THE FWSU STORY: How Sensory Breaks Get Our Bodies “Just Right” for Learning

Everyone processes information in different ways and has different sensory needs. As adults, we have all developed ways to meet our own sensory needs. This may look like going for a drink of water after sitting for awhile, using a standing desk, or chewing gum.

students in a yoga pose during sensory break

Children are the same as us; however, they have not yet mastered how to get their sensory needs met consistently and appropriately. As a result, students may engage in unexpected behaviors to meet their needs. All behavior is a form of communication and should be looked at as such.

a buddha board provides sensory break

We can be proactive as adults by incorporating sensory breaks or “brain breaks” into a student’s or classroom’s schedule. A sensory break or “brain break” is a fancy term for taking a break from a seated learning activity. For children with sensory needs, this is often referred to as a sensory break or sensory diet.

a quiet sensory corner provides a rest from sensory overstimulation

What are the benefits of a sensory break?

Sensory breaks can be beneficial for the development of self-regulation. Self-regulation is a skill that is developed over time and for some students may need to be directly taught. It is a skill that allows us to manage our surroundings and our reactions to the things going on around us.

a student uses the mini trampoline on a brain break

Self-regulation is an important component of social-emotional and academic success. When our bodies are calm we are better able to access the environment around us. When our bodies are overly tired or overly energetic it is difficult to focus and pay attention. As as a result, we may not be able to take in all of the information we are presented.

classroom sensory tools

Sensory breaks allow us to get our body “just right.” Sensory breaks can be used to up-regulate a body that is too tired or down-regulate a body that is too energetic. Everyone’s body responds differently to sensory breaks and therefore it is important to see how you respond to a sensory activity. For example, some people may find that running around decreases energy level but for some, this may increase energy. Regardless of the sensory activity, it is important to end a sensory break with breathing. Breathing is the best and most effective way to reset our bodies.

a play sandbox is a great sensory tool for some students

Why is it important for teachers to incorporate strategies throughout the school day?

A sensory break is a time set to get their bodies “just right” for learning. It is a time that allows for a child to rest and reset their brains so they can focus. If students are too tired or too energetic they may not be able to take in a lesson the teacher is giving. It has been suggested that children from kindergarten through third grade need a break every 15 minutes.

students color during a sensory break

Children in fourth grade and above it is suggested to have a break every 45 minutes. However, this may not always be a realistic expectation given your school day. So if you can get at least one break in every 1-2 hours given your grade level, that is ideal. Breaks do not need to be very long – around 10-15 minutes is ideal.

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