School district makes room for calming

Friday, April 30, 2021

Amid a year filled with anxieties, Storm Lake School District’s new Virtual Calming Room has proven to be a valuable tool.

Calming rooms have been used as therapeutic environments to assist students in self-calming, using visual, audio and tactile stimulation.

Last summer, Storm Lake Superintendent of Schools Stacey Cole noticed on a Twitter post a “virtual” room being used in another education setting. She turned to Ben Schekirke, instructional coach, to create such a site.

“It was always going to be a very different school year due to COVID-19 - the timing was nice,” Schekirke said of the project. “We launched it at the start of the school year. It took off right away, and is still being heavily used. We’re hearing from the students about how they utilize it and the different things they do in the room.”

There are several options aimed at relaxation and stress-busting, under the headings “Sounds,” “Visuals,” “Games,” “Create” and “Motivation.”

Sounds offers a collection of hours of soothing music, as well as sound streams of rainforest, ocean waves, and rainstorms.

Under visuals, students can choose from live camera feeds of animals from zoos around the country and in the UK, a coral reef aquarium, a virtual fireplace, a deserted beach, or kaleidoscopic art.

Games feature jigsaw puzzles, word searches, Soduku and mind games to give students a brief break from their busy world.

In the Create tab, they can add their own quick drawings to the world’s largest doodling data set, helping with an experiment to discover whether a neural machine network can learn to recognize art. They can also create a dance, virtually weave silk into art, or do “Lunch Doodles With Mo,” a series with Mo Willems, Kennedy Center Artist in Residence.

Meditation offers a choice of videos for relaxing stretching or guided short meditation sessions.

Students can also choose to take part in The Free Mindfulness Project - a downloadable collection of resources including exercises, discussion forums, a blog, gallery, poetry, videos, and live sessions responding to COVID-19 circumstances.

“It gives kids and adults a break really. There are a lot of choice on there,” Schekirke said. “I had looked around at different rooms being used elsewhere and pulled pieces that we liked, and found other things we thought would be useful here.”

This year especially, when younger students are with the same teacher nearly all day, the Calming Room has worked out as a useful outlet, a way to break up the day.

Some unexpected uses have materialized too - such as teachers using the sounds and music to play as background while students are working, testing or taking indoor recess when that is necessary, finding that it relaxes their students.

Schekirke has also sought out input from counselors on how the Calming Room can be used moving forward to best meet the needs of the students.

The room is open to all, and can be seen at sites.google.com/slcsd.org/vcr/the-free-mindfulness-project.