A sensory break or brain break is something that can benefit anyone. Sensory breaks are often associated with kids with autism or sensory processing disorder. Although their need for a sensory break can be more intense, we can all benefit from a mindful moment.
What is a Sensory Break?
A sensory break is a moment of mindfulness, paying attention to our bodies and focusing on our sensory experience at the moment. It’s taking time to listen to what our bodies need. It can be as simple as fidgeting with something and focusing on the tactile sensations in our hands.
Three Core Sensory Systems
Sensory breaks activities focus on three core sensory systems:
Our vestibular system helps provide a sense of balance and provides information about the position of our body.
Proprioception is awareness of where your body is in space. It is your ability to sense movement, action, and location. Because of our sense of proprioception, we don’t have to think about each step we take.
Tactile is what we perceive through our sense of touch.
Who Benefits from a Sensory Break?
Sensory breaks and moments are a great self-care technique for all of us. A sensory break can help us feel calmer, more grounded, focused, and ready to take on the task at hand. It’s an incredible way to care for ourselves.
Time-Out Versus Sensory Break
We should distinguish between a sensory or brain break and a time-out. Today, children are given a time-out as a form of punishment, but that is not the purpose of a time-out.
Time-outs are a way for children to remove themselves from situations that were becoming difficult to handle emotionally. Time-outs should give children time to calm themselves. Time-outs are generally reactive and used after a child is already in a state of emotional distress.
Sensory or mindful moments are proactive. We want to teach our children to read the cues from their bodies so they can take care of their needs before it becomes distressing.
Why Sensory Breaks are Important
I will suggest a sensory movement break when I notice my student bouncing their leg or wiggling and shifting in their seat more than usual. We stand up and do some physical activity to help them feel more grounded in their bodies and get some of the energy out that’s bottled up inside.
Sometimes these breaks are as quick as 1-2 minutes. Other times, we take a little longer. We listen to our bodies. We can concentrate on our work when we pay attention to our body cues and give ourselves the sensory input we need.
In working with children for the past 20 years, I have found taking a proactive two-minute break is much more enjoyable for myself and my student. I prefer using sensory movement activities compared to struggling through a lesson and denying the child and myself what we need at the moment.
Other times, we find ways to get the sensory input needed while continuing our work. It can be as simple as something to fidget with while listening, reading, or writing.
How to Use Sensory Breaks for Anxiety
Taking a mindful moment can help to calm anxiety. When we feel anxious, it can help to ground us. When we take a moment to focus on our sensory experience, it takes us “out of our heads” and out of our anxious loop of thinking. Sensory breaks calm our nervous system, increase self-control, and enhance concentration.
Children can become overwhelmed by a lot of sensory input, especially children with sensory processing disorder or autism. These children can find it hard to filter out irrelevant sensory information. They can calm their nervous system by taking a moment in a quiet area and engaging in a calming sensory activity, like playing with Aromatherapy Putty.
Classroom Sensory Break Activities
There are many ways to incorporate sensory breaks or mindful moments into the classroom.
- A small handheld fidget toy can provide a quiet sensory break during class.
- Even just taking a moment to stand up, stretch, or move our bodies for a moment or two can be incredibly helpful for attention and focus.
We can help children to take care of themselves in a proactive manner during class time. Help them identify the signals in their bodies that they need a sensory break or mindful moment before they are in distress or become disruptive to the classroom.
When working with a child, I watch for signs that their bodies may be entering “fight or flight” mode. If their hands feel cold, their pupils dilate, or their hands tremble slightly, I suggest we take a sensory break. I tell them what I’m noticing, so they can start to observe these signals for themselves, and I help them find an activity that calms their nervous system. If available, a weighted lap pad or blanket is an excellent tool during these moments.
Sensory Break Ideas for Home
It’s fun and easy to work sensory breaks and mindful moments into your day at home! Here are a few ideas.
Use our aromatherapy bubbles! Blow the bubbles while your child runs, jumps, and pops the bubbles. Bonus! They get a dose of aromatherapy!
Take a quiet moment to roll, squeeze and pinch our aromatherapy putty.
Our Purposeful Playsets include aromatherapy putty and bubbles and are a great way to introduce sensory breaks at home. Use the Relax Playset before bed or the Focus Blend Playset when your child needs help with attention.
A small trampoline in the house is a fun way to help your child get the sensory input that they need.
Make an obstacle course with items you find around the house, such as pillows, and take turns running, jumping over, crawling under, and spinning around the obstacle course.
Use our aromatherapy chalk to create a sensory path for your child to follow.
There are many ways to encourage your child to practice mindfulness and incorporate a sensory break when they need it. These are just a few suggestions.
Our goal is to make it easy and convenient to use both sensory tools and aromatherapy to take care of your emotional well-being.
We believe it should be easy, convenient, and safe. We create all-natural and nontoxic aromatherapy and sensory tools for both children and adults. All raw ingredients that go into every product have been researched and sourced to ensure safety and quality so that you can feel good about your choice.
To your wellness - cheers!