Put Your Characters in the Zone!

Image from Kuypers: The Zones of Regulation

Image from Kuypers: The Zones of Regulation

From time to time, our local school district offers an evening presentation for parents to keep us informed about the things our children are learning in the classroom.

Our last meeting focused on The Zones of Regulation, a behavioral awareness curriculum designed by Leah Kuypers, an occupational therapist and autism specialist.

The program is intended to help children recognize how variable states of alertness may impact their behaviors, and teach them skills to promote self-control and problem solving abilities.

Sound like a mouthful? I’ll translate.

Recognize anger, elation, or terror? Those out-of-control states describe people in the Red Zone.

Frustrated, anxious, excited and silly feelings run rampant in the Yellow Zone.

In the Green Zone, people are likely to be happy, focused, content and ready to learn.

If you are sad, tired, sick or bored, you are in the Blue Zone.

While life in the Green Zone is ideal, in reality we all fluctuate between these states for various reasons and for variable amounts of time each day. Finding suitable strategies to keep green for as often and as long as possible is the name of the game.

What does any of this have to do with writing? As I listened to the presentation, I found myself  in a Blue Zone mood – it was late, the room was warm, and the pasta I had eaten for dinner was lulling me into daydreams. I began thinking about my picture book characters, and how I could ensure they were zipping from zone to zone in my stories, just like a “real” kid.

Let’s look at the way one pro has done it:

Pigeon in the Red Zone

2015 Blizzard D 029

Pigeon in the Yellow Zone

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Pigeon in the Green Zone

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Pigeon in the Blue Zone

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Images from Mo Willem’s Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (Disney-Hyperion, 2003)

Next time you are writing or revising your picture books, try thinking about your character’s zone, and whether the words and images you’ve chosen will ring true throughout a range of physical and emotional states. I’m no expert at actually managing my own zone awareness, but teaching little ones how to practice self- awareness and self control is definitely au courant. Check it out – even Cookie Monster is on board with the trend in his latest video!


About Cathy Ballou Mealey

Picture book addict and autism advocate, author, scone lover. WHEN A TREE GROWS (2019) @SterlingKids. Repped by Liza Fleissig @lizaroyceagency. Reach me via email at cmealey@post.harvard.edu or Twitter @catballoumealey
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26 Responses to Put Your Characters in the Zone!

  1. izatrapani1 says:

    This is great, Cathy! Something else to consider when writing for children.

  2. rnewman504 says:

    Cathy, Great advice and definitely something to think about when writing.

  3. Cathy, I LOVE this application of the zones. What a great idea! I’m glad your mind had time to wander during the presentation. 😀

  4. Wha…? I was a bit confused until I clicked the link to Kuypers web page. It wasn’t your explanation that confused me, but the dang traffic signs. I couldn’t envision frustration or stress or excitement as “Slow.” But it’s so easy to understand using only the colors, which run from cold blue to cool green to warm yellow to hot red. Now THAT makes sense, and I can see how this could help us in writing PBs. It might be interesting, after dropping text into a PB template, to mark each page with color to see the emotional path through the book. Leah Kuypers, drop the traffic signs for those of us who are yellow (slow!). 😉 Thanks, Cathy!

    • Great idea Carol – pull out those highlighters and mark up those drafts!
      We in the audience were greatly confused about the “blue” zone when the signage was configured up and down like a traffic light. I’d say there is room for adaptation with this template! Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  5. Frustrated, anxious, excited and silly? It looks like I spend the better part of my life in the yellow zone.

  6. Hoping to be in the green zone today! Let’s see already commenting on blogs … this may or may not be a productive day! I did shovel (well, sorta sweep the snow off the driveway). Have a wonderful, warm week.

    • 🙂 Hope it is green as a clover Stacy. Jealous of your broom! I was hoping for a little solar power to clear our driveway from last night’s 2 inches, but then my car got stuck! Back to the shovel…

  7. Sue Wang says:

    Cathy, you are brilliant to apply the zones to writing. Any writing. As I polish my memoir draft, I notice the zones and how beta readers had reacted before 😉 Pacing. People go with you in colors and need their Green zone at the end (I think). Life is full of different spices and how we as writers promote moods and engage is an art and a skill. Just what I need this morning! Thanks.

  8. Thanks for this post. I love your examples.

  9. What an interesting post. I like the use of color with emotions. I enjoyed how you applied it to writing. We all can benefit from visualizing these zones.

  10. Oooh, that is very clever, Cathy! I think you’ll get me thinking about all the stories I read from now on in that color-zone way. 🙂

  11. This post arrived in my IN BOX on the perfect day. Took a brief partial walk around the Rose Bowl and thought about what you wrote. Very inspiring as I S L O W L Y walked observing the runners, joggers, walkers, cyclists, and dogs a plenty. It was fun putting everyone into a zone.

  12. tinamcho says:

    I’ve never heard of these zones before, but it is perfect for young ones! Kind of like the stoplight method for behavior some teachers use. I like how you applied it to writing!

  13. Lauri Meyers says:

    Very smart application Cathy! And wow, doesn’t it make it easier to understand how kids can see themselves in the Pigeon? And why weren’t we taught this? Because we adults don’t always manage our zones so well either:)

    • Life as illustrated by Mo Willems always seems funnier and more accurate to me! Whether Pigeon, Duckling, Elephant, Piggie or Trixie (esp going “boneless”) does more need be said?? Thanks for stopping by Lauri.

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