On any given day, children face a variety of stressors — from academic anxieties to trouble at home to stressful world events. While educators can’t make all these stressors go away, they can take steps to reduce stress in the classroom by promoting an environment that feels safe, comfortable, calm, and conducive to learning.
Take a look at these six strategies for reducing student stress and managing student anxiety that you can incorporate into your day. These strategies offer a wide range of benefits for students — from decreased stress levels to improved focus to an increased sense of mindfulness.
Strategies to reduce student stress in the classroom
A growing number of schools have integrated yoga into physical education programs and classroom curriculums. Yoga is proving to have some serious benefits. In addition to helping build balance, strength, and focus, yoga can also help reduce stress in children, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
You don’t have to be a yogi master to bring some of these benefits to your students, either. You may choose to set aside a few minutes a day for a dedicated practice. Or Teacher-Author Rainbow City Learning recommends weaving yoga into each of the stations in your classroom — your math station, your reading station, and more. “Create a routine with your students that before attempting each academic station, they practice a yoga pose and/or a breath. It’s a great way for them to clear their head and save some space in their brain for the learning to sink in.”
Looking to bring a yoga practice to your classroom? Check out these digital resources and starter ideas from TpT Teacher-Authors.
2) Guided meditation
Meditation is an approach to training the mind, similar to the way that fitness is an approach to training the body. As a classroom practice, meditation can help students strengthen their self-regulation skills and even build compassion for their peers.
Meditation can take many forms in the classroom. There’s really no right or wrong way. A sample scenario could look like this: At the start of class, play some calming music to initiate a meditation session. Students sit with both feet on the floor and their hands on their laps. Some close their eyes, while others gently gaze forward. A few may choose to rest their heads on their desks. After five minutes or so, gradually lower the volume of the music to end the practice. And the class then begins the next activity feeling relaxed and in a clearer state of mind.
Here’s another suggestion from Teacher-Author Pathway 2 Success. “Ask your students to find a spot on a rug or yoga mat and lie down. Have them close their eyes and just breathe in and out. Read a guided meditation to help kids visualize a soothing beach or a calm walk through the forest. Within a few minutes, kids will find themselves more calm and relaxed.”
Interested in guided meditation for your students? Check out these digital resources and starter ideas from TpT Teacher-Authors.
3) Calming corners
Calming corners are a great way to help students manage stress, both in school and at home. Calming corners are designated quiet areas often equipped with soft furnishings and soothing materials to help a student de-escalate when angry or upset. A calming corner isn’t meant to be a dull space where a student is banished to for a set number of minutes. Just the opposite, in fact. It should feel soothing and inviting.
Here’s some inspiration from music teacher and Teacher-Author SingToKids, as she describes what a calming corner looks like in her room: “I have a lovely mural painted in my room with a tree and birds around it. Under the tree, I have a small chair where my students can go when they are not ready to learn. It is not a time-out chair. It’s simply a place to go when a child is struggling to learn. Sometimes children go on their own and other times, I ask a child to go there. I have a small basket of items for students who need some type of physical release (e.g. squishy balls) and some items to help students calm down, such as small stuffed animals and sand timers. Most times, the student returns to the class on their own — and most do so within 3-5 minutes. If I have a child who was asked to go because of disruptive behavior, then I have them use a reflection sheet.”
Curious about setting up a calming corner in your classroom? Check out these digital resources and starter ideas from TpT Teacher-Authors.
4) Brain breaks
Brain breaks are based on the idea that when students briefly switch to a new activity, different networks in the brain are mobilized. The resting pathways are given the opportunity to restore their focus so students can return to the other activity with a fostered sense of focus and attention. The Teacher-Authors from Second Story Window explain brain breaks like this: “It’s like stacking books on a shelf. You may have some amazing literary treasures — Oliver Twist and Of Mice and Men — and you’ve got the energy to shove books up there all day. But once the shelf is full, no matter how great the book, it just won’t fit. It’s the same thing in our classrooms. You may continue teaching, but kids’ brains won’t continue learning. Unlike a bookshelf, the brain has a way to clear more space. The hippocampus works to convert working memory to long-term memory. So a brain break is literally a time-out for the brain to have a chance to free up some space for future information.”
Brain breaks are great for transitions, raising or lowering the energy of the class, team-building, calming any tension, filling the last few minutes of class, and more. They’re often movement-based but don’t necessarily have to be. Examples may include answering funny questions, singing silly songs, or pretending to be a certain animal.
Eager to bring some brain breaks into the day? Check out these digital resources and starter ideas from TpT Teacher-Authors.
5) Movement breaks
In some classrooms, brain breaks and movement breaks happen together. Movement breaks are basically brief intervals that enable students to move move move! The purpose of movement beaks isn’t just to help students get their “wiggles” out (although that’s a fun benefit, for sure). They also help energize students and increase their ability to focus on the next learning activity. Examples of movement breaks include a spur-of-the-moment dance party or a quick scavenger hunt. Teacher-Author PlayLearnTeach loves doing movement breaks during indoor recess, classroom transitions, and music blocks.
Excited to get your students moving and sharking? Check out these digital resources and starter ideas from TpT Teacher-Authors.
6) Self-esteem activities
Self-esteem activities are based on the idea that when students write down positive thoughts about themselves, these thoughts are reinforced in their minds. By thinking about themselves and their attributes positively, their self-esteem is heightened. Self-esteem activities are also an opportunity to celebrate the positive qualities of their peers and learn that it’s normal for people to have different strengths.
Teacher-Author and school psychologist Social Emotional Workshop adds this interesting insight. “Self-esteem isn’t just thinking you don’t look right or are worse at something than others. It is also whether you think those things are important. For example, I can’t do a split or a handstand. I never could. When I was a kid, this was important to me and I felt bad about myself that I couldn’t do it. Other kids just seemed cooler or more athletic because they could. As I got older, handstand skills became less important to me (and everyone else). I stopped feeling bad about my poor skills. My self-esteem in this area changed. Not because I did anything to change it, but because it became less important. If students understand the way their self-esteem increases or decreases, they will have more control over improving it. It is empowering to know you can change something and it isn’t permanent.”
Interested in exploring self-esteem activities? Check out these digital resources and starter ideas from TpT Teacher-Authors.
Interested in adding stress-reducing strategies to your day? Take a look at some resources from Teacher-Authors in the TpT community.
PreK – 2nd Grade
K – 3rd Grade
2nd – 5th Grade
PreK – 7th Grade
Not Grade Specific
By helping your students reduce their stress levels, you’re priming their minds for great learning to happen. Many of these stress-reducing activities don’t even need their own separate time block and can be intertwined throughout the day. Consider trying a few of these strategies for managing stress in the classroom with your students — see what they enjoy and what brings about the best results.