What are Movement and Sensory Breaks?

Movement and sensory breaks may be conducted together or individually, and sometimes these terms are used interchangeably however movement and sensory breaks are two different things and it is important that we are aware of what each type of break entails. 

Movement breaks often take place inside the classroom – and can involve the whole class. The whole class can benefit from movement breaks, as they improve their attention and focus. Teachers often use resources such as GoNoodle and Cosmic Kids Yoga to facilitate these breaks, but movements breaks might also take a very simple form and consist of things like cleaning the board or handing out books to the class. Even a trip to the bathroom can be considered a movement break. Some children require more movement breaks than others and in this instance, it may be helpful for the SNA to facilitate further breaks for those students while the teacher continues teaching the rest of the class.

Sensory breaks are generally implemented for students who have been identified as facing challenges in processing sensory information. They can take place inside or outside the classroom as any activity which stimulates or removes sensory input can be considered a sensory break. Sensory breaks are times dedicated to allowing opportunity for the child to gain or escape from sensory stimulation, depending on their specific needs.

What isn’t a movement or sensory break?

A movement or sensory break is NOT:

  • A reward
  • A punishment
  • Free play time
  • An escape from ‘work’
  • Reactive – a sensory or movement break should not be implemented as a response to behaviour, it is instead a proactive activity.   

How might an SNA facilitate these breaks?

It is very common for SNA’s to facilitate movement and sensory breaks as ‘sensory diets’ are regularly recommended for student with sensory processing difficulties. If a child has access to an SNA then that SNA can regularly implement they breaks which the child needs throughout the day. Generally speaking, frequent short breaks tend to be most effective however a small number of longer breaks may also be provided.

Inside the classroom, SNA’s can support students to regulate themselves by supporting the implementation of various strategies. Students may need to utilise methods of gaining sensory input and specific recommendations may be made by the child’s occupational therapist. These might include the use of a wobble cushion, various fidget toys or even various jobs around the classroom which include ‘heavy work’ like lifting and pushing. The SNA can ensure that any items or strategies recommended for the child are implemented as appropriate.

It can be very helpful for the child to know in advance when they will be having their breaks and the SNA can incorporate the breaks into a visual timetable. Some students might also benefit from visual supports explaining the activity being engaged in during their breaks. Good communication is essential, and SNA’s will need to keep in mind the language which they use, tailoring their instructions to ensure that the student can understand and follow them. SNA’s can assist students by using verbal and physical prompts and demonstrating activities.

Finally, SNAs play an important role in monitoring the impact of the movement and sensory breaks. They should take care to note the activities which help to regulate the student, and result in them being both calm and alert, ready to engage in activities and work towards reaching their potential in the classroom.

By Nicola Barry, SNA Tutor Progressive College

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