowding of our city is often also present in our classrooms. It’s important to validate the need we all have to find balance and calm in our busy days. One responsibility I take seriously as an elementary school educator is to help students learn to value moments of peace and calm. I also help students learn to advocate for themselves when they need time, space and quiet to process feelings or calm themselves.
One strategy I’ve used with success is to create a Peace Place in my classroom. A single desk with a chair near the rug, in clear view of the teacher, the Peace Place is available to any student who needs a few minutes and some space to calm down when feeling upset. I teach students to let me know if they could benefit from some time at the Peace Place, often by making the American Sign Language sign for “peace.”
Over the years, students have asked to use the Peace Place in my classroom for a variety of reasons, including issues around separation from parents in the morning, struggles with generating ideas for writing and arguments during recess. At the Peace Place, there are several books about feelings for students to peruse, a stress ball, a stuffed animal and a journal for drawing or writing about feelings in a safe, confidential way.
I also keep a three-minute timer in the Peace Place. Watching the sand go through the timer is soothing for many students, and they generally feel more peaceful in under five minutes.
In that spot, I have taped a welcome card that reads: “Welcome to the Peace Place. This is a place for quiet and calm. You may: take deep breaths, write something, draw something, read a book, squeeze the stress ball, sit with your head down to calm yourself, make something with Model Magic or whisper something to the stuffed animal.”
Since I first tried using a Peace Place in my 2nd-grade classroom over a decade ago, I have seen the benefits and continue to introduce the Peace Place to my students in the first few weeks of each school year. I often read a book or two to help students understand the idea of using a quiet place to find inner calm. “A Quiet Place” by Douglas Wood is engaging and relevant, and “Feelings” by Aliki and “The Feelings Book” by Todd Parr help teach students to be more conscious about what they are feeling and to negotiate feelings.
When talking about the Peace Place, I remind students that it is designed to help them to breathe and bring peace back to their bodies and minds. Sometimes, this leads to discussions about conflict resolution, meditation and strategies for managing feelings in productive ways.
I have found that students who can find inner calm are more focused learners, more empathetic community members and are better equipped to face challenges and negotiate conflicts.
If a student asks to use the Peace Place, but it is already occupied or if I have a hunch the student could work out the troublesome feelings without the Peace Place, I may ask them to try to find peace within themselves at their own seat, sometimes offering a stress ball or an egg timer. Usually, students will ask to use the spot at appropriate times. Occasionally, I will suggest that a student may want to try sitting at the Peace Place for a few minutes, though I am careful that it is never used or viewed punitively.
I have geared the Peace Place for one student at a time, but colleagues have had success allowing students who are in a conflict to spend some time together at a Peace Place. Often, a conflict between two young students dissolves almost effortlessly when they are offered the time and calm space to create something together — a collaborative drawing or a simple collaborative sculpture. Other students benefit from talking things out, and some helpful sentence starters (“I am feeling…” “I want you to understand…” etc.) placed in the Peace Place can help students to work together to resolve conflicts without teacher support.
Tennyson wrote, “There is no joy but calm.” In classrooms filled with much learning and activity, I have found it essential to help students find the joy in peace and calm.