How to Create Sensory Spaces at Home
When you’re upset, you probably know how to work through your emotions, but children often don’t have the skills to identify what they need. To help them work through their emotions, try doing what our teachers do in our classrooms and create a quiet area and an active area in your home:
Quiet Areas give your child a quiet area to retreat to for a break when they feel stressed, overwhelmed, or just need to chill. From stuffed animals to sensory bottles, read on to see what items to include and what activities to help engage your child in this space.
Active Areas designate a space where your child can engage in big body play and heavy work when they feel antsy, overwhelmed, or just need to get the wiggles out. Check out our list of essentials, like pillows for yelling into, art supplies to get creative, movement activities, and more.
Children are the same way! The only difference is that they often don’t have the skills to identify what they need to help regulate their emotions. While you may head out for a run and pound the pavement, they may have a meltdown and pound the floor. We know these moments can be overwhelming for everyone. So that’s why our educators are sharing tips to help you set up emotional processing spaces.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to process our own emotions because that puts you in a vulnerable position,” says Taunya Banta from KinderCare’s Inclusion Services team. To help children work through their emotions before they become overwhelmed, try doing what our teachers do in our classrooms and create a space filled with things that allow your child to find emotional release in a safe way.
Watch how your child shows their emotions and then give them safe alternatives. For example, if they tend to yell and hit, have pillows available to punch or yell into. If space allows, Taunya recommends creating both an active area and a quiet area, so you can choose which area will serve your child best in a certain moment. And these areas don’t have to be big spaces; small corners of a room can be transformed into cozy nooks or hold active activities.
How to create a quiet area at home
Here are a few things you may want to include in your child’s quiet area:
- Pillows and blankets
- Favorite stuffed animals or toys
- Pictures of your family, friends, or pets
- An emotions chart (Find inspiration from Tucker the Turtle)
- Calming strategies
- Noise-canceling headphones or earmuffs
- Paper and coloring materials
- Sunglasses and a hat to wear if they choose (for blocking out bright lights or to “disappear” for a moment)
- Puzzles and building blocks
- Paper with a stop sign on one side (“Not ready to talk”) and a green light on the other (“Ready to talk”)
- Homemade manipulatives, like fidgets made of yarn and pipe cleaners or baggies filled with hair gel and food coloring (These are great options for pre-k children or older, who may not need supervision)
- Create mindfulness items, like sensory bottles (oil, water, food coloring, glitter, small toys)
How to use a quiet area
- Have your child help pick where they’d like their calming space to be.
- Offer options for different calming toys and materials so your child can choose what works best for them.
- Talk to your child about what the space can be used for and rules for the area. For example: "Sometimes when we feel frustrated or upset, we need a moment to ourselves. This is a special place for you! You can come here to get away when you need it."
- Consistently model specific words and phrases for tricky feelings so your child builds their emotional vocabulary to identify their needs. For younger children, that might be: "I'm mad," "No, stop," or "I don't like that." For older children, it may be: "I need a break," or "I'm not ready to talk.”
- Continue to evolve your calm space, observing which tools and strategies work well and which need to be swapped out.
- Babies also enjoy quiet, calm areas. Engage them with soothing music, a cozy play mat, and their favorite stuffed animal.
- Just a reminder: This is not a space for time-outs or punishment. Calm spaces offer a place to reset and practice self-regulation.
How to create an active area at homeActive spaces designate an area where your child can engage in big body play and heavy work when they feel antsy, overwhelmed, or just need to get the wiggles out. They provide an easy way to give kids’ bodies and brains what they need: movement!
Here are a few things your child’s active area might include:
- Shapes on the floor (using painter tape inside or chalk on cement outside) to jump across or run in place
- Bean bags and buckets or cardboard boxes for throwing targets
- A weighted wagon or box for pushing along a maze or course
- Coloring and arts and crafts supplies
- Bubble wrap or water bottles for stomping
- Taped lines to practice balancing steps
- Newspaper or scrap papers to shred
- Masking tape or sidewalk chalk hopscotch
- High-jump markers (Cut out handprints, tape them up the wall, and see how high your child can jump for a “high five”)
- Cut-out handprints on the wall for practicing wall push-ups
- Pillows for yelling into (This one's great for adults, too!)
How to use an active area
- Have your child help pick where the active space should go. You’ll want it to be away from their calming space or any designated quiet areas in your home.
- Offer options for different active toys and materials so they can choose what works best for them.
- Talk to your child about what the space can be used for and rules for the area. For example: "Sometimes when I feel mad, I want to hit. It's okay to be mad, but it's not okay to hit people. Know what's okay to hit? Pillows. This is a place where you can come to hit pillows and yell into them when you need it."
- Continue to evolve your active space, observing which tools and strategies work well and which need to be swapped out.
- Babies love active areas too! Include a mirror to make faces and name emotions with your little one.