Small space yields big returns: Peaceful Place helps lower stress and anxiety

Inside Enders Road Elementary School, there is a quiet, cozy place where students and staff may go to reset, refocus and recharge. 

Small rainbow colored stuffed animal held in the palm of a hand. a
Some students like to hold and pet the soft “worry pets” while talking to them about their concerns.

The room has soft places to sit, squishy pillows to squeeze, a weighted blanket to create the feel of an enveloping hug, fidgets to occupy hands and soft “worry pets” small enough to be held in one hand while they “listen” to students’ fears and concerns. 

About five years ago, occupational therapist Lynda Poole transformed a small storage space at the end of a quiet classroom wing into the Peaceful Place, and last fall, Poole worked with students to update the space, adding such features as a small Zen sand garden and a rock garden with stones painted by the students. 

Painted rocks in a tray make a rock garden.
Painted rocks in a tray make a community rock garden.

“It’s a nice, calming place,” Principal Deborah Capri said.

The school’s therapy room, with its swing and small trampoline, helps some students burn extra energy so they can focus while in the classroom, but not all students need that. Some need a quiet place to quell rising stress or anxiety. And what a student needs one day, could differ the next day, Capri said.

“We’ve learned that every child has a different learning style,” she said.

The Peaceful Place gives those students who need a quiet break from the classroom the opportunity to step out of the instructional zone and center themselves.

Staff members are working with students to help them identify what their bodies are telling them. The district has a number of initiatives underway that focus on mental health and creating a positive school climate, which is one of the district’s priority areas within its mission statement. The Enders Road Peaceful Place is a small space that its staff has found has big returns when it comes to enhancing the school climate and individual’s mental health. 

View of the room: bean bag chair with a red bear sitting in it and a small innflated bed with colorful pillows and stuffed animals on it.
The room, which used to be a storage closet, has been converted to a cozy, inviting space.

“Sometimes we just need a place to unplug,” Poole said.

Students are always supervised in the space, and the door is always open. Staff often drop in if they need a quiet place to recharge. The room is in use several times each day, Poole said. 

And visits to the room are typically brief. Many students spend as few as five minutes in the room, but it’s enough of a break to allow them to re-center and be ready to learn when they are back in their classrooms.

Hand pulling a tiny rake through a miniature sand garden.
A miniature sand garden sits atop a filing cabinet.

The room’s offerings focus on the five senses, such as things to touch (sand garden) and smell (a group of Enders Road students created scented putty for the space as part of a service project). The room also has a sound machine and a small board on which to paint. 

The hope is that students figure out what works for them in calming their bodies so their minds can focus on the task at hand. And once they have discovered what works—breathing techniques or small items to keep their hands busy, like stress balls or putty—be able to use those techniques outside of the Peaceful Place.

“We are teaching them strategies,” Poole said. “The whole point of occupational therapy is that you’re not doing it to them. You’re teaching them so they can do it themselves.”