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.

THE FWSU STORY: Meet BFA Fairfax Senior Minh Thu

Minh Thu is a senior at BFA Fairfax this year. She is enrolled in a variety of courses and plans to attend college next year like the other members of the Class of 2018. Unlike the others, Minh has joined BFA Fairfax for the year from her home country of Vietnam. She spent last year in Vermont as an exchange student at BFA St. Albans. Minh enjoyed living in Vermont with her host family and decided that she would like to stay in Vermont for an additional year. Her parents supported her decision and Minh enrolled at BFA Fairfax using our ability to accept foreign students through the Department of Homeland Security’s I-20 program. High School Principal John Tague recently chatted with Minh to get her thoughts about her experiences in Vermont and at BFA Fairfax.

Minh Thu is a senior at BFA Fairfax this year through the Immigration I-20 program.

Minh Thu is a senior at BFA Fairfax this year.

Where are you from? My family lives in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. I was able to be there for a month last summer.

What do you like best about Vermont? I like the scenery of Vermont. The fall season is beautiful. I like maple syrup and ice cream too!

What do you miss the most about Vietnam? I miss my mom’s cooking. She gives me recipes but they don’t taste the same when I make them!

What are your favorite classes? I enjoyed Chemistry and Anatomy and Physiology last semester. This semester, Public Speaking is my favorite.

What are your plans for next year? I will be attending Montana State University to study nursing.

Minh with her classmates

Minh with her classmates.

Are the two BFA’s different? Teachers in both schools are friendly. Students in Fairfax are friendlier. Fairfax is a smaller school which is nice, but St Albans had more sports choices.

What else would you like people to know? People should plan to visit Vietnam someday to experience the interesting culture and food. Most people know about Vietnam from the war. There have been many new developments since the Vietnam war and there are museums to learn more about it.

Anything else? I love American fast food. I have pizza every week. I like Whoppers and Big Macs, but the Whopper is better.

We love to have students in our school from across the globe. It offers our local students a wider perspective on the world outside Franklin County! We are fortunate to have Minh join our student body.

THE FWSU STORY: Georgia Students Present Maker Faire

What is a Maker Faire? Maker Faire is an opportunity for discussion, expression, creativity, and FUN! The expression on the faces of both adults and children show it all. On a February school night, the GEMS cafeteria was elbow-to-elbow as parents, children, and students attended the maker event with enthusiasm and excitement.



Everyone had the opportunity to create, make, and problem solve and a variety of diverse challenge tasks and inquiry-based learning opportunities were spread throughout the cafeteria.



Each station was unique and lured the creative thinker over to investigate, build – and hopefully solve. The following were booths/activities available:

Click the Maker movie below to get a great view of the night and activities available for all.  Courtesy of GEMS television and Christopher Dukeshire.

Thank You to the following sponsors for their support and contributions towards materials and supplies.  Children, could not only build and create but bring home their designs for memories and keepsake. Thank you so much!

  • Paul Frank and Collins P.C
  • Harrison Concrete
  • University of Vermont
  • Carolyn Branagan, VT State Senator
  • Georgia PTCO
  • Georgia Market
  • Exit 18 Equipment
  • R.L. Vallee Inc
  • Georgia Self Storage
  • Breezy Acres Garden Center



Deep into March, our students anxiously anticipate the warmth of spring in Vermont (mud season!). Day 127 of 178 student days in our calendar is just another day in the life of our schools…


Students and teachers use time throughout the day to interact with each other and engage in discovery. You never quite know what will happen as things get started each morning in our schools – but we do know it will never be mundane. Each day promises fresh opportunities for learning and growth for our students.


On gray Wednesdays, the moments can easily drift away from our memories – or may be the spark that remains with our students for a lifetime.


Whether it’s taking on a new challenge or simply enjoying chorus with a friend, the unfolding school day enriches and nurtures the spirit of our students.


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Day 127 is like so many others in our schools. It is a day of learning, a day of imagination, and a day of relationships. It is the connections we build that make FWSU a special place for each child.

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The smiles of our children tell the story – day 127 was a great day at FWSU!

THE FWSU STORY: Bravo to BFA Fairfax Elementary Drama Club!

Once again, our fourth and fifth graders that participate in the Elementary Drama Club put on two magnificent performances of Holka Polka for students, parents and staff members.


While watching I am always reminded how valuable these learning experiences are for our students.  There are so many important skills that are learned through participation in plays that help students in all phases of their lives.  Our students learn to authentically collaborate with others through rehearsing and providing each other feedback.  They learn how to effectively communicate both verbally and non-verbally.  As actors, they practice empathy by understanding their characters and their different situations, backgrounds, and experiences.


Students demonstrate responsibility by learning their roles, managing their time, and supporting the members of the cast.  The actors are provided an outlet to be creative, gain self-confidence, and focus.  Most importantly, students have fun and build positive memories and a desire to continue to participate in the theater.


I always appreciate the opportunity to watch the enjoyment of the audience members as they see their friend, sibling, or child shine during the performance.  The smiles, laughter, and pride are contagious.  It never gets old watching our students take a risk and discover the fun of performing for others.


Thank you to Katie Haddock, Juliet King, and Jennifer and Mark Kalbfleisch for all of your time and efforts to create this experience for our students.  I appreciate that our community continues to support local theater and I look forward to next year’s performance.

THE FWSU STORY: GEMS Students Shape Future of Technology in their School

As our district continues to collaborate and study what tech devices will best meet the needs of students in future years, we have come to the conclusion that it is imperative to hear from students and let them express themselves from their perspective.


Diverse groups representing the student body were formed from various grade levels in elementary and middle schools and each took part in a unique collaborative approach.  This conversation among peers was held to determine the future of technology and what it should look like for every student in every classroom.


The process used to gather information is known as Appreciative Inquiry. Appreciative inquiry is a four-step process that begins with and helps to define purpose, content, and what needs to be achieved to gain knowledge for decision-making purposes:


  1. The first step is Discovery.  Discovery is based on dialogue as a way of finding “what works” currently and appreciating the best of what is.
  2. The second step is Dreaming. Envisioning “what could be” and projecting hopes, wishes, and aspirations for the future.
  3. Step three is Designing.  Design brings together the stories from discovery with the imagination and creativity from dreaming. It asks, “what should be?”
  4. The final step is Destiny.  We now ask, “What will make the most sense, what will be sustainable, and what will it look like moving forward?


This inquiry approach was a great success as valid points were offered and thoughtful information was expressed. Students took the time to be mindful of their responses and provided valuable information to stakeholders in their future education. A great exhibition of the leaders they are and the leaders they will become.

THE FWSU STORY: Integrated Story Writing & Technology at BFA Fairfax Preschool

This year in Preschool it was my goal to embed technology use in meaningful ways.  With our school offering many technology pathways it was important to me to begin to pave the pathway for successful digital learning even for our youngest learners. When we began a literacy unit on retelling stories the two objectives seemed to the perfect match for some exciting learning. To do this it was important to create a lesson that could merge the two content areas. Merging the content would expand opportunities for learning and allows me to reach learners at multiple levels and learning styles.


We began by working on our literacy curriculum of retelling a story and building book knowledge. Students first learn about the role of an author and illustrator. We practice identifying important features of print such as words, spaces, picture, where to begin reading and the direction of print.

pkstory3In order to support story writing, we practice identifying story sequences including beginning, middle and ending events. Together with a large group, I model and we practice writing stories using a simple story strip that helps the children break down their story into four parts. The children are asked to identify the character, events (first, then) and an ending. Students then work to create their own stories.


After all of the pre-teaching of story writing and creating a draft we are then ready to practice using the iPads.  Students are given an opportunity to draw, erase, insert pictures and play using the app “My Story.” Working in small groups the students create a profile and practice identifying and writing their names.


Students are able to connect the learning they have done by identifying themselves as the author and illustrator of their very own book.  The children use their story strips to transfer the stories onto the iPads and practice making the illustration and words match to tell a logical story.


Flexible and differentiated learning allows the children to work at individual levels.  Some work to identify the letters in their name while others work to type all of their text, including spaces and punctuation. Listening, following directions and the ability to attend and persist are practiced as we take turns creating our stories.

The students are excited to share their books with their peers and families and our digital tools created an opportunity to take our learning to a whole new level.  Connecting skills to personal learning is a meaningful tool with powerful sticking potential.

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Kristie French is an Early Childhood Educator at BFA Fairfax.