Picture yourself in an early years learning environment. The classroom is set up for a number of successful play episodes and the children are all engaged. Tiny hands are painting vibrant pictures in the art center. Little sensorimotor scientists are at the science table, exploring which items sink or float. In the music corner, someone is playing the drums and the tambourine simultaneously, while another person is slamming their hands on a piano.
All of a sudden, you hear thundering footsteps in one corner of the classroom, there’s a voice shouting Baby Shark at the top of their lungs, toy fire trucks are crashing into one another, and is that someone crying? Who is crying in the book center?!? It’s enough to make a grown person want to say, “you children better self-regulate before I regulate you myself.”
Before it comes to that point, here’s an effective strategy that can be used in your learning environment. It’s one that I have utilized in many early years classrooms with much success. Based on a mindful meditation technique, this practice will hone the children’s self-regulation skills, and will illustrate that mastering their energetic output is literally in the palm of their hands. The method? The children will shrink their energy balls.
Are you still with me?
What Is an Energy Ball?
This strategy will require some teaching and guidance beforehand. At some point in the curriculum, let the children know that everyone has an invisible energy ball. It’s not the kind of ball that you can see, but you can certainly feel it. It’s not the kind of ball that you can throw or catch, but you can make it smaller or bigger. You can’t buy in a toy store, but it’s something that you are born with and is always with you.
If your energy ball is big, it means that it is very loud and can hurt someone’s ears. It could be very bright, and the brightness can hurt your own eyes. Or it could even feel too hot to touch with your own hands! Let the children know that whenever their energy balls get too big, all you need to do is shrink them.
How to Shrink an Energy Ball
So how do you shrink you energy balls? It’s easy. First, you just stop and plant your feet on the ground. You become a tall tree that is impossible to knock over. And then you take three deep breaths and fill your belly with air like a huge balloon. One. Two. Three. Then you open up your arms and pretend that you are holding a massive beach ball. Very slowly, you keep breathing. You begin to count to ten, and while you count, you will bring your hands closer together.
Standing very still.
Taking very deep breaths.
Listening to the words of your teachers and friends.
Using kind words when we speak to one another.
Using our hands only for gentle touches with one another.
Sharing our toys.
Waiting patiently for our turn.
At this point, it might be a good idea to check in with the children. Ask them, “how do you feel?” and “how does the classroom feel?” Allow them to recognize that the peace and tranquility is something that they created as a group, and it’s something that is available at any time.
Energy Ball Activity Tips
1. Have a Teacher Lead the Activity
Model the expected behavior by shrinking your own energy ball with the children. Start by making your body language and facial expressions sharp and staggered, and with as much exaggeration as you feel is effective. Soften your face and body as you count to ten.
2. Change Your Voice from Loud to Quiet
Similarly, use your voice to match your body language. Begin by being very loud! And then lower your voice as you count so that by the time you reach 10, it is almost a whisper.
3. Explain the Activity Ahead of Time
As briefly mentioned earlier, this will need some practice with the children before being usable in a live setting. During small group activities, take the time to explain what the energy balls are. Get them to practice while they are sitting down and listening to you, so that they know what the expected actions are when the appropriate times come.
When to Shrink Energy Balls
As your group gets accustomed to these actions, this can become a very handy strategy in your educator toolbox. During the daily schedule, it can be used during these times:
1. Lunch or Snack Time
These portions of the day can be quite social and boisterous, and the energy ball strategy can be helpful with keeping everyone’s focus.
2. Transition Periods
An educator can never have enough strategies to minimize the chaos during transitions.
3. Circle/Carpet Time
This is the perfect time to for the children to hone their self-regulation techniques.
Eventually, you may find that you won’t have to go through the entire sequence of words and actions. It can evolve into simple and quick check-ins with the children as needed: “How’s your energy ball right now?” Depending on the developmental level of your group, you can progress to communicating with them non-verbally. Simply giving them some meaningful eye contacting and bringing your palms together will cue them toward what you need them to do.
In my personal experience, this has been an effective strategy for preschool or kindergarten children. I’ve seen them hold each other accountable: “Your energy ball is too big right now!” And it hones their development in a number of domains and skills, such as self-concept, regulating behavior, and non-verbal communication. If it becomes a part of your classroom’s culture, it can contribute to the creation of a peaceful and productive learning environment for yourself and the children.
With some luck, and with fingers crossed, these moments will hopefully last for more than five minutes at a time.
Here are some more calming activities that you can also try in your classroom!