As a special education teacher, it is important to be able to recognize when your students need a sensory break.
Sensory breaks can help children with special needs regulate their emotions and stay focused in the classroom. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be difficult to recognize when a child is feeling overwhelmed and needs some time away from the stimulation of the classroom environment.
Fortunately, however, there are some signs you can watch for that may indicate your student would benefit from a sensory break.
In this article, we’ll discuss common signs that indicate it’s time for your student to take time away from their normal activities and find an opportunity to calm down or refocus on tasks. We’ll also provide tips on how to best facilitate the process so your students can benefit from these types of breaks.
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What is a sensory break?
A sensory break is a short period of time where children can leave their regular activities to refocus and calm down.
During a sensory break, the goal is for the child to engage in activities that are calming or soothing and that help regulate emotions.
Examples of such activities might include deep breathing exercises, listening to soothing music, doing puzzles or working with clay or play dough.
A sign that the child needs a sensory break
Signs that your student may need a sensory break can include physical and verbal cues. Each child is different, so it is important to get to know your students and understand what is and isn’t typical behavior for them.
Some common signs that indicate a child needs a sensory break are:
- rocking back and forth
- squinting eyes
- difficulty focusing on tasks
- increase or decrease the volume of the voice
- covering the ears
- covering the eyes
- get frustrated easily
- be disruptive in class
- fixation on an activity for longer than usual
- get up from the chair
- hides under furniture
- climbing on furniture
- frequent requests for help.
If the students are old enough, it’s a good idea to include them in the sensory break request. You can teach them how to advocate for themselves and ask for it verbally, or teach them the ASL “pause” sign so they can communicate with you quietly.
Here is the break (time) character:
Planning in Sensory Breaks
Regular sensory breaks in the special education classroom can be extremely beneficial for both teachers and students. Planning these events ahead of time allows children with special needs to take precautions to better manage their emotions, focus in class, and not be overwhelmed or distracted by the classroom environment.
When students know a sensory break is coming up, they may be able to continue working until then. While this may work for most students, there will always be times when flexibility is needed and students require sensory breaks before or after scheduled time.
Scheduling sensory breaks into the day helps keep lessons running smoothly, minimizes disruptions, and creates a learning environment where everyone can thrive.
Facilitating a sensory break
It is important to remember that not all sensory breaks need to be done in a dedicated ‘sensory room’ or area of the classroom. A sensory break can also take place in any quiet place that leads to calming activities, such as a corner or even outside in the fresh air.
It is also important to keep the sensory break short, as too long a break can cause children to become disinterested and lose focus.
When it comes to facilitating a sensory break for your students, it’s best to give them clear instructions on how they can take a moment away from their normal activities to refocus and calm down.
Be sure to offer a variety of calming activities for your students to choose from, but allow them to make the final decision about which activity they would like to do. Finally, be sure to provide positive reinforcement when they successfully complete their sensory break and return to their work.
By recognizing the signs that indicate a student needs a sensory break and providing the necessary support, special educators can help their students regulate their emotions and stay focused in the classroom. Through sensory breaks, children with special needs can learn to better regulate themselves, maintain focus and thrive in an educational environment.