A classroom can be both an overwhelming and over stimulating environment for a child, especially a child with sensory needs. It is our job as parents, caregivers, teachers and Occupational Therapists to make the classroom environment as conducive to learning as possible for all children.
It is a known fact that children need to move--frequently! Children should be given the opportunity to provide their bodies with appropriate input often throughout the school day. By often, I recommend at least every 1-2 hours. In fact, this is why sensory breaks are a critical part of the classroom routine. Here are some tips on how to get the most out of sensory breaks in the classroom.
Depending on the child and his/her needs, a sensory break will look different from child to child. For one child, the break might be calming and relaxing. For another child, a sensory break will be active and alerting. The time of the breaks can also vary; one child might need sensory input immediately upon entering the school before academic learning begins whereas another child might need a sensory break before transitions between activities. The important part of a sensory break, is that it provides individualized input that brings back a sense of focus and organization, enabling the child to then learn. Engaging in regular sensory breaks will help your child meet his/her greatest academic potential.
Some children know their bodies well and will recognize the need to take a sensory break in addition to knowing what their break looks like. More frequently, children won’t know when or how to initiate these breaks. A verbal or visual cue can be used to initiate a sensory break activity. This is where sensory break cards are beneficial. The teacher should collaborate with an Occupational Therapist to create sensory cards; these provide visual images of available activities for children to complete. These cards are individualized activity ideas from which the child can select. Again, depending on the child, either the teacher or the child can look through the cards and select the most appropriate sensory break activity for that given moment.
A classroom is typically filled with tables, desks, chairs and kids; space may be limited. Every school configuration is set up differently; depending on the school, sensory activities will have to be completed in a classroom corner, in a hallway, or (if fortunate) in a separate sensory room. Depending on your availability, here are some sensory break ideas that can be implemented and incorporated in a classroom:
- Weighted lap pad
- Foot bands
- Animal walks
- Bounce on exercise ball
- Jumping jacks/jump in place
- Book lifts (ex. lift a book over your head 10x)
- Stomp/March in place
- Wall/chair push-ups
- Scooter board
Some activities can be done with a whole class such as:
- Simon says
- 1 leg balance contest
- Book pass (follow a pattern and pass a weighted book amongst the children)
- Freeze dance
Incorporating these sensory activities into the classroom will provide visible changes in children's performance. You will see improved participation, focus, as well as a child's ability to interact with peers in the school environment. Collaboration amongst teachers, parents/caregivers and OT’s can make a dramatic positive impact in the school setting.