Chilling Out in the Smoky Mountains

Boys & Girls Club of the Smoky Mountains Club Director Monika Keenan sent me photos of a new space in her Club, and without missing a beat I said “you should write another blog post.” So she did! Read on for tips on how to create a safe, calm space even without a huge budget.

Even during normal days when a pandemic isn’t raging across the country, everyone needs a little down time. With the uncertainty of THESE days I have noticed my Club members needing even more to get away from the hustle and bustle of normal Club activities to reset and recharge. Here in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, we’ve been operating at limited capacity for those young people who need us most, primarily the children of workers in the tourism industry or other front-lines work. We have had an increased number of members having trouble controlling their emotions due to instability at home. This instability can be anything from their parents’ work schedule changing to them staying up late every night because they don’t have a set schedule to just general fears about COVID and financial hardships in their families.

This is where our Chill Out Zone been a necessity in our Club. We have been working on our Chill Out Zone for about a year now, adding and taking away things according to the needs of our members. With their needs increasing we wanted to make the Chill Out Zone an inviting and relaxing place for them. A place to retreat from the harsh realities of the world and get some much needed rest. Now, I’m not at a giant big-city Club with tons of resources. I don’t have dedicated social-emotional staff (although aren’t we all actually dedicated social-emotional staff despite our titles!!!) so my hope is that these suggestions work well for other Clubs like mine. Regardless of budget or staff size, you can make it work too.

We didn’t start with what we have now, it has been a journey of trial and error. We had to figure out how to make sure there was adequate staff and no 1:1 contact. We repurposed a corner of our conference room, so when youth choose to be in there I or another staff member can easily work from the conference table and provide supervision. Initially we bought a yoga mat and a few toys/activities to provide a quiet place to re-center and make time to gain control of emotions that have gotten out of control.  We had a few fidget objects, books, Legos, 3D puzzles, and lava lamps. Here are a few of the kinds of things that have worked:

Fidget toys
Sensory play
Brain teaser puzzles

There were some objects that were just used to play with and did not aid in calming members down. There were other objects that were never used. One thing I learned is that members were constantly looking for a chair to sit in because even with the yoga mat, the floor was hard. When I found this hammock chair I knew it was just what we needed. Here’s the evidence! 🙂

Every day for the last month we have had several members choose the Chill Out Zone over acting out physically toward another member or loosing their temper toward staff. We have also had members use the Chill Out Zone as a place to literally sleep or just pause for a bit because it is a place of comfort and solitude.

It has made a big difference in the climate of Club for the members to have a place to go when they need to recharge and re-center. I’m so glad we have it, and look forward to how it will grow and change along with what my youth need!

We’ve got more tips on building out a Chill Zone in the Program Basics Gamesroom Playbook! While this blog is targeted at traditional classrooms, they have some great ideas for building out your own a similar space including free downloads. Club staff can learn more about how to help youth going through trauma in BGCA’s Be There Toolkit.


chilling out in sm pin

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