Learning to identify and regulate emotions is a big job, especially for little kids! However, this skill is essential for students to master in order to be successful in school (and in life), and luckily there are plenty of Zones of Regulation activities and games to help teach them.
Zones of Regulation, a curriculum developed by Leah Kuypers, an OT and autism resource specialist, helps kids understand and learn to manage their emotions. Rooted in cognitive behavioral therapy, it is a framework that uses four colors—blue, green, yellow, and red—to help students identify their feelings and levels of alertness. The curriculum also provides strategies to support emotional regulation. Teaching students how to read their bodies’ signals, detect triggers, read social context, and consider how their behaviors impact those around them leads to improved emotional control, sensory regulation, self-awareness, and problem-solving skills.
To learn more about the Zones of Regulation, check out this unit by The Calming Corner, these resources from He’s Extraordinary, and this slideshow from the Montana CEC.
Here are 18 engaging Zones of Regulation activities to support the emotional growth of your students.
1. Identify feelings by giving them a color
Being able to recognize emotions is important. This color wheel will help kids start to identify their emotions by associating them with different colors. Once they have a grasp on what emotions feel like, students can begin to learn strategies to deal with them. And check out some Zones of Regulation activities that incorporate this emotion wheel.
Source: He’s Extraordinary
2. Play a round of Monster Feelings Match-Up
Identifying and labeling feelings in oneself and others is a life skill that takes lots and lots of practice. One of kids’ favorite Zones of Regulation activities is Monster Feelings Match-Up. This fun game teaches kids how to identify their feelings and manage their emotions and also fosters their conversation skills.
Source: Pocket of Preschool
3. Go on an emotions scavenger hunt
A super-fun activity to help students identify feelings by using emojis and their power of observation. Recently updated for at-home learners as well as whole-class Zoom lessons, check out the full lesson plan. Best for grades K–6.
Source: Mosswood Connections
4. Make cootie catchers
You know kids are going to make cootie catchers anyway, so why not make a version that helps kids review and understand the Zones of Regulation? Each color-coded corner teaches students the feelings and coping skills that go along with each zone. Best for grades 3 and up.
Source: Everybody Is a Genius
5. Play the Emotions Sorting Game
Linking Zones of Regulation activities to fun experiences helps kids make connections. For example, this simple Emotions Sorting Game inspired by Disney-Pixar’s Inside Out helps kids learn and explore emotions. The game is a printable download available from the source below.
Source: Mom Endeavors
6. Make a calm-down sandwich
When students get angry or frustrated, they can use this coping strategy to help calm themselves down. Ask them to brainstorm six things that make them happy or feel calm inside. Then, have them write down their strategies on each piece of a calm-down sandwich.
Source: Corner on Character
7. Play Behavior Bingo
Distinguish between awesome actions (like showing respect and encouraging others) and bummer behavior (like using hurtful words or goofing off during work time) with this fun version of bingo. Five awesome actions in a row = BINGO! Great for small groups or whole class, grades 1–4.
Source: Counselor Keri
8. Practice impulse control with this version of Candy Land
Games are the best way for kids to learn without even realizing they’re learning! These custom-made cards go along with the standard version of Candy Land and help kids learn impulse-control skills. Best for grades K–3.
Source: Ashley Hughes
9. Make emotion regulation spinners
This fun activity is a great addition to your calm-down corner. Students can pick strategies that work for them to get into the green zone and back on track. Best for grades K–5.
Source: WholeHearted School Counseling
10. Play a round of What Zone Would I Be In if …?
This free activity includes 30 cards with hypothetical situations, plus a page for sorting the cards into the zones. Read the cards and let students decide which zone THEY feel they would be in if this happened to them. You can ask questions about why they feel that way to encourage discussion.
Source: He’s Extraordinary
11. Teach the Zones of Regulation with this fun song
This catchy tune, set to the tune of “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” teaches kids all about the different emotions in the Zones of Regulation and strategies to deal with them.
Source: Singalong Songs
12. Create a sensory-break center in your classroom
Provide students with a safe place to take a break when they need to regulate their emotions. Include resources for strategies that will help them manage. For a free copy of the poster shown and tons of great ideas for what to include in the space, follow the link below. Best for grades K–8.
Source: The Dynamic Duo Adventures in Speech and Special Ed
13. Stock your sensory-break center with strategy cards
These awesome break cards tap into a favorite set of characters: Pokemon! Each card helps students identify which “zone” they are in and strategies for managing the emotions they are feeling. Available as a PowerPoint, Google Slideshow, and also a printable PDF. Includes four cards for each of the four zones.
Source: Social CJ
14. Empower students with these contingency maps
Throughout the school day, students make behavior choices (for better or worse). Use these picture maps to help students understand the consequences of making different choices. They are very effective because they illustrate the results of both desired and undesired behaviors in a concrete way. Best for students in K–5.
Source: The Autism Helper
15. Role-play with task cards
Role-play is a great activity for helping students rehearse acceptable behaviors. These task cards help students build emotional self-control by rehearsing responses to different scenarios that may trigger strong emotions. Best for grades 4–7.
Source: Pathway 2 Success
16. Build emotional toolboxes
What can students do to regulate their emotions when they veer away from the green zone? This toolbox of activities includes a handy flip-book that’s chock-full of ideas. Each tab covers a different zone and gives students strategies to regain control. Best for students in K–3.
Source: Valerie Steinhardt
17. Encourage self-regulation with these desk nameplates
Post these interactive nameplates on students’ desks to help them self-regulate their emotions and feelings by paying attention to what zone they are in. Throughout the day, students self-monitor their emotional state by sliding a paper clip along the zone boxes on the left. If students are in the yellow, blue, or red zone, they can use one of the strategies in their toolbox to help them get back to green. Each student’s toolbox will vary, depending on which strategies work best for them. Best for grades K–5.
Source: Sunshine on a Cloudy Day
18. Share resources with families
Meltdowns and emotional regulation impact the entire family. Share this blog with families to help them develop strategies with their kids at home. Full of helpful tips and valuable information, this is a great resource to help support calmer, happier kids.
Source: A Heart for All Students
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Also, check out 26 Simple Ways To Integrate Social-Emotional Learning Throughout the Day