The Sensory Body Break Room at John Lake School provides the space and opportunity for students to regain focus, regulate their body, and prepare for learning.
The room, funded by a $5,000 Program of Excellence grant from the Saskatoon Public Schools Foundation, was developed to offer students the opportunity to learn how to self-regulate using sensory breaks.
Observations and recommendations from students, teachers, and occupational therapists were incorporated to ensure the room provides students with a calm, welcoming, and engaging space outside of the classroom.
In preparation, teachers were asked to share the challenges they face in classrooms and how a sensory room might be able to help. One the issues identified was a large number of students have trouble focusing in the classroom and many are sensitive to noise and other distractions.
Teachers also noted that students who have difficulty listening to instructions typically do well once they are working on an activity, and that unstructured periods and transitions are the most challenging times for students
The creation of the sensory room responds to many of the issues identified in terms of offering a calm space, allowing students to have a choice of activities, providing an alternative space that is accessible when needed, and providing students with expectations and the knowledge and confidence they need to self-regulate.
The room is divided into areas corresponding to the sequence of activities recommended by experts to help increase regulation in the classroom: cardiovascular exercises, proprioceptive exercises such holding the body still; and calming exercises such as breathing slowly and deeply. Students do a final check-in before returning to class. Breaks can be as short as five to 10 minutes if a routine is followed and students can then be ready to resume learning.
The foundation's grant provided for the purchase of equipment including two stationary bikes, sensory swing, punching bag, balance boards, weights, medicine balls, resistance bands, yoga balls, scooter, and an assortment of sensory/fine motor tools. It is used for activities recommended by occupational therapists to assist the student with regulation and strengthening fine motor skills.
The sensory room is designed to not be overstimulating. In each area of the room students are provided with a variety of options and can choose the activities they wish to do in a safe, quiet place away from distractions and peers. Its purpose is to make the space accessible for students with the highest needs, and to use the routine to equip them with the knowledge they need to use the space effectively.
The room is used for regularly scheduled body breaks with intensive-support students at least once per day. Other students make use of the space on an as-needed basis, and it also serves as a place for senior students who need a calm workspace.
Activities in the break room are tied to other self-regulation lessons students have learned. Heart-rate monitors are used to provide students with biofeedback, which increases their awareness of how they feel when their energy and emotions are elevated. With practice, students have learned they can use the space to help control their energy and emotional levels.
Students who use the break room return to their class calmer and more focused. For students in the school's BALANCE classroom, behavioural data showed an increased in frequency of positive behaviours after using the break room. Positive sensory processing strategies increased by 38 per cent, while students' use of independent or safe behaviours also showed significant growth.
Observations from teachers illustrate how the sensory room has benefitted students, their individual learning, and classrooms in general.
- "When students come back from the break room, there is a noticeable change in their body language and in their ability to come back into class, focus, and complete work."
- "The break room has allowed us to have a regimented schedule for body breaks, which has helped kids use it routinely."
- "The break room gives us another space to break out when there's difficulties in the classroom.
- "The break room has given kids the chance to take more ownership of their learning."