As part of our Responsive Classroom approach in the WT Lower School, we use Take a Break in every classroom here at North. Take a Break is an opportunity for children to remove themselves from a situation when they are “beginning to lose control in a way that is disruptive or that compromises safety” (Northeast Foundation for Children, 2003, p. 103). The child will then move to a quiet, predefined part of the room so that he or she can pull themselves together. As soon as they feel they are ready to join the class, they may return. This is not the same as a time out where an adult is in charge of how long they stay away from the group and usually ends in a discussion between the teacher and the student regarding their behavior. Take a Break is suggested when the child already knows what is expected of them and they simply need a chance to step aside and refocus.
Here is a fictitious example:
The class is listening to a short story on the carpet in the library. As the teacher reads, “Allen” is making faces at the other children and trying to get their attention. The teacher says, “Allen, take a break.” Allen gets up and quietly moves to a preset chair in the room. He sits down. Takes a couple of breaths, decides he is ready to listen to the story, and returns quietly to sit on the carpet.
Notice that during this example, the teacher did not spend any time talking to Allen about his behavior. When Take a Break is used appropriately, the child is already aware of what the expectations are for the situation. The teacher does not need to unnecessarily draw attention to the child’s behavior. It works more as a reminder that “you [the child] know the expectations, you are not meeting them right now, take control of your own body and behavior, and join us again”.
The more we practice stepping aside when we are angry, sad, or simply too tired to focus, the easier it is to return to our previous task. This strategy for self-monitoring behavior will be revisited throughout our children’s lives.
Northeast Foundation for Children. (2003) Responsive Classroom: Level 1 Workbook. Turner Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.