November 15, 2021 10 min read
You've probably heard about Zones of Regulation, but might not know what it is. We've put together an indepth guide that should answer all the common questions and help you implement Zones in your classroom.
Regulating our emotions as adults isn’t easy. Even though we have had years and years of practice developing our coping skills, we still sometimes find it difficult. Now put yourselves in a child’s shoes. They aren’t experienced or in control as an adult. They need additional help, such as in the form of The Zones of Regulation.
The Zones of Regulation help give children scaffolded skills that build awareness about their feelings and build tools to deal with them. That could be using a mindful approach to failure, adopting prosocial skills, or just learning to take better care of themselves.
Because the Zones of Regulation helps to improve the emotional wellbeing of neurodiverse learners, implementing them in your classroom is key. You can make your students feel better about themselves, improve their social interactions, and make great steps forward in their academic and emotional learning.
But involving the Zones of Regulation in your day-to-day teaching isn’t easy. That’s why I wanted to put a little guide to help you understand what the Zones are, how they will benefit you and your students, and how you can get the most out of using simple Zones of Regulation activities to improve your lessons.
Before we can start discussing the purpose of Zones of Regulation, we need to know what it is. Here’s a good example of Zones of Regulation best practice in a learning environment:
Implementing visual Zones of Regulation can boost student interaction
Here we see that the bold, eye-catching display is made up of 4 different sections.
This is best practice for several reasons:
• A visual and eye-catching display to engage all students
• Students actively get involved with the task
• Self-reflection is built into the task
• Prompts are given to scaffold children with introspection
So, what are the Zones of Regulation? There are four of them and they all can tell you vital information about a child’s mental state. Understanding what they mean and how you can relate them to your students’ mental state is key for making Zones of Regulation work for you.
The Red Zone is for heightened levels of alertness or intense emotions. This covers a range of behaviours that teachers might consider challenging, including anger, fear, and uncontrollable hyperactivity.
If students share that they are in the Red Zone, you can help direct them towards activities and strategies that will calm them down. These activities will depend on the child in question - it could be quiet reading time, time away from class, or even some on-the-spot exercise to get rid of excess energy.
The Yellow Zone is the state of alertness between the Red Zone (in or approach crisis emotions) and calm. This means you could have children who are feeling apprehensive, anxious, or nervous as well as those feeling silly or fidgety.
When students are in the Yellow Zone, we want them to move back towards the Green Zone. They aren’t in crisis, so you may want to use distraction techniques, quick-fire questioning, or any other calming activity that works with your students.
The Green Zone is level with states of alertness and feelings of calm. This is where students learn best. Implementing strategies to help students move towards the Green Zone as often as possible is key for success using the Zone of Regulation.
I like to think of the Green Zone as being the Ready To Learn Zone. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the students are quiet and content - they might say they are happy, focused, or just relaxed. The Green Zone covers all behaviours which are conducive for learning.
The Blue Zone is for low states of alertness and feeling down. I think this is one of the real strengths of the Zones of Regulation - students can share when they feel like they can’t engage fully because of low mood, sickness, or boredom.
Teachers can often be accused of not considering how poor sleeping patterns, difficult home lives, or anything else that affects engagement in a class. But how can you consider it if you don’t know? Using the Zones of Regulation, children can openly express challenging feelings and low moods safely.
Each zone covers a rather large range of emotions. This is by design. We want to make emotions easy for children to understand so they can recognise their feelings and use metacognition. Metacognition is thinking about the way we think, which is central to controlling and changing challenging behaviours.
When teaching young or neurodiverse children, we can give them clear signs to show how they feel. Expressing emotions can be extremely difficult for children as (sometimes) they don’t know what they are feeling. They might be feeling so angry or so sad that they cannot express their emotions in words.
By breaking down emotions into four, easy to identify signs, children can express what type of mood they are in. This is important for 2 reasons:
• They can reduce complex emotions into one of 4 colours that broadly describe readiness for learning
• They can share their feelings without having to express themselves in words
Both of these factors are excellent for students who struggle with extreme states of emotion, whether describing them or suffering from them. 2 groups of children fall into this bracket: the very young and the neurodiverse.
Implementing the Zones of Regulation in your classroom is excellent for very young children as well as neurodiverse children. By giving them away to express themselves through a visual cue, you remove a lot of the additional stress that comes with expressing extreme states of emotion.
If a child is feeling a Red Zone emotion, they will probably not be able to engage with the content of the lesson. They may be seething with rage or extremely anxious. Learning could well be one of the last things on their minds.
Effective use of the Zones of Regulation means that students can clearly and easily communicate their feelings and emotions to the teacher, teaching assistants, their peers, and anyone else who needs to understand. Then the second part of the Zones of Regulation comes into play.
Implementing these scaffolded skills allows students to make great leaps forward in their emotional regulation. In the beginning, the children will need a lot of adult support.
Let’s create a situation that will be familiar to people who have worked with very young or neurodiverse children. I want to show you just how easy it can be to misread a neurodiverse child’s mental state.
> Your students come into your classroom after a break and all sit down ready to get on with the next lesson.
> You give out the instructions and almost all students begin to work.
> Aside from one.
> You ask the student why they aren’t working and you receive an unexpected reaction.
> Maybe the child bursts into tears or they shout at you.
From your point of view, this outburst of emotion is completely bizarre and you now have to either make off the cuff changes to the lesson plan to comfort the child or have to deal with challenging behaviours.
Odds are that asking them to begin working didn’t set off this outburst of emotion. We as teachers aren’t mind readers. This means that we might be guilty of assuming that a child who isn’t engaging is acting defiantly or just wasn’t listening. The sudden outburst might even “confirm” our suspicions, even though we might have jumped to conclusions.
There was something already bubbling under the surface that you didn’t know about. This child was already in a heightened state and you were the straw that broke the camel’s back and they are not equipped with te regulation strategies to deal with these emotions. Although that’s not your fault, we would have a better chance of avoiding this situation if we used the Zones of Regulation.
If the child could have expressed their heightened state of emotion to you, you would have known not to approach them. They could have focused on their emotions, used their calming techniques to bring themselves out of the Red Zone and closer to the Green Zone and acheiveing a higher level of emotional control.
The implications for teachers are that students can express these heightened states and support students better (potentially without even talking). All emotions are reduced to 4 simple colours that students can use to think about how they feel and think about how they move towards classroom-appropriate behaviour.
Implementing Zones of Regulation activities is not a quick fix. This is not so much an activity as a life skill that students must guide themselves. Making it a part of your classroom experience is key. Students have to be aware of their own emotional state and aware of how to share that state with the people who need to know.
Here are some easy to implement strategies to help your students express themselves in your classroom. For a range of resources to easily implement these strategies, take a look at our Zones of Regulation Pack here. Encouraging emotional awareness with your Teacher’s Pet Creature can be even easier with the wide variety of resources.
Make the Zones of Regulation a clear part of your classroom displays
Making a simple display to help students share their emotional state is great because:
• It is easy for everyone to see
• It breaks down complex emotions in a simple 4-part graph
• All students know that they can use it (by pointing, perhaps) when they need to
The Four Zones don’t need to be displayed all together. I’d recommend putting them on display on four different walls in your classroom. This way, you can turn using the Zones into an active process.
Whenever you bring your students into your classroom, you can ask them to describe their emotions by moving to the appropriate zone. Then you can differentiate. Green Zone students can get started on the next task, whereas children in the other Zones can start using techniques to get back into the Green Zone and get back to learning!
You even can make your own display using the resources that are found in the Teacher’s Pet Creature Zone of Regulation Pack.
Make the four zones into something all your students can use
I call this Traffic Lights, but there are a million ways to integrate this technique into your classroom. Each student must have four objects (whether they are mock road signs, counters, or pieces of laminated paper). Each student should have one red, one yellow, one green, and one blue object.
To share their emotional state, students can hold up or otherwise present the appropriate object. For example, when you ask your class to come into the classroom, they may all hold up green road signs. This means they are all ready to learn. If you see a child has held up a red, yellow, or blue road sign, you know that you have to attend to their needs.
A Zones of Regulation display and Traffic Lights are only ways of communicating emotions, however. Implementing The Zones of Regulation into your classroom effectively needs an extra step - a step where each student can then reflect on their emotions and begins to work around them.
The Zones of Regulation Pack also contains useful resources that can help you make Traffic Lights an everyday experience in your classroom.
Mindfulness can be used hand-in-hand with the Zones of Regulation
In teaching students to manage and regulate their emotions, we need to scaffold and support them. It is all well and good for them to identify that they are in the Red Zone, but very young or neurodiverse children often do not have the skills to calm down.
Mindfulness is all the rage in teaching for a reason - it works. It has been shown to help students reduce their levels of stress, perform better academically, and regulate their emotions in a healthier way.
Introducing meditation and behaviour regulation techniques to children gives them a toolbox of skills for calming down, reflecting on positive and challenging behaviours, and making decisions based on metacognition.
But Mindfulness doesn’t work if there is no reflection. Encouraging students to recognise their emotions through the Zones of Regulation, build effective strategies around them, and then reflect on them is key to getting the most out of both the Zones of Regulation and Mindfulness. Check out our useful Zones of Regulation Pack for some useful reflective resources that you can use in your class.
Implementing Mindfulness is a large task in itself. If you want a detailed guide on some ways to introduce mindfulness techniques in your class, check out our guide on how Mindfulness can help you improve your classroom.
Your Teacher’s Pet Creature can be your students’ self-regulation best friend
The Teacher’s Pet Creature is perfect for supporting children that are in the Red, Yellow, or Blue Zones. Learning about emotions and self-regulation is key to taking steps forward with your students and the Teacher’s Pet Creature Regulation Book & Plush bundle is a perfect introduction to the topic.
Learning to manage our own emotions is a long journey, but your children can start it with a new best friend. The story guides your classroom through a range of positive and challenging emotions and ways that we can learn to deal with them.
As a designated classroom best friend, it can help you manage heightened states of emotion in your class by supporting and comforting children. Developing an emotional regulation strategy around your Teacher’s Pet Creature can give children who often find themselves in the Red Zone an easy, accessible regulation technique.
The Zones of Regulation are key for inclusively managing your classroom. Neurodiverse children can struggle to manage their emotions and struggle even more to deal with challenging feelings (such as Red Zone and Yellow Zone ones) in a healthy, appropriate way.
By introducing the Zones into your classroom, you can give your students another way to express themselves. Difficult conversations about identifying feelings and developing strategies can be avoided. Then behaviour management techniques and strategies can be implemented earlier, preferably before any challenging behaviours appear.
The benefits are clear for kids, especially for those with communication challenges - they can share difficult emotions in any easy way. Similarly, children who often miss out on interaction time with teachers and their peers have better strategies that they can implement. This means more learning, more interaction, and better academic and social attainment.
And teachers also benefit. Classroom disruptions are less frequent and you know that you have tools and processes in place to support children. Supporting neurodiverse children can be one of the biggest challenges for newly qualified and veterans, but the Zones of Regulation aid in giving teachers the best chance possible.
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