Everybody needs a break sometimes—a sensory break. Whether you are overloaded from a long day at work, you just got off a commuter train, or it’s been a hard day at school, a sensory break can revive the senses and make you feel human again. For children with special needs, a sensory break can be a lifesaver, allowing them to function when their sensory system has been overloaded. Without a means to decompress, they can experience behavior challenges such as anxiety, depression, or meltdowns. A sensory break helps us orient, process, and refocus. But we don’t always have access to a sensory room or a cool breezy day on a hammock. That’s when a sensory box comes in handy.
You can purchase an already-made sensory box for just about any age, from preschool to elementary to teens. If you’d rather make your own, include these key components so you’ll have all your senses covered.
1. Stretch and Move
Movement is a terrific sensory filter. Combining it with a sensory tool is even better. A stretchy band, tubing, sack, or fabric tunnel are space-conscious ways to keep a movement tool at your easy access in your sensory box. Allow younger kids to romp around pretending to be a giraffe or a bear while pulling and stretching. For older kids, suggest a mini-workout. Use the resistance to do group work with partners. Try crossing the midline while pulling and stretching to provide proprioceptive neuromuscular orientation. That’s a fancy word for orienting the muscles and joints to where they are in space.
2. Heavy Hand Work
Your break box should contain something to do with your hands, such as putty, a stress ball, or a fidget tool. You can fill up a ziplock bag with hair gel or sand and make a homemade fidget. In addition, there are many durable options available for purchase, such as fidget balls, chewable fidgets (for single-person use) and manipulatives. Heavy hand-work can help with stress relief as well as focus and concentration.
3. Touch and Feel
In addition to a heavy hand workout, it’s important that your break box provides some sensory exploration. Perhaps something soft or with multiple textures is your preference. You can have a gel product that encourages manipulation as well, like a squishy toy. A small spiky ball or massage tool can provide deep pressure or heavy touch. A mini lap pad or small weighted beanbag animal gives fingers a great place to explore as well.
4. Eye Tracking and Coordination
Got a plastic fork or spoon? You can tape it to the back of a foam plate. Keep a few spare balloons in your box and now you have an instant game of balloon paddle. Eye-hand coordination and eye tracking do wonders for sensory regulation. You can also pick up a small beanbag maze, plain beanbags. or juggling scarves. They can be used for tossing, catching, and crossing midline. You may also want to have a small mirror or light-up toy to please the sense of sight.
5. Sense of Scent
I love to offer aromatherapy as an option for a sensory box. You can pick up some scented putty or some roll-on scents. Peppermint or lemon is wonderful for alerting and lavender or sage for calming. You can put a few drops of essential oils on a cloth, tuck it into a ziplock bag, and open it up to calm or engage.
6. The Mouth Matters
Though we don’t recommend keeping chewies in a box that is used by multiple individuals, if it’s a personal break box, a chewy can be a great stress reducer while using other items in the box simultaneously. In addition, you can toss in some chewing gum or sugar-free lollypops, a kazoo or a harmonica. Sipping, chewing, biting, blowing, and sucking all act as great filters when it comes to sensory processing. Did you know that the jaw can create hundreds of pounds of pressure with a single bite? That is a great heavy workout.
Be creative. Think about tools that will keep kids busy, focused, and using their bodies and brains together. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself using the break box as well!