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23 Ideas to Teach Your Students Self-Regulation

February 22, 2022 by Christopher Olson




I’m going to be brutally honest right now and I apologize if it ruffles any feathers… however, I am finding that students this year are having a harder time than ever before following the basic expectations of the classroom.  You ask them to line up, they are crawling, wiggling, running, pushing to get in line.  Alright let’s get out workbooks from our desk… some are under it, some have pages ripped out, one has it in their mouth!?!  Don’t even get me started on group work.  Students’ self-regulation is so affected this year and I don’t know what to do.

Does your classroom resemble mine this school year? Can you blame Covid?  Maybe.  Can you blame it on distance learning and being home all the time?  Maybe.  Or is it purely just immaturity?  Who knows!?  However, there is one thing I do know and that is the importance of social-emotional learning. Tying in activities regarding students’ self-regulation is not only fun but keeps students engaged!  Here are 23 ideas to get you started with teaching your students self-regulation.

Self-Regulation Idea 1 – Social Emotional Learning K – 2

Students already walk into our classrooms dealing with external factors like hunger, poverty, family issues, health concerns, and sometimes other things that we could never even imagine. Some of these factors we may never be aware of as teachers unless we start building rapport and have our students open up to us after building positive relationships and trust.
Social-Emotional Learning K-2 Resource covers SEL pillars like Self-Awareness, Social-Awareness, Responsible Decision Making, Self-Management, Relationships Skills, and Growth Mindset.  Provide your students with hands-on activities to address not only emotions in general but specific self-regulation skills.

Idea 2 – Parachute!

Who doesn’t love a parachute activity?!?  This allows children to control their movements, listen, and remember directions with a non-competitive social interaction.  Following directions and self-control is written ALL over this activity.  Toss light balls into the middle of the parachute and allow students the opportunity to control their own actions. Shake the parachute to make the balls on the top bounce, but not too much that the balls fly out.  

3 – Jenga

Students and adults alike need coordination, patience, and problem-solving skills for this game!  You can even modify this game for higher learners or older children.  You can write questions on paper to tape to the block for when the student pulls the block out they need to answer the question or solve the problem on the block before placing it back on top.

Self-Regulation Idea 4 – Relay Races

Teamwork and controlling emotions is the main part of relay races.  Working together and cheering each other on is always a great sight to see when children participate in races together.

Idea 5 – Headbanz

Another fun game for self-regulation!  It takes a lot of control to not be impulsive and scream out the picture on their friend’s band!  This is another great game that can be adapted based on skill level.

6 – Mood Calendar

Have you seen these calendar printables from Education to the Core’s CORE binder?  This set of student work masts is the ULTIMATE resource that covers daily activities from classroom routines, math, and ELA.  These Classroom Organizers and Resources for Education also include social and emotional tools because we know teaching isn’t all 123s and ABCs.

Not only does this binder have a little bit of everything for you, but this is also a blog purely for self-regulation, so let’s apply these calendars to create your own “Mood Calendar”.  Let students track their own emotions and feelings.  Each day have your students color their own calendars.  You can differentiate as you wish.  Sticking with two colors (ex. green for a happy day, yellow for not so happy day) or add in multiple colors if it is appropriate for your students.  Another great option is to divide the day on the calendar in half.  Part of the morning meeting is to color in the AM section of the day based upon your feelings upon arrival to school.  Then revisit the mood calendar before you leave school.  At the end of the week have students visually see their week or month so far and how their feelings are and if they notice any patterns?

Self-Regulation Idea 7 – Duck, Duck, Goose

Here is a  great social group game for the whole class to play.  This game allows students to use their waiting skills as well as coping skills if they don’t immediately get chosen.

Idea 8 – Ready, Set, Go

I incorporate this game in various ways throughout the day.  Perhaps I provide an assignment or a timed math fact practice.  Before we begin I always say: “Ready, Set…Go!”  My students enjoy it because I usually pause for an extended time between set and go.  It is also never the same amount of time twice in a row!  It allows the students to work on their listening skills, resist temptation, and have self-control. You can also incorporate this with races and other games as well.

9 – Color By Number

Do you find coloring relaxing?  What about an artistic outlet for your students to self-regulate?  That’s exactly what Color by Number offers you!  That… AND it is academic!  Wow, talk about a powerful combination.

Each set in this series offers both ELA and Math topics while also staying within a seasonal theme! This resource also comes based on a K-1 range as well as a 2-3 grade range so you can easily differentiate for intervention or enrichment.

Self-Regulation Idea 10 – Body Scan

Body Scan is a great mindful activity for children and adults to complete.  This mindful activity helps with anxiety, sleep, improving mood and self-regulation.  Starting in a comfortable position, the individual begins with two to three deep breaths.  With your eyes closed and for the next deep breath, focus on your feet.  Notice how they feel… are they cold, warm?  Wiggly?  However, they feel that is okay!  Concentrate on just that body part for a few breaths.  Now work your way up noticing how your lower legs feel.  Work your way up the body to your head taking deep breaths throughout and concentrating on JUST that area at that moment.  It is a great exercise for feeling grounded.

If you are not comfortable leading this type of activity don’t worry!  Here is a great kid-friendly video to get you started.  Also, check out the blog Focus and Reduce Stress with 30 Breathing Exercises for even more mindful breathing activities.

Idea 11 – Self-Control Bubbles

You will need bubbles for this game.  This is a great time to truly sit as a whole group and discuss what self-regulation is.  How it feels and what it looks like.  First, you blow the bubbles and allow students to pop them as fast as they can.  Once they are all popped, you want to repeat blowing the bubbles.  However, this time students are not allowed to pop any of them.  It is a great visual as well as a conversation to have about the feeling of really wanting to do something, but having to hold back.

12 – Red Light, Green Light

I am not sure about your students, but my students know the show “Squid Games”.  Age-appropriate?  Appropriate for school?  Probably not, however, they know how to play one of the best self-regulation games on this list!  Red Light, Green Light.  Here is another game that incorporates listening skills as well as impulse control.  The students would have to cross the room or recess yard however only moving on a green light prompt.  When the red light is called they need to stop immediately and cannot move until the green light is said.

Self-Regulation Idea 13 – YouTube Videos

Idea 14 – Social Emotional Learning 3 – 5

If Social Emotional Learning K-2 wasn’t a fit for you, then let us introduce Social Emotional Learning 3-5!  This 3-5 resource has everything that our K-2 resource has but is suited perfectly for slightly older students.  With conversation cards, discussion questions, activities, videos, read-aloud, cross-curricular activities, and more you don’t have to stress to plan or prep.  If that isn’t enough… we have student slides in both versions as well!  Daily check-ins, mindful moments, reflection questions will all act as a great morning meeting moment, student journal activity, or any other moment throughout the day!

15 – Partner Races

Two children need to pair up to carry objects across the room using various parts of their bodies.  Perhaps they need to carry a ball using just their elbows together or their shoulders.  Not only do they need to work together as a pair, but they both need to control their emotions, speed, and communicate together. 

Self-Regulation Idea 16 – Musical Chairs

Improving listening skills and understanding as well as accepting a loss in a safe place are a few skills to learn while playing musical chairs.

Idea 17 – Freeze Game

Here is another great game for listening and impulsivity!  Play some music and when you pause it the child needs to freeze in whatever pose they are in.  They would remain frozen until the music resumes.  You can modify or adapt this game with rules of your own; like dancing slow or fast depending on the tempo of the music.

18 – Bop It!

Similar to “Simon Says”, Bop It is a game that directs instructions for students to follow.  Working memory and listening skills are a must as well as remaining calm when a mistake is made.

Self-Regulation Idea 19 – Hide and Seek

Perhaps this one may not be the best choice for a classroom setting, hide-and-seek is another game that incorporates self-regulation.  However, talk about a great home-school connection! Share several of these activities from this self-regulation list with families to do together at home.  I mean, why not share the entire blog!  Hide and seek allows students to incorporate their working memory and self-control.  They need to plan and prioritize appropriate hiding places as well as impulse control of remaining quiet.

Idea 20 – Directed Drawings or Transformation Station

Remember #9 Color By Number and the artistic outlet it provided? Here are two more calming artistic activities that not only promote self-regulation but boost confidence as well!  Once students complete the step-by-step directions, they have full creative freedom to add on to the drawing however they would like! So many of our little learners enjoy coloring and drawing. Why not naturally incorporate that into their learning?

21 – Balloon Volleyball

Here is another effortless game on this list that does not require a whole lot of setup!  All you need is to blow up a balloon.  You can work in pairs or small groups to keep the balloon in the air in a game of volleyball.  Students will need to control their impulses and hit the balloon at the correct force to keep it afloat. 

Self-Regulation Idea 22 – Don’t Break the Ice

This is one of my personal favorites, however a pain to set up!  Although it may be a pain to set up for such a short-lived game… it is one of the best self-regulation games I can think of.  Participants need to be patient, strategic and use their problem-solving skills to make sure they are choosing the correct ice cubes to hit.  They also need to control their impulses and hit the block with the correct force to only hit that one block out.

Idea 23 – Self-Regulation Read Alouds

I hope you know me by now, that no “list” is ever complete for me without some read alouds!  I don’t know what it is, but I just LOVE incorporating a text with my lessons and topics.  Self-regulation is no exception.  That is why I incorporated a book list to go with each pillar in the Social-Emotional Learning K-2 and 3-5 resource from #1 and #2 on this list.  So be sure to check out those resources for tons of Social-Emotional topics and read alouds.  However, let’s pull some good self-regulation texts:

What ideas from this list stand out to you and your students?  Would you add any other ideas to add to this already great list to help self-regulate your students?  Let us know in the comments below! It is important to not only teach how to do each of these ideas but then also teach when and how students can request these ideas appropriately and independently.

Written By – Christopher Olson

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