What are Sensory Breaks?
A sensory break is a break from current activities, to help your child calm down and refocus. It is sometimes called a “brain break” or “movement break”.
The “sensory” part refers to the types of activities many children find helpful during these breaks. Some children need lots of big body activity – such as jumping, pushing or carrying something they find heavy.
Others prefer more tactile sensory stimuli such as playing with sand, playdough or water marbles.
A short (2-5 min) sensory break every 5-15 minutes has many benefits
1) Sensory breaks provide a reset-point within the current period of high-focus work.
Knowing that a break is only a few minutes away helps divide a task into manageable portions.
2) Sensory breaks help regulate and reset mind and body.
The breaks are designed to let children to burn off the energy they have built up – particularly after seated tasks like drawing or mat time.
3) Sensory breaks can feel like a reward
Sensory breaks can be seen as a short reward for the effort your child has been putting in. Remember though, that they are not a ‘bonus extra’ but a much-needed part of the day.
4) The breaks are super fun!
Join your child for a jump on the trampoline or hold their legs while they wheelbarrow walk. The breaks can be a time to reconnect joyfully with your child.
5) Taking breaks keeps things positive
Providing a framework of time on task, punctuated by sensory breaks, helps keep things moving and positive!
You can encourage your child throughout their task eg “Great concentrating, keep at it and we will take a break in 5 minutes” or “I can see you need a break, lets go!”.
Extra tips to maximise the benefits of sensory breaks during tricky tasks
Prior to starting a high-focus task with your child, plan a few sensory breaks together that work in your environment. This could be pushing against a wall, standing up and doing 10 star jumps, squeezing a fidget ball or doing a chair push up. Anything that uses muscle power will work!
Plan how long you will be “on task” and how long the breaks will be. Exact times will depend on the age of your child, their ability to concentrate and how much they enjoy (or try to avoid) the task. Use a timer of some sort to show “work” and “break” time so your child can see that the end is in sight!
If your child is doing brilliantly – DON’T ignore the break! Offer them sensory break time no matter what. Your child can choose if they take the break or stay on task another couple of minutes.
If your child is struggling – DON’T push through. This creates upset all round! Take a break if needed, even if its earlier than planned. Then, reset your expectations!! Maybe only 1 or 2 minutes on task before the next break.
What is a sensory diet?
You may also hear the term “sensory diet” this is just a fancy term to remind grown ups that kids need breaks ALL THROUGH the day – just like snacks! A sensory diet is a guide as to the types of sensory breaks you can offer your child and how frequently these should be offered.