Sally Miller 4/5/2015
I retired 3 years ago after teaching children for 37 years. 20 of those years were spent teaching students with autism in elementary and preschool settings. Upon retiring, I began spending 1 day a week at my old school doing projects that I enjoyed and thought might benefit students. One such project is that I have spent 30 minutes a week for the past 3 years teaching relaxation in an elementary school CBSA (communication, behavior, social and academic) classroom. The focus of the CBSA class is on communication and social skills for students with moderate to severe disabilities. My intention was to create an ongoing relaxation class using the S.T.O.P. and Relax curriculum. My goal was to help the students learn how to slow themselves down so they can integrate this skill in their daily lives.
In order to prepare for relaxation three years ago, the teacher and I arranged a specific time and day for our group to meet. A picture of relaxation was placed on the student’s schedule. At relaxation time, the children would check their schedules and move to their spots on the rug. The S.T.O.P. and Relax easel was set up next to my spot with the seated picture in view. The lights were dimmed and soft music was playing. Teacher and assistants sat on the floor with the students in the seated positon. (Our first goal was for everyone to sit on the floor together quietly.)
I began relaxation with short, simple story that I made telling them what was going to happen and what their job was during this time. We then moved onto doing simple yoga positions and following the picture pages of the S.T.O.P. and Relax curriculum. (Prior to our group I had selected several simple seated positions from the easel packet and had placed them after the seated position. We also did some kneeling positions. We ended with the S.T.O.P. card. When we got to the S.T.O.P. card we would read and practice the 4 steps of S.T.O.P. several times. (Soft Face, Take 5 slow deep breaths, Open our chest and Check your Posture.) At the end of each relaxation class, a high five card was given to each student who participated and tried. Students are given their cards one at a time and it is their job to check their schedule upon completion. (Once a student gets 5 High Five Cards during the day, they get to choose a prize from the treasure box.)
The first year went well as one of the students (a little boy with Down syndrome) loved the routine of doing relaxation. He would set up the room for the activity, get the lights and straighten me out if I skipped something or gave an incorrect direction that was not in our usual routine. (He would also often want to teach the class and I would let him if he did so appropriately.) The other children in the class really liked him and enjoyed his antics. Some could do the activities and some couldn’t or wouldn’t, but all the students participated at a minimum of being there, being quiet and sitting. We moved along smoothly that year until one day something awful happened. This wonderful student, our relaxation enthusiast and model got very sick and died within a week.
Students, teachers and assistants spent the next many weeks dealing with their huge loss. Just looking at each other caused adults to break into tears. Children knew something big was off but didn’t understand. We stopped doing yoga for several weeks. I used my energy and time to make them a good bye book remembering their friend. It helped. Two years later the book is still on their bookshelf for students to look at when they need to.
During the month I thought and thought about our relaxation group. I wanted to continue doing relaxation, but things had to change for it to work. The remaining students at the time were functioning at a very different level. They were less independent and had more involved disabilities. I was going to have to change things to make it work. To ensure success things needed to be simplified and goals needed to be attainable. I had to look at what each child could do independently and build from there
This is what I did. When we met on the rug each week, I read the pre-relaxation story. I then moved through several simple seated positions in the S.T.O.P. and Relax easel kit. When we got to folded leaf, we stayed in that position. (Up until this time, some of the children participated but most needed verbal and physical prompting. ) The next thing we did was include a variety of verbal directions that their teacher was working on with them. (Some examples are: clap, touch your head, touch your nose, your toes….) Immediately everyone joined in with some if not all of the imitations. This was a big hit. All of the children responded to this part independently. We then moved on to rock the baby. Finish with S.T.O.P.
Our weekly relaxation sessions have followed this routine for the past 2 years. It is very exciting to see how much progress the children have made. Now all of the students are able to do standing positions without grabbing their peers or running away. The prompting from teachers and assistants is minimal. The children enjoy the time spent doing our relaxation routine. The S.T.O.P. and Relax easel booklet of positions keeps them focused on what they are working on. The teacher reports that behavior management skills have been reinforced through relaxation. Students use the S.T.O.P. “soft face” technique throughout the day to “self manage” themselves.
It is important to note that each student required some prompting in the beginning. When we started out some students required full physical prompting on had to sit on a teacher’s lap, while others needed partial physical prompting and others needed multiple verbal prompts. After working with this group for 3 years, all of the children are doing the exercises independently 70% of the time. We never thought that this would happen but it really did. Yeah!
I continue to enjoy going to school every week and meeting with this group of students. Watching all of the students participating independently puts a big smile on my face and the classroom teacher’s face. If I am sick or unable to attend, the teacher is able to run the group with ease. All of the materials are there in the Stop and Relax kit and she knows the routine. An added benefit is that the teacher and assistants all join in this activity. This gives the adults an opportunity to chill with the students in a classroom environment that can often be demanding and stressful.
A Relaxation Group in an Elementary C.B.S.A. ESE Class
Sally Miller 4/5/2015