Zones of Regulation: A teacher's guide

Paul Main

Find out how classrooms adopt the Zones of Regulation methodology to ensure all children are ready to learn.

What is Zones of Regulation?

The Zones of Regulation is a popular framework and self-regulation curriculum to teach regulation strategies for managing sensory needs and emotions to students, children, and other individuals aged 4+.

According to Leah Kuypers (The creator of the zones of regulation), every individual comes across trying circumstances that test their limits on various occasions.  If individuals can identify when they are becoming less regulated, they can do something about it. Hence, the ultimate objective of the zones of regulation is to enable people to manage their feelings and mental health and get themselves to a healthy place.

Emotional learning tools have become increasingly popular since the pandemic as educators understand the importance of addressing a child's primary needs. The often-overlooked skill of self-regulation there is a fundamental ability that children pick up in the early years, usually through play.

The social thinking that is developed in collaborative activities such as interactive games at playtimes was removed from children's lives all over the world. This meant that some children didn't get the opportunity to develop the acceptable behaviours needed to function in school and achieve success in life. When children return to school some teachers reported children having difficulty with impulse control.

Grounded in the cognitive behavior approach, this popular framework includes four colours to help people identify their current feeling on basis of their level of alertness, emotions, mental health and energy developing a colored system to guide them to metacognitive strategies and resources to promote regulation. By knowing how to detect triggers, read their bodies, consider their reactions, and think about the social context, people learn how they can increase their sensory regulation, regulate their emotions, and become more skilful and self-aware problem solvers.

The learning activities of zones of regulation are divided into 18 lessons. To reinforce the regulation concepts being taught, all of the lessons include probing questions and instructions for one or more learning activities. Most of the lessons include extension activities and ways to modify the activity to fulfil individual learner needs. Visual tools and printable activities are provided on a USB. All users of The Zones of the Regulation curriculum may download updated Emotions Reproducibles. The curriculum also contains visual tools, handouts, and worksheets, to share and display.

How to explain the Four Zones of Regulation? 

Using a cognitive behaviour approach, the zones of regulation curriculum’s learning activities are developed to help students identify when they are in a particular state called “zone,” and each of the four zones is represented by a distinct colour. Feelings have different levels of energy, intensity and sizes. To simplify this concept - Leah Kuypers categorized human feelings into 4 easy, coloured categories named Zones of Regulation.

  1. Blue Zone: The Blue Zone portrays down feelings and low energy levels such as when someone feels bored, sick, tired, or as
  2. Green Zone: The Green Zone depicts calmness and the feeling of being in control. A person in the green zone may be described as content, focused, happy or ready for learning. Green is considered as the zone with optimal learning.
  3. Yellow Zone: The Yellow Zone describes a person with additional levels of energy and elevated emotions, but remains in more control. An individual may be facing nervousness, wiggles, silliness, excitement, anxiety, frustration or stress within the Yellow sign.
  4. Red Zone: The Red Zone demonstrates strong emotions and extraordinarily high energy. A person is said to be in the red zone when he is feeling angry, elated, terrified, out of control, devastated or enraged.

People experience all these zones naturally, and the main focus of the Zones of the Regulation framework remains on teaching people how to identify and manage their Zones depending on their objectives and task demands.

Who can be the teacher for the Zones of Regulation?

Anyone willing to support people in nurturing their regulation skills can teach The Zones of Regulation curriculum. These may include but are not limited to, class teachers, caregivers, social workers, behaviourists, counsellors, psychologists, special or/ and regular education teachers, speech-language pathologists and occupational therapists.

A classroom teacher may help learners analyze regulation strategies and tools that may include wellness activities, mental health and wellbeing, mindfulness, movement-based, sensory-based, play-based, thinking strategies, and healthy relationships with others. Pupils negotiate which Zone(s) would be regulated by each tool, creating a system to use tools to regulate a zone or shift from one to another. Eventually, they develop a mind-map or cognitive pathway and their individualized toolbox to guide them to regulate their Zones.

Integration of cognitive behaviour therapy help learners develops problem-solving skills, self-regulation skills, conversation skills, emotional learning, social competencies and executive functions, management of mental health and wellbeing and sensory needs and consciously regulating actions and feelings. Throughout the book, the user is being called a “teacher”; but, it does not imply that one must be a classroom teacher to teach these lessons.

Identifying emotional states using the Zones of Regulation
Identifying emotional states using the Zones of Regulation

To enhance learners’ deeper understanding of daily life regulation, the lessons teach several skills, such as reading others’ body language and facial expressions, understanding the circumstance of the situation, noticing the change in body language due to the feelings, when and how to apply regulation tools, insight into circumstances that activate their less regulated Zones, identifying a wide range of emotions in other persons and themselves, and the role of regulation in their personal goals, overall wellness and success in life.

The zone of the regulation framework is created to help develop learners toward more independent regulation while also respecting and honouring each individual. Social Thinking® Methodology concepts are integrated all through the curriculum to help learners become skilful problem solvers and build awareness of others’ intense emotions, feelings and thoughts and to identify the social context of an event, both these factors help individuals in regulating themself from time to time.

Zones of regulation wall display
Zones of regulation wall display


Who benefits from the zones of regulation?

The main targets of the Zones of Regulation curriculum are the students struggling with self and emotional regulation. It was originally developed to fulfil the learning styles needs of neurodiverse pupils. Nonetheless, the curriculum lessons reach a much larger population including adults and children of varying levels of learning outside and inside of the academic environment.

Anybody can face problems in self-regulation and emotional control provided Zones of regulation curriculum offers a common language, uniform visual teaching Tool, and impartial support for each learner, a lot of regular education teachers have acquired it for their entire class, and many districts have acquired zones of regulation as a whole school proactive intervention.

Lessons are created to be used for individuals ages four (with learning abilities from average to above-average) or above. Where applicable, the behavioral therapy lessons indicate ways to modify zones of regulation activities for students of different abilities and age groups. The intensity of understanding will fluctuate, and teaching expectations would be dependent upon the abilities of the learners. Some accommodations are offered to adapt activities. Those with a lower degree of cognition may not build an intense understanding of The Zones framework, but through constant exposure, many people can achieve success in life after finding out more about their zones and using visual supports to guide them to foster social learning, self-regulation and emotional wellbeing. Lessons may need alternative solutions to teach students with difficulties in regulation and cognitive impairments such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, anxiety disorders or defiant disorder.

Zones of regulation resources
Zones of regulation resources