A Sensory Break is a designated portion of time that may allow a child to deescalate from the sensory stimulation of the classroom setting. Sensory breaks also are beneficial for children that benefit from additional movement or deep pressure input opportunities to help with focus, attention, and learning.
Why do children need sensory breaks?
- They get anxious and need to calm their nervous system down (yellow zone/red zone)
- They cannot filter out irrelevant sensory information and gets overwhelmed by all the sensory input from his environment (yellow zone/red zone)
- They have low alertness because they are not getting enough sensory input/ feedback when sitting (Blue Zone).
- They have reduced body awareness and postural stability and this affects their ability to sit upright and concentrate (Blue Zone).
- They are seeking sensory input in a mal-adaptive or disruptive way and would benefit obtaining sensory input via more appropriate means.
- The zones of regulation can be used to support children in understanding and recognizing their states of alertness
What is a sensory break?
- An opportunity to escape or attain sensory stimulation
- Sensory activities usually focus on the three core sensory systems: vestibular, proprioceptive & tactile
- Provide enhanced sensory input
- May include a combination of sensory input
- Sensory break may happen outside or inside the classroom. In general, any activity or action which stimulates or removes sensory input from a sensory system is a sensory break
- Deep Pressure – Tends to be calming and can dampen down sensations in other sensory systems.
- Light touch and messy play tend to be alerting
- Vibration – Tends to be alerting
- Vestibular- Tends to be alerting
- Proprioception – Tends to support the child to pay attention and to focus (calming and alerting)
When and where to provide sensory breaks?
- Breaks can be scheduled or unscheduled.
- Sensory breaks can be whole class or individualised depending on the needs of the child.
- A child can have sensory material at their desk at all times
- Whole class Breaks at the desk can be unscheduled, if the class teacher sees that the class are becoming restless, lethargic or losing concentration – use of the zones of regulation visuals may be useful to indicate to the class why they are taking a sensory break
- Sensory breaks are proactive not reactive
Sensory breaks should be well structured with a clear start and finish e.g. use of timers and visuals to illustrate this.
Whole class opportunities
In between sessions – tidy up time can be used as a sensory break – asking children to carry items can support proprioception. Movement around the class allows for fidgets to be released. Singing songs, focusing on sorting items supports a shift in focus, giving children a short ‘sensory break’. Support our children further by encouraging children to help tidy but allowing children space for free movement. This is also a good opportunity for children to make use of trampettes and yoga balls if available in class.
Structured walks – taking the whole class (or small groups) for walks around the school can be a quick way to provide change of environment and movement opportunities to support refocus. Throughout the walk, provide structure by instructing different ways to walk e.g. stomping, tip toes, hop. You can also work the upper body by modelling wall press-ups. This will support children's development of proprioception skills and regulate senses.
- Encourage the children to make shapes/ letters/ numbers using different materials e.g. finger paint, clay, sand, shaving foam
- Have the children trace shapes / letters / numbers using tracing paper or another medium e.g. a board and a torch
- Make shape / letter/ number rubbings
- Colours/ Shapes / letters/ numbers could be drawn on a card and cut in half. Encourage children to find and match the pieces of card to make the shape / letter / number
- ‘Simon Says’
- Finding items of the same colour or words starting with same letter and grouping together
- Matching the picture with the word
- Have children follow mazes on paper or dot to dot on paper
- Have the children with visual sensory difficulties follow a peer around an obstacle course
- Cut around shapes, lines etc.
- Move an object around a course or shape and get the children to track the movement with their eyes some computer activities are good for this
- Dropping objects from different heights (this could be included in a lesson about gravity for example)
- Racing toy cars (this could be individualised by sticking an image of a favourite character / object on the toy car)
- Throwing and catching, rolling and passing objects
- Spotting which item has been removed from a tray of items
- Finding the letters / words in a clear basin or bottle of water with coloured glitter
- Measuring water or coloured water into jugs then pouring into items
- Measuring lengths and distances between objects, areas of the school etc.
- Change room lighting
- Light up toys
- Videos e.g. kaleidoscope https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2fIWB8o-bs, larva https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14XxolEJloE, visual therapy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1hoENWoEB0
- Rubbing different textures against the skin
- Rolling over different textured surfaces
- Handling different textured objects e.g. rough and smooth numbers, letters or shapes
- Handling pets
- Feely box – a box with different textured objects or different shaped objects inside
- Pouring and measuring using different textured receptacles
- Creating patterns on the ground using wet brushes, wet sponges or squeeze bottles filled with water
- Experimenting with different temperatures, room temperature or slightly warm water, cold water and ice
- Adding objects to water to see what happens e.g. sand, glitter, stones, paper etc.
- Trying to make an object float by making a floating device out of different materials
- Arts and Crafts
- Finger painting
- Papier mache
- Licking stickers
- Blowing bubbles
- Drinking through straws or out of sports bottles
- Chewing chew toys or sweets
Proprioceptive (body awareness)
- Weightbearing activities e.g. crawling, push-ups
- Resistance activities e.g. pushing/pulling
- Heavy lifting e.g. carrying books
- Cardiovascular activities e.g. running, jumping on a trampoline
- Oral activities e.g. chewing, blowing bubbles
- Deep pressure e.g. tight hugs
- Jumping e.g. jumping jacks, hopscotch
- Lying on stomach and propping on elbows to complete activities e.g. reading a book, doing a jigsaw
- Wheelbarrow walks
- Lying on stomach on a scooter board and propelling with arms (avoid backward movements if children is very sensitive to movement)
- Balancing on one leg/hopping
- Swings and roundabouts
- Climbing frames
- Bouncing on a space hopper
- Jumping on a trampoline
- Use containers filled with different cotton balls containing essential oils, spices, smelly objects e.g. cheese and rubber bands
- Comparing ice cubes and frozen fruits to water and room temperature fruit
- Comparing states of matter e.g. raw egg to cooked egg
- Comparing chewy, crunchy, dry, soft and moist foods
- Blowing bubbles
- Sucking and blowing paint or coloured water from straw
- Using some musical instruments e.g. the recorder
- Blowing paper football or feather