Movement & Sensory Breaks
So I thought I’d write a blog post about movement and sensory breaks following on from my YouTube clip (attached below). I also go into this topic in a lot more detail on My OT University which you can learn more about by clicking here.
I complete weekly school visits to meet with teachers & school- teams to assist with my clients occupational therapy (OT) goals and to ensure their OT needs are being met in the school environment. The response and level of knowledge can vary amongst school teams but the majority of educators are keen to learn and proactive about recommendations. It is important to note the complexity of needs in a classroom in recent times and the growing number of students that teachers are required to support without appropriate therapeutic supports & interventions. When My OT University launched we had hundreds of schools sign up so that they could upskill in areas relating to sensory processing, movement breaks etc. However, their role is more focused around education & therefore it is vital to have an OT involved that is trained in sensory integration to support your child's individual sensory needs within the school environment.
So what are movement & sensory breaks?
It can be helpful to see movement & sensory breaks as two separate entities yet they are often used interchangeable. In my opinion, movement breaks can often be achieved within the classroom and they can be inclusive as all children benefit from movement to assist their attention & focus. Movement breaks might include using the 'Let's Get Moving' gross motor classes available through the Free Resource Kit here, GoNoodle or allocating classroom jobs. Some kids will require more movement breaks than others as they may frequently use the bathroom for a break, they might be constantly fidgetting or tuning out etc.
Children who have been identified as having difficulties processing sensory information, may need additional ways of gaining sensory input to feel regulated within certain environments. Specific individualised recommendations around these strategies can be provided by the child's OT. Some may include strategies within the classroom such as, a sensory cushion on their chair, schedule of jobs that include lifting/pushing/pulling, theraband wrapped around the legs of the chair, fidget toy box etc.
Other recommendations may include specific 'sensory breaks'.
In my view, sensory breaks are daily prescribed breaks for both home & school that contain recommended activities provided by an OT who is familiar with that child. The focus is to offer intensive sensory input for 15mins or longer in order to have a lasting effect on the child’s ability to regulate their behaviour and emotions.
Sometimes, the benefit of these breaks isn't always apparent during school but they can make a huge difference to that child at home in the evening when they have to do homework, self care demands and bedtime routines. If the child has access to a Special Needs Assistant (SNA) this break should be done at recommended times everyday so that the child is aware when they will be accessing this break & times have been chosen to suit that child's sensory system.
This break might include proprioceptive or ‘heavy work’ exercises for some kids who seek deep pressure in order to feel calm & focused. For another child who has auditory sensitivities and high anxiety- it might include time spent in a quiet environment doing a puzzle or chilling on a beanbag while looking at a lava lamp. Every child’s sensory system is different and their program should reflect the needs of their age, the environment and their state of arousal.
Do I expect a teacher to understand every child’s sensory system? Not at all, even an OT needs further training in Sensory Integration to practice these techniques. I would advocate for OT involvement in every child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) when necessary with prescriptive recommendations around the child’s sensory needs which are demonstrated appropriately to the school staff.
Hopefully this post can shed some light on the difference and importance of movement & sensory breaks. There are also videos on each of the sensory systems & sensory strategies for the classroom available on My OT University which you can view here.
CONTENT DISCLAIMER: Jessica Kennedy is a Certified Occupational Therapist. All information on the website is for informational purposes only and is not a replacement for medical advice from your physician. Please consult with a medical professional if you suspect any medical or developmental issues with your child. Do not rely on the information on the website as an alternative to advice from your medical professional or healthcare provider. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment as a result of any information provided on the website. All medical information on the website is for informational purposes only. All activities outlined on the website are designed for completion with adult supervision. Please use your own judgment with your child and do not provide objects that could pose a choking hazard to young children. Never leave a child unattended during these activities. Please be aware of and follow all age recommendations on all products used in these activities. My OT & Me is not liable for any injury when replicating any of the activities found on this blog or website.