What do thinking gum, body breaks and a calm fort all have in common? They’re just three of the things that you can expect to see in Elysa Morin’s Grade 1 classroom. Along with literacy, math and the other curriculum components, Morin says mindfulness exercises and physical activities, including stretching and even Yoga poses, are also a big part of her class’ routine. “My goal is to have them be able to self-regulate and know what helps them calm down,” says Morin. “They’re so receptive to that at that age.” One of her happiest moments last year came, she says, when one of her more anxious students used a calming strategy to help herself through a difficult moment. “I remember her telling me after an assembly: ‘It was really noisy in the gym and I was a bit stressed but I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing and then I felt calm.'”
Morin has also created a “calm fort” in her classroom. “When they’re feeling overwhelmed or upset instead of blowing out in class, they’ll just let me know they’re going to the calm fort,” she says, adding the kids are really good at using it appropriately. While there, a student might choose to take 10 breaths with a breathing ball or paint on the Buddha Board—an art board where you create designs with water that eventually dry and disappear. It’s a great area to get a little time and space says Morin, noting the kids make the call on when they visit the space.
“It helps to proactively nip things in the bud.”
As for the gum? Morin says it’s a tip that she picked up from an occupational therapist during her first year of classroom teaching. “It’s heavy work on the jaw so it really helps the children focus,” she explains, adding that rules around the thinking gum include staying seated and quiet chewing. “I don’t give it out all the time. It’s mostly for sustained writing tasks—things that are hard for little five- and six-year-old bodies to sit through.”
Morin insists that her fun and innovative approaches to learning fit right in at Prince of Wales School where she describes both the admin staff and her co-workers as forward thinking. “It’s just an incredible place for doing anything that helps the kids,” she says. “It’s the kind of environment where trying things like thinking gum and calm forts is completely supported and encouraged.”