Post by:

Deiera Bennett

Created on:

March 28, 2024

6 Sensory Break Activities

Neurodivergent students, specifically autistic students and students with ADHD, can become overwhelmed and overstimulated with the typical classroom environment and activities. Sensory breaks can help students manage sensory overload and regain their focus in a structured manner.

Sensory breaks are short breaks that allow students to regulate their senses by exposing them to calming activities  or decreasing their exposure to sensory stimuli. By implementing sensory breaks into the school day, students can regulate their emotions and reduce stress. Sensory rooms are excellent locations for students to retreat to when they feel overwhelmed. However, every school does not have the resources to dedicate a room specifically to serving students’ sensory needs. Sensory breaks are a practical alternative that can provide the same benefits as a sensory room. Here are 6 sensory break ideas that you can use right in the classroom:

1) Quiet Space

When students are overstimulating, sometimes a few moments of silence is all they need to regain their sense of calm. Concert earplugs are a low-cost alternative to noise-canceling headphones. They work by muffling background noise, allowing students to still hear important information. Make the quiet space more relaxing by adding items such as comfortable seating and stuffed animals. 

2) Sounds/Music

While some students may prefer total silence during sensory breaks, other students need noise to help them calm their thoughts and regulate their senses. Sounds such as classical music, instrumentals, and even nature sounds can help students relax and focus.

3) Sensory Bin

Sensory bins offer low-cost items that students can feel to regulate their senses. Sensory bins can include items such as kinetic sand, beads, rice, clay, and other items that promote tactile exploration. Sensory bins are effective because they allow students to channel their senses and energy into exploring the items.

4) Mindfulness

Mindfulness activities center around directing attention to the present moment, which can be useful for students who have trouble focusing. Guided meditation, deep breathing, and other mindfulness activities promote relaxation and reduce stress while strengthening students’ interoceptive awareness.

5) Physical Activity

Sitting at a desk all day can be mentally and physically draining. Short breaks where students can move around can help them release energy and free their mind to focus on the next task. There are plenty of ways to incorporate physical activity into sensory breaks such as stretching, dancing, and light exercise. Exercise releases endorphins, which reduce anxiety and stress.

6) Puzzles and Games

Puzzles and games allow students to strengthen problem-solving skills while still taking a break from classwork. Sometimes when students are overwhelmed and overstimulated, it does not mean that they need to stop thinking or stop feeling. It just means that they need the opportunity to focus their attention or senses on something else. Our online SEL (social and emotional learning) game Ava is often used during sensory breaks as a fun way for students to practice valuable SEL skills. Other examples include jigsaw puzzles, word searches, and brainteasers.

There’s no one-size-fits-all sensory break activity. Each student has different sensory needs, and sometimes the students’ sensory needs will conflict (such as the students who need quiet vs. students who need noise). By incorporating a variety of sensory break activities throughout the day, you can ensure that each student gets what they need and has the opportunity to disengage when they feel overwhelmed or overstimulated.

Check out our downloadable Sensory Space Guide for more tips on creating sensory-friendly spaces.

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