Therapeutic teaching: A calm start to the year...

Written by: Shahana Knight | Published:
Shahana Knight is a school governor, a clinical play therapist and director at TPC Therapy

It can be easy to forget that some of the pupils in your classroom may not have had good summer holidays. Shahana Knight offers some advice

This September, I encourage you to begin to implement therapeutic teaching techniques as soon as you open those doors to your new class.

Many of your children will have had a wonderful holiday with their families and are ready for school, but there will be many others who have had a very difficult summer. The holidays will have been a time of worry, stress and trauma. They will not have had the consistency, reliability or security that school offers and could therefore be feeling overwhelmed and chaotic when they enter your classroom.

On top of this, they are likely entering a new classroom and being greeted by a teacher they do not know. This is a particularly unsettling time for many children.

I encourage you to be mindful of this and have some therapeutic responses ready to help settle these children quickly and re-establish a feeling of safety.

Ensure the classroom is a calming place

Hustle and bustle is normal in any classroom, especially in September, but it is important that you try to establish a feeling of calm from the offset and communicate that your classroom is a place of safety. Their morning is likely to have been full of high energy and was probably stressful.

Have some relaxing music and relaxing imagery playing on your whiteboard (have a look on YouTube). This will help them to focus and reshift their mindset. Explain that this is how you will greet them every morning and that you expect them to sit at their desks and take five deep breaths, clear their minds and relax – to get ready for the day.

Tell them they can put their heads down on the table if they wish (as you begin to get more familiar with them, it is nice to allow them to sit wherever they want in the classroom, even on the floor or under a table for this five-minute welcome).

Be careful with your language

Be careful using blanket statements about the holiday which give an expectation that their summer was a good one (such as “Did everyone have a great summer?” “Did you have a lovely holiday?”). You may try being more honest about holidays and say “I wonder what everyone’s holiday was like? Sometimes the summer holidays can be loads of fun, but they can also become hard work too.” Let the children add their own meaning to this based on their own frames of reference.

Follow this up with specific relatable questions such as: “Can anyone tell me about something that made them feel excited? Can anyone tell me about somewhere they visited? Can anyone tell me about something that was a bit rubbish about the holidays?”

Be open, honest and communicate to the children that you are a teacher who is aware that we have good and bad experiences and you want to hear about them all. Create a space where children feel safe enough to share the not-so-good bits.

By doing this you will help them feel heard and therefore reduce the need for them to use their behaviour to show you that they need some attention or recognition. Do not be afraid to open up discussions about feelings.

  • Shahana Knight is director at TPC Therapy, a mental health service for children. She is also a school governor and a clinical play therapist. The advice here is linked to her Therapeutic Teaching Programme. Visit and read her previous articles via

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