50 brain breaks for sensory regulation

Brain breaks for sensory regulation are important for most kids, but especially for children with autism and neurodiversity. In the classroom at school, at home, or transitioning between activities, brain breaks support kids to manage their emotions, body energy and attention.

The usefulness of brain breaks for sensory regulation

Brain breaks for sensory regulation are useful and necessary for

  • managing attention. Children don’t have long attention spans, especially for activities like listening to an adult (or teacher) talk to them. Brain breaks can help support attention by giving the brain a rest between long activities, which can improve concentration and memory.
  • regulating emotions. A sensory regulation brain break can help bring down heightened emotions. Kids with autism won’t be able to use words if they’re heightened and using their emotional brain. They need to be able to calm down first before they can listen, talk, and discuss. Movement or calming activities can provide the time needed to regulate emotions to a point where kids can re-engage, think and problem solve.
  • adjusting body energy. At different times of the day (e.g. after lunch), kids might have lots of energy. Brain breaks can provide avenues to use up some of that body energy so they can then have a period of quiet and calm e.g. for book work, listening or instructional learning. Kids and students with hyperactivity ADHD may especially feel a need to use up body energy before they can focus, and need regular high intensity movement to help adjust their body energy.
  • smooth transitions. Moving from one activity to another, from classroom to classroom, or from home to a new place for therapy sessions, are all transitions. For autistic kids, these changes in environment can be stressful. Engaging in 10 minutes of sensory brain breaks can support smoother transitions.

When should you use brain breaks?

Brain breaks can be used for sensory regulation:

  • at the start of lessons/therapy sessions/homework times to provide smooth transitions and bring body energy to a level that supports concentration and attention
  • in the middle of long sessions or lessons as a way of breaking up periods of long concentration, or times of sitting down constantly.
  • in the afternoon in order to prepare children for bed – the physical activity will support tiredness and sleep.
  • proactively throughout the day. Practicing sensory regulation activities when calm and happy means it’s more likely to stick when angry, heightened or upset.

50 brain breaks for sensory regulation – physical movement

Workout Games

Be Well Played, Coach Corey Martin, and other channels on Youtube have great workout games for kids that encourage movement.

Dancing

Just Dance and dance tutorial videos are great for getting whole class participation in moving your body to the beat.

Animal Yoga Poses

Strike a yoga pose with a cobra, cat, cow, frog, flamingo or other animal-based pose.

5-4-3-2-1 Exercises

Select 5 exercises and do a 5-4-3-2-1 mini workout. For example, 5 push-ups, 4 jumping jacks, 3 squats, 2 leg lunges and 1 burpee.

Karaoke Sing-a-longs

Singing along to a favourite song is a great way to connect and get energy out through noise. Pick a song with a lyric video or karaoke version. Bonus points if you make it an action song too, where you do actions that match the words to the song. Our favourite sing a long at the moment is Encanto’s We Don’t Talk About Bruno – there’s lots of different voices and tunes which means lots of people can sing at once (kinda like Bohemian Rhapsody).

Keepy Uppy

Well, you could learn to juggle, but that’s likely to be more frustrating than calming for autistic kids or kids with low muscle tone or coordination. Try a game of keepy uppy with a balloon, or gentle throwing with a large balloon, ball (even a fit ball works) or soft little bean bags. Keepy uppy can be placed individually, or in large groups, where the aim is to keep the balloon in the air and not touch the ground.

Silent Ball

Silent Ball is a surprising favourite of even older kids. Grab a soft ball and have people stand apart from each other. In silence, throw the ball around. If you don’t catch a ball that was aimed at you, or drop the ball, you are out and must sit down. You can add extra challenges in like standing on one leg, one eye closed, one arm behind your back.

Stretches

Do some simple stretches like reaching for the sky, touching toes, rolling shoulders, leg lunges or jogging on the spot. Many of these stretches can even be done while still sitting in a seat such as on airplane trips or long car travel.

Kids’ Yoga

Yoga for kids is another great way to get moving for a brain break. It doesn’t have to be a long break, or it can be an extended break with a theme that everyone is interested in.

Wall Squat Burns

For a quick sense of relief and relaxation, first get the muscles burning. Stand one step away from a wall and come down until you’re in a squat. Make sure your back is against the wall, and hold the pose for 30 seconds. Your leg muscles will be burning, your core activating – all big muscle groups being used. At the end of the time, stand up again and feel the instant relief from your muscles that can relax your whole body.

Sun Salutations

A whole body stretch and relaxing move to greet the morning. Repeat 3-5 times.

Values Lines

Learn about each other while getting in physical movement. Set one side of the room as “Yes” and the opposite side of the room as “No”. Ask questions and have people move along the spectrum to show their agreement or disagreement.

e.g. Sheep are better than chickens. Pineapple belongs on a pizza. The best things in life are free. Classrooms should be quiet spaces. Children should be able vote.

Obstacle Laps or Circuits

Set up some different obstacles like running around cones, throwing a ball at a target, walking over a balance beam or stepping stones, crawling under a table, jumping over a rope, or spinning around in a circle. Complete the obstacle circuit 5 times.

Go for a Walk

If you’ve been cooped up indoors for a while, something as simple as going for a walk outside in the fresh air can provide a great break. Walk around the house, around the neighbourhood block, or down to the oval/playground to stretch the legs, rest the eyes, and recharge.

High Fives around the room

If you have more than 2 people in the room, run around the room giving everyone a high five. It can help provide structured social interaction and get physical activity in. Don’t forget to use hand sanitiser or wash hands after so you don’t spread germs.

Mexican Wave

Starting with sitting down in seats or along a bench, start at one end and have people stand up with their arms in the air then sit down, until the wave has passed through everyone and gone to the other end of the line. Bring the wave back to the beginning.

Clapping games

Help release nervous energy with clapping games. Clap out a rhythm and have the other person copy it back to you. Keep repeating with more difficult rhythms, and varying the loudness or softness of the clap. Swap and make the other person the leader.

50 brain breaks for sensory regulation – quiet breaks

Jigsaw Puzzles

Maybe you need to bring the body energy down, and want to bring calm and quiet back after doing physical activities or being silly.
Try putting out a jigsaw puzzle and slowly placing pieces together.

Playdough

Playdough, modelling clay or plasticine are all great materials for squishing, shaping, moulding, creating and generally using the hands to be creative and calm.

Sensory Bin

Have a tub filled with rice, clean sand, or beans. Dip your hands into it and gain sensory input that can be calming.

60 bpm Calm Music

Play music from a playlist that has 60 beats per minute. This is a similar speed to resting heat rate, so can bring your heart rate down too as your body mimics the speed of the music.

Colouring

Colouring, drawing or painting can be soothing activities for calming too. That’s why places offer art therapy for autistic kids.

Find a words or other puzzles

Easy enough puzzles that aren’t too difficult to be frustrating can also suit some kids. Try find-a-words, mazes, anagram makers, or sudokus.

Listen meditation

A short 1 minute moment to be still, quiet, and listen for what sounds you can hear.

Sit or lie down comfortably. Breath in and out slowly three times. Close your eyes and use your ears to listen to the sounds around you. What can you hear inside the room? Can you hear noises from outside? Notice the sounds and listen, but allow them to pass over you without annoyance.

Soles of the feet meditation

A short 5 minute grounding meditation focusing on sensations through the feet.

How to draw videos

These easy to follow videos make drawing easy, fun and relaxing.

Deep breathing

Practice deep breathing to get a handle on anxious or frustrating moments.

Rub hands and hot hands

For an active yet calming brain break, rub your hands together really fast to get them warm. Then place them on your cheeks to feel the warmth on your face. Repeat three times.

Sighs and Yawns

Want to feel instantly relaxed? Force 3 yawns or deep sighs. A deep, loud sigh that goes “haaaaah” makes your shoulders drop, encourages deep breaths, and reduces tension.

50 brain breaks – creative thinking game breaks

Sometimes you just need to break up a long task (like a homework assignment) or a long lesson with a brain break. For quick, fun, creative and team building brain breaks that help regulation of attention and energy, check out the following:

The telephone game

Sit in a circle. The first person whispers something to their neighbour, who passes the message in whispers around the circle. See how the message changes with each passing on.

Gartic Phone

Gartic phone is a digital form of the telephone game that mixes descriptions and pictures. Hilarious fun if you have devices, internet and at least 4 people.

Make a meme

Take a concept that you’re learning about, and turn it into a meme. You’ll need a device and internet.. and be ready for what kids make to not make sense at all.

Secret handshake

Pair up and make up a secret handshake with that person. Repeat several times until you remember.

For an extra challenge, go around and make a different secret handshake with everyone else in your house/classroom. Can you remember each individual secret handshake sequence when you greet each person?

Would you rather?

Ask silly ‘would you rather?’ question and laugh at the answers. Would you rather be a unicorn or a dragon? Would you rather only eat one type of food, or only live in one place for the rest of your life? Or would you rather live in the past or the future?

Grab the Chatty Capybara cards for more Would You Rather ideas.

Gratitude post its

Use post-it notes or little index cards to record something you’re grateful for. Go walk and share them with someone, or store them in a box for opening later as a reminder of what makes you happy and grateful.

Hello

Go look up different ways of saying hello in other languages. Can you learn 100 different ways of saying hello? Practice greetings with people each time you see them e.g. each time you enter a classroom.

Guess the word Snowman

Guess the word through a game of snowman. Write out the number of letters in the word, and draw a snowman with scarf, carrot nose, eyes, top-hat, buttons, and stick arms. People then have to guess letters. For each letter that isn’t in the word, the snowman loses a piece off him. Try to guess the word before the snowman melts.

Jokes and puns

Come up with or find a joke or pun that relates to a topic you’re interested in. Share it with a friend. Write it on a piece of paper and put lots of joke into a Joke Jar for using everyday at the start of dinner, or start of a lesson.

One word story

Tell a story one word at a time. Have fun with setting the scene with prompts such as:

  • Harold goes on holidays when something happens
  • Susie hears a strange sound and goes to investigate
  • Something involving a beach, a dinosaur, and a can of lemonade

If you only had 3 items on deserted island

Imagine you were stuck on a deserted island, washed up after a shipwreck. What three items would you want to have for your survival?

One Question

Ask everyone the same question and listen to each other’s responses to learn more about everyone.

Questions like: What’s your most embarrassing moment? What’s your favourite memory of …? What’s the grossest food you’ve ever eaten? If you knew you had one final meal, what would you want to eat?

Alphabet game

Go through the alphabet, A-Z, and list an item that starts with that letter. You could have themes of food, things in school, holiday activities, sports, or animals. Play this individually, in pairs, or as big teams. If you’re playing as a team, use a whiteboard or big piece of butchers paper on the wall with the letters A-Z going down the side of the board/paper. Stand up in a line 2m away from the board and rotate through the team of people until all the letters are completed.

Math dice

Use dice to play games.

  • Roll a dice. Each number is an activity – from a cleaning the house activity to a getting to know you activity, to a sports activity. When you roll that number, do the activity.
    e.g. 1 – dust a window, shake hands with one person, do 5 jumping jacks, reflect on positives from the day, quack like a duck
    2 – wipe down a surface, say hello to someone, do one burpee, reflect on one thing you learnt today, dance like a chicken
    3 – clean a mirror or glass, give a hug, do 2 push ups, reflect on something tricky today, gallop like a horse
  • Roll two dice. Play maths games practicing your adding, subtracting, or multiplying skills between the two numbers that you roll.
  • Roll a dice 100 times and keep a record of what numbers you get. What’s the chance of rolling a 6? Of rolling an even number? Of rolling a number lower than 3?
  • In pairs, set challenges e.g. you must do 10 push ups, you must clean my room, you must read 5 pages of a story to me. Take turns rolling two dice and the first person to get double 6s wins. The other person then must complete the challenge.

Celebrity Heads

Write the name of a famous person on a headband or on a whiteboard above where someone is sitting. That person then asks questions that have yes or no answers of the audience until they can guess who they are.

Guess the picture

Everyone writes out a word or short phrase on a strip of paper. Then pair up. One person looks at a word and draws a picture of it, while the other person guesses what it is. Swap and repeat.

Charades

Write out a bunch of words – action words (verbs), abstract noun (like happiness, truth, danger) and idioms/expressions/sayings are particularly tricky. One person has to act out the word to describe it, without using any words, while everyone else has to guess what it is.

Bingo

Draw a 3×3 grid. Fill in the grid with numbers, words, or activities. Cross them off when they get called out and see if you can either get 3 in a row or complete the grid. For an extra challenge:

  • Write numbers in the grid, but then what is called out is a sum e.g. 2+3 or 2^2. You then have to match the solution to the sum to your grid.
  • Write down words in the grid, but the definitions, synonyms, opposites, or matching words in other languages are called out.
  • Write down activities like cleaning tasks, errands/jobs/to-dos for the day. Make crossing off things you need to do fun.

Name anagrams

In a group of 2-4 people, write out all the letters of their first name. See if you can create an anagram with as many letters as possible to represent you as a team. E.g. John, Sam and Lucy could make Lunch Soy Jam or Only Such Jam!

Collaborative team building problem solving game

If you have big teams of people, try a collaborative team building problem solving game.

  • Cross the River – stand in a line on one side of the ‘river’ or room. Hand out mats, cushions, stepping stones or just A4 paper as lily pads. For a challenge, have less lily pads than people that need to cross the river. There must be some part of a person (e.g. a foot) on a lily pad at all times or it will sink into the water. All members of the team need to cross from one side of the river to the other.
  • Fold the newspaper – In pairs, stand on a large sheet of newspaper that’s on the floor. Now hop off and fold the newspaper sheet in half. Can you still both stand on it? Keep folding the newspaper sheet in half until you can’t both stand on top of it. See how many folds you managed.
  • Fold the rug – Get everybody to stand on a rug/mat/tarp. Now, you need to flip the tarp/mat over to the other side without anyone hopping or falling off of the tarp. This takes lots of communication, team cooperation and problem solving to figure it out!

Explain the drawing back to back

Draw a simple line drawing e.g. a house. Sit back to back with another person and don’t let them see your drawing. Describe your picture in as much detail as possible without saying what it is. E.g. Starting 1cm from the top and 1cm from the left, draw a vertical line down the page and stop 2 cm before the bottom of the page.

Then compare what they manage to draw with your picture – how close is in in size and shape?

Conclusion: Brain Breaks for Sensory Regulation

Get creative – there’s endless ways that don’t have to take a long time to help with transitions, regulating body energy, regulating emotions, and building social cohesion.

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