Last term I provided an overview of what Interoception is and how this can impact on student’s self-regulation when they do not have the ability to recognize their ‘internal’ senses and body reactions and how these can lead to students not being in control of their feelings, and consequently reactions.
Interoception is the ability to recognise and listen to the internal signals of your body and mind and the physical reactions that this can cause.
e.g. My tummy hurts, I feel sick, I’m hungry so if I eat something I will feel better, or my heart is beating fast, I am feeling nervous, I can do some breathing to help me tackle this challenge. My face is getting hot, I know I am getting angry…
At Hackham East Primary School we understand, and spend a great deal of time teaching the ‘whole child’, which includes our focus on ‘Wellbeing for Learning.’ When students become upset, angry or anxious and do not have tools to help recognize these emotions and build strategies to deal with the emotions and reactions, engaging in learning often becomes difficult, and impacts on their learning and the learning of others.
Interoception is another program and strategy, along with Play Is The Way that we are implementing across the whole school to support students with this. We have been fortunate to apply for and granted funding to implement this program across the school.
What does the Interoception Program look like at HEPS?
We have established an Interoception Room in the Library. This room is a calming space that is available throughout the day and trained staff are rostered to support students needing to access the space.
The room is open from 8.45am each morning. Some children are scheduled to start their day in the room, but it is also open to any child or parent who feels that their child may benefit in coming to the room first in the morning to help them if they are emotional and not quite ready for the ‘busyness’ of the classroom at the beginning of the day.
A great example of this was a parent who brought their child to the room last week because a beloved pet was sick and the child was upset about this. Coming to the room allowed the child to talk to an adult about their feelings and emotions, relieved the stress on the parent and then the child was able to go to class ready to deal with the day and learning demands.
During the day, Teachers may ask students to go to the room or students may ask to go to the room to support them when they need some additional assistance with regulating emotions and feelings. Students bring the learning task that they were engaging in at the time in the classroom, which reinforces the Interoception room to be seen as a positive intervention, not as a space where you come to avoid ‘hard learning.’
When accessing the room during learning time students:
- Sign in (this enables us to keep data on which students access it and when.)
- Take their Heart Rate with an over the finger heart rate monitor – to help children make the link between breathing and heart rate being a signal as to when their feelings are taking over.
- Choose an Interoception exercise which is designed to support noticing how their body feels and reacts eg. It may be a stretching exercise which helps them to notice how their body feels tense/tight or a breathing exercise which helps to make the link between breathing and heart rate.
- Engage in a calming activity which may be colouring, sitting quietly with a timer or fiddle toy for a few minutes.
- De-brief with the adult around what led them to come with the room and they then go on with the learning task for about 5 minutes so that they can then re-enter the classroom calmly and be back on track for learning.
In total a student may be in the Interoception room for around 15 mins and we see this as a positive intervention that can prevent a meltdown that may have previously seen the child having to come to the office and spend a much longer period of time out of the classroom learning environment.
Small Group Interoception Teaching
Staff have identified a number of children who participate in small Interoception groups. These children come to the room in a small group for 2-3 15 min sessions with one of the trained adults each week.
During these sessions, the children participate in an Interoception exercise and then are exposed to a book or video linked to feelings and emotions and discuss how the characters may feel and their bodies may react in different ways to help them make personal links to their feelings and body reactions. We also make the link to the Play is the Way questions of ‘are their feeling or thinking in control? How could they get their thinking back in control?’
The goal of the small groups is to build student awareness of their feelings, body reactions and give tools that they can use in class when they know their ‘feelings’ are becoming in control, rather than their thinking.
Results of the Interoception Program so far…
There have been so many positive responses and anecdotes from both staff and parents in the short time we have been implementing this and we look forward to seeing many more positive outcomes which will ultimately lead to children being self-aware, self-regulated and have strategies to help them deal with feelings and emotions in a way that helps them to become more in control.
Some of the positive outcomes we have observed are:
- Students independently using the Interoception exercises when learning is hard eg. A number of staff reported students using the ‘hand stretching’ activity during NAPLAN testing.
- Students verbalising that the Interoception room is a positive place where they can come to help them before they get out of control and do the wrong thing when they get upset, “I came here at lunch time when I was getting angry and I was about to hit someone, but I knew that would get me into trouble and I would end up in the office.” – Year 5 student.
- Students using Interoception exercises out in the yard – “...came back in from lunch and said that during playtime she had no friend to play with. This made her upset so she did an Interception activity (hand stretching).
- Anecdotal data indicates that there has been a reduction of around 70% of Leadership time having to deal with inappropriate behaviours in the Office after playtimes – which would often lead to students being out for key learning times.
- Less students having to come to the office during learning time for ‘disruptive’ behaviours.
We are very excited about the early stages of this program and look forward to continuing to implement and see positive outcomes for our students.
Please feel free to pop in to see the room at any time and chat to one of the staff that may be there at that time, or see myself or Scott Megson in person if you would like more information.
Sally Slattery, Deputy Principal
Scott Megson, Senior Leader