originally written and published on Harkla.co
As we all prepare to go back to school, one of the keys to your child’s success is making sure he is provided with sensory supports throughout the school environment that promote regulation, focus, and engagement. You’ve worked hard to put sensory supports in place at home and it’s important to carry those regulation efforts across the school day too!
We’ve talked about creating a sensory-informed classroom, developing sensory tool boxes, and choosing the just-right fidget or stim toy for your child. Now, the challenge is to put it all together in a sensory diet that works for your child, your family, and the school.
If you watched our Facebook Live video on Creating a Sensory Diet That Works, you learned that a sensory diet is comprised of sensory breaks and sensory snacks. Both kinds of supports will provide your child with proactive supports for learning but managing the many academic, social, and scheduling demands of the school day can make it difficult to know where to start to plan.
Sensory breaks are the “meals” in your sensory diet -- best planned every 90 minutes – 2 hours and offer your child large doses of sensory input. This is when your child can jump, crash, squish, brush, spin, swing, and scooter his way to regulation. Your occupational therapist should create a sequence of therapeutic activities that are tailored to your child’s needs. This will streamline the sensory break times to be effective and time-conscious.
In a school setting, these sensory breaks are best scheduled in consideration of the student’s scheduled activities (academics, specials, recess). For some kids, recess may be enough of a gross motor opportunity to help them get their wiggles out, but for other students a transitional sensory break may be needed to help them return to a quiet learning environment after all of the excitement. Some students need a morning sensory break to ease the initial transition to school and “wake up” their bodies for learning!
Sensory breaks can happen in a corner of a classroom, hallway, resource room, or (if you’re lucky!) a sensory break room. No matter where the location, sensory breaks should offer the necessary intensity and duration of sensory activities that your child needs on a planned, consistent basis.
Consider sitting down with your child’s teacher and Occupational Therapist to develop a schedule that meets your child’s regulation needs but does not detract unnecessarily from academic times. Look at transitional times when sensory breaks could be done en route to the next activity. It may be that what works best is a hybrid of in-class, hallway, and break-room activities! Once the schedule is in place, be sure to revisit whether the sensory breaks are effective and occurring frequently enough (or too often!) to meet your child’s needs.
Sensory snacks are the classroom accommodations, modifications, and sensory tools that ideally already exist in your child’s sensory-informed classroom! These may include fidgets, active seating options, oral sensory options, and built-in classroom movement activities. Use our guide to creating a sensory-informed classroom as a conversation-starter with your new teacher. He or she may already have some great sensory snacks in place for all students that will benefit your child.
Sensory Planning Takeaways
Take note of what works and what isn’t as successful in helping your child regulate, as this will save you time at the beginning of each school year in maintaining a sensory diet that works at school and will help you carry over at home.