What Are Your “Shelf Spaces?”

No doubt about it: the school year is coming to an end, and while educators may be feeling more relaxed now that report cards are in and some additional paperwork is done, this can be one of the most challenging times of the year for kids. Some children are really excited about summer coming, and others, are stressed knowing that routines are going to change and unsure about what the next few months will bring. New classes and teachers for next year also bring additional stress for some students, and kids present this stress in various ways. While some children can talk about their feelings, others act out in response to what they’re feeling. My teaching partner, Paula, and I have noticed both responses in our class, and we knew that we needed a plan.

Since about the middle of May, Paula and I have spent a lot of time talking about a couple of students in particular. We started to notice some new behaviour in the classroom.

  • A couple of kids were colouring on items other than paper.
  • A couple of kids were destroying other people’s work.
  • A couple of kids were blaming other children for problems they caused.
  • A couple of kids were yelling more, crying more, and interrupting more.
  • The wandering, which has not been a problem since the beginning of the school year, was starting up again.

Thinking about Stuart Shanker’s question of, “Why this child, and why now?,” Paula and I wondered if some student talk of the year coming to an end might have prompted this change in behaviour. Our classroom is really routine from the first day of school until the last, and with some special activities and assemblies, a few routines were starting to change. These couple of kids in particular really need this routine, and so were these small changes leading to bigger behaviours? 

While we’ve really considered what makes children feel calm, and how we can incorporate even more Self-Reg options into the classroom at this busy time of the year, we also recognized that it was the social component of play that was further increasing the stress response. These few children really needed a quieter, independent space. How could we create this space though when we teach in a small classroom, with no full wall between our room and the one next door, and many children in both rooms? We needed to get creative!

This is when we remembered how much our students love the shelves. We’ve even removed some of the dividing shelves to create little sitting and playing spaces in our shelves. Kids write and draw here, build here, and even chat quietly with their friends here. The safety and security of the shelf really seems to comfort our students, and many of the children choose these shelf spaces when they want and need the illusion of quiet.

What if we created another shelf space for these children that need it? 

We thought about what makes these kids feel calm.

  • Lego
  • Drawing and writing
  • Reading
  • Eating

And so, at the front of our classroom, right by the door, we put two chairs in front of the little shelf. We added some small boxes of supplies on the shelf, and we even create a “shelf eating space.” While we initially suggested that the children go here when problems arose, we quickly changed this plan, and helped those few kids that need it, choose this space after our meeting time. This way we could be proactive. 

  • The shelf allows for some small, predictable, social time.
  • It allows for preferred, open-ended activities, that children can easily do on their own or with a friend.
  • It has space for children to bring other materials to it that they want or need.
  • It’s near a garbage can, so “shelf eating” is possible, and even keeps some kids focused on their food instead of on everything else that’s happening in the room.

We helped kids see that this can be a quiet, calming, independent space. It’s not a punishment to go to the shelf. In fact, while we initially created it for a few children, we notice many other children seeking out this space throughout the day. Usually children choose it on their own. Sometimes we suggest the shelf, and many kids eagerly go.

It has truly worked wonders, and has made us realize that even in a small, busy room, there can still always be a space for quiet and independence. Imagine how many other kids — in other grades — might benefit from a shelf.

The other day, somebody placed this quote by Stuart Shanker on our staff room table. 

These simple, but profound words, I think align so well with the decisions that we made based on our observations in the past month. We could have punished children for misbehaving, but instead, we tried to reduce the stress that might be at play. Here’s to the shelf that saved these kids and our classroom! How do you provide these “shelf spaces” in your room, and what benefit might they have for children? In the remaining days of school, it’s these independent, quiet areas, which might just make the difference for kids and adults alike. What do you think?


2 thoughts on “What Are Your “Shelf Spaces?”

    • Oh yes, Jill! He was one of the ones that we created this space for, and he knew that he needed it. Love that he knew to ask for it. This was probably a day when some independence, quiet, and a little more Self-Reg were all necessary. 🙂


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