Inside: Sensory brain breaks to help kids de-stress, reset, and re-center and also help kids to solidify what they learn. Any kind of activity that immerses kids into their environment is a sensory break. These are great for virtual learning, but also anytime kids need a reset.
What does school look like for your child this year? Or, if you are a teacher, what does your classroom look like? Whether in-person and distancing, at home and zooming, or homeschooling with more limited social activities — our kids are having to adjust to a lot this year. And with big changes comes stress and dysregulation.
You may see this manifest as trouble sleeping, outbursts, less risk-taking, more risk-taking, withdrawal, impulse control issues, more picky eating and so many more various ways. Anxiety or unresolved stress can take many forms.
One way we can help our kids is to get them back into play. Play allows kids to work through confusing issues or stress — and even to solidify what they learn. Play also allows kids to get out of their minds and grounded in their environment. This helps kids ground themselves — reset — re-center. To move from thoughts of worry to being immersed in play.
The Benefits of Sensory Play As a Brain Break: State of Flow
Sensory play is a great way to transition from school to free play. Or when your kids simply can’t get into playing and need to reset. Sensory play can also be broken down into smaller segments throughout the day for brain breaks.
A brain break is just a fancy way of saying take a break from seated, and usually passive, learning activities. Research shows the brain needs movement, motion, and hands-on experience to learn.
Don’t miss the free Sensory Brain Break for Fall Choice Board Printable below!
Sensory play can be especially helpful if your child is doing virtual learning this year. From what I have seen — the majority of virtual schedules are not developmentally appropriate for kids (there are some exceptions) and while teachers and administrators are doing their best, virtual learning takes a toll.
Sensory play can help balance all of that focused attention and screentime with ways that actually relax the mind. Maybe skip the “virtual” brain breaks if you can and do something sensory instead!
Sensory play immerses the senses and multi-sensory is best. It doesn’t have to be complicated, you don’t need to make a new sensory bin every day or even one at all — rice and cups work fine. And if messy play bothers you, do it all outside! You can be creative or simple — the choice is yours.
We have a designated area at the desk in the playroom for messy play. My son has a pile of play dough or kinetic sand-like dough (his favorite is Mad Mattr and I love that it is non-toxic and made in Sweden). My son plays with it every single day — he pounds it, shapes it, molds it, mashes it — it is so therapeutic for him!
Sensory play allows children to immerse themselves in the moment and in their senses — this is like being in a state of flow. – Ashley Soderlund
Being in a state of flow is when you are completely absorbed in an activity for its own sake. It is when you are immersed in the present moment without even thinking about it.
Flow states occur when your child is deeply absorbed in play. This is when they discover new things, increase their exploration, and even work through stressors they may feel. Play is therapeutic for kids. Sometimes they need a little help getting there and that is where sensory activities can help kids get back into that state of flow.
State of flow or immersive play is a kind of mindfulness — arguably, one of the best kinds of mindfulness for kids. Even better? Try sensory activities outside — simply swinging can be an awesome 15-minute brain-break for kids.
52 Simple Sensory Activities for Kids
- Play with play dough or clay.
- Use different materials (sandpaper, fabric, bubble wrap) to make texture cards.
- Play with kinetic sand and molds.
- Play with cloud dough.
- Play with foam or shaving cream.
- Play with slime or Oobleck.
- Play with water or take a bath.
- Finger paint.
- Play with sensory bins with rice, lentils, sand, or water beads.
- Play with sand and shovels.
- Look at glitter sensory bottles.
- Look at discovery bottles.
- Read I Spy Books or play I Spy.
- Paint with different types of paint and brushes.
- Free color.
- Color patterns.
- Make shadow puppets.
- Look at the stars.
- Take photos.
- Listen to music.
- Listen to the wind.
- Listen to an instrument.
- Go on a nature walk and listen for sounds.
- Read a rhyming book or make up rhymes.
- Listen to calming sounds.
Body Awareness Activities
- Spin around!
- Throw a ball, catch a ball, bounce a ball.
- Crawl through an obstacle course.
- Walk on a balance beam or a log.
- Give or get a tight hug!
- Walk like different animals.
- Play Simon Says.
- Play Freeze Tag.
- Play Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.
- Play Hopscotch.
- Swing in a hammock.
Oral and Olfactory Activities
- Play with scented dough.
- Light a candle. After you are done, blow it out.
- Help make a snack and smell and taste each ingredient.
- Go on a nature walk and smell the flowers.
- Make gingerbread cookies.
- Blow bubbles.
- Blow sailboats with a straw.
- Make smoothies and drink it with a straw.
- Play a harmonica.
Choose the activities that your child will love the most — every child is different. Also, the ones that you know help your child relax— some kids love to swing, some kids need to jump, some kids need to chew or suck — so make an extra thick smoothie and give them a silicon straw for a bonus two-in-one — snack and sensory!
The Yoga and Mindfulness Toolkit for kids introduces mindfulness in a holistic way through mindful play, mindful breathing, and mindful movement. The toolkit helps children discover their self-energy — the 8Cs of being Confident, Curious, Calm, Courageous, Creative, Caring, Connected, and Clear-Headed. Deeper than self-confidence or self-esteem, self-energy helps kids learn how to reset and reground themselves even when stressed. Help your kids develop a foundation of mindfulness today!
Free Printable: Sensory Choice Board for Fall
Another way to incporaprate sensory brain breaks into your day is with a choice board. A choice board is exactly what it sounds like — you simply pick the square you want for that day!
I like this better than a calendar or a bucket-list because you can do whatever fits for that day, you can skip a day, you can do two or more a day! And, unlike a bucket list, it feels less like yet another thing to do and rather a part of the day.
I thought it would be fun to do a Fall-themed one — there are so many seasonal sensory fun things to do.