So I thought I’d write a blog post about movement and sensory breaks following on from my YouTube top tips on this topic.
I do 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 numbers that teachers are required to support without appropriate therapeutic supports & interventions. We talk a lot of inclusivity for children in education and believe me- I am a prime advocate. However, sometimes inclusivity for the child can only be achieved when the right level of supports are put in place and the challenge is pitched at the right level. Inclusivity should be for the benefit of the child and not to create an inclusive ethos based on promises.
Apologies for the rambling 🗣
So what are movement & sensory breaks?
In my opinion- they have separate entities. Movement breaks can often be achieved within the classroom and all children will benefit from an attention & regulation perspective. Gonoodle is a great resource for this and used in lots of schools. Maybe some kids need more movement breaks as they frequently go to the toilet for a break, fidget throughout the day or tune out frequently. For these kids, you may offer them additional ways of moving e.g a jobs list for in the classroom, reorganizing the library books..
In comparison, a sensory break is a daily prescribed break with recommended activities provided by an OT. The focus is to offer intensive sensory input for 15mins in order to have a lasting effect on the child’s ability to regulate their behaviour and emotions. You may not see the benefit in school but I’m sure they see the difference at home in the evening with homework, self care demands and bedtimes. If the child has access to a Special Needs Assistant, this break should be done at the same time everyday so that the child is aware when they will be offered this break. Changing the frequency or time, can increase the child’s anxiety or cause behavioral difficulties as it can be overwhelming. It’s like being told you can’t have your lunch break 2 mins before you are supposed too and then you have to work for another hour before a break. You may have been prepping your body for that coffee and now you need to quickly adapt making you cranky and frustrated. Now substitute that coffee for a sensory break and expect a child who thrives in routine and predictability to adapt.
This break might include proprioceptive or ‘heavy work’ exercises for some kids who need deep pressure in order to feel calm & focused. For another child who has auditory sensitivities and high anxiety- it might include time spent with ear defenders doing a repetitive puzzle or chilling on a beanbag while looking at a lava lamp. Every child’s sensory system is complex and their program must 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 the 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. So then we have the problem of access.. access to appropriate supports and services especially OT.
Hopefully this post can shed some light on the difference and importance of sensory breaks. You might have a ‘pleaser’ in the classroom but remember parents may have frequent meltdowns at home. It’s not about perspective or parenting- it’s about overload and it often happens out of routine or in the evenings.
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