6 ways to help primary pupils learn self-regulation

The new early years framework will require the teaching of self-regulation. Here one international educator offers advice on how to make this work in the classroom

Jess Gosling

Using yoga to teach self regulation

With the revised statutory framework for early years (2021) due to be implemented in my school next academic year, it is important primary teachers are aware of adjustments to the Early Learning Goals (ELGs).

One key area is the expansion of the concept of self-regulation within the area of personal, social and emotional development.

The goal requires children to understand their feelings and those of others, begin to regulate their behaviour appropriately; to set and work towards simple goals, to wait for what they want, to control their immediate impulses when appropriate, and to give focused attention to what the teacher says, showing the ability to follow instructions. 

After all, without self-regulation, young children will not be prepared for learning pedagogies that take place in primary school – and as they continue through the school, they will struggle with following instructions and therefore, learn effectively.

Here are my suggestions for promoting a calm and mindful classroom, where children develop the tools to self-regulate.

1. Create a code for learning

Expectations for learning teach children how to be active learners in the classroom so it is important to provide a clear code for classroom behaviour.

For younger children, establish a maximum of three core rules to be followed. These can be co-created with the class to create ownership; but generally, I try to steer the expectations toward being kind, trying their best, and listening.

These all reflect the requirements for self-regulation. When I notice children following this guidance, I point it out and celebrate how they are learning so well.

I share my feelings also when I see that they are listening well and trying hard, as building relationships with my class is a very successful behaviour strategy.  

2. Help them understand each another's actions

For young children to understand and work through a problem, they need to be given the tools.

This means supporting children when talking through an issue with their friend, to find out the alternative point of view.

Using words such as, "Stop it, I don’t like it", instead of responding impulsively, such as pushing or snatching, gives children the chance to calm down and can prevent a situation from escalating.

Often the situation is based on a misunderstanding, which can be cleared quickly through such discussions.

During these interactions I also advise the children involved to closely look at one another, to see if they can identify how the other feels.

3. Provide calm down activities

After a very active task, such as outdoor play or PE, I ensure the environment is calm and peaceful. The lights are dimmed and we complete mindful activities such as rainbow breath, easily found on GoNoodle.

This supports children to slow down and regain their focus.

In addition, the activities require listening to instructions and following a teacher which is also a learning and self-regulation characteristic.

4. Talk about feelings

It's important to talk to pupils about feelings and how to describe them - such as being happy and playful but also worried, frustrated, and calm.

It is so important that children come to no only identify their feelings at a particular moment but also know what other feelings are like so they recognize them when they come along.

I do this by using photo cards to look carefully at expressions on the faces of a diverse range of people, and identify what we think the feelings are. These cards are kept on display throughout the year, and the children identify how they feel each day by placing their image next to a feeling.

Children find the idea of being calm difficult to understand initially, as they associate calm with being tired.

Therefore, this is where calm activities such as yoga are so important, as they allow given children the opportunity to experience calm.

5. Include yoga into the daily schedule

Indeed, with reference to yoga, we have now timetabled yoga four times per week for our young learners.

Not only is this excellent for building core strength and balance but after each practice, we discuss how our body and mind feel.

Children are usually able to identify this feeling as calm. Yoga has been an excellent way to support children to focus and follow simple instructions in a calm, considered way.

6. Talk about self-regulation

Our assemblies, circle times, and stories are carefully selected and created; often involving concepts of self-regulation so that we can talk about the idea itself with pupils.

This might involve discussing how to work and play with one another and the steps and words required to solve issues.

We can then often return to these issues when a situation arises in class where self-regulation would help.

For example, in one lesson, two children were trying to build a bridge across a box for their cars.

They were struggling as the bridge collapsed repeatedly. I could see they were becoming frustrated and pushing each other’s hands away from the structure.

At this point, I intervened and we discussed that they were feeling frustrated. I explained that pushing away one another’s hands was not working together. The children agreed that making the bridge was their goal and so would try together.

I did not tell them how to create it but instead watched and provided additional resources to try. If one child touched another’s hand in an attempt to gain control of the activity, I remarked upon this and gave them an example of what they could say, such as, "I want to try this Lego here first please".

When they completed the goal we discussed why we thought the activity was successful, in terms of their working together, and creating a bridge.

If these strategies are adopted, children are effectively supported to achieve self-regulation.

They are more aware of their and others' feelings; therefore, are kinder and gentler, calmer, and empowered to deal with their issues. 

Jess Gosling is an international teacher and author of Becoming a Successful International Teacher. She can be contacted via her website or Twitter @JessGosling2

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Jess Gosling

Jess Gosling is a Reception Teacher for the British section at Taipei European School.

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