Sensory-rich Transitions

Sensory Break Transitions

Sensory-rich Transitions are movement breaks in which students engage in stimulating activities, such as stomping or clapping, or calming activities, such as deep breathing or pushing against resistance (e.g., cart of lunch boxes, stretching with a theraband) in order to remain calm, alert, and in a learning ready state. Teachers use already existing opportunities in the daily schedule (e.g., shifting from lessons to independent work, hallway transitions) and add these elements to support students that are over-aroused (e.g., fidgety, hyperactive) or under-aroused (e.g., distractible, lethargic). A teacher first determines if sustained muscle use or rapid impact sensations are needed. These sensations are then incorporated into transitions to provide students with a sense of calm after a stimulating activity or to enliven energy levels after sitting for a prolonged period of time. Sensory-rich Transitions cause minimal interruption to time spent learning and can serve to be a helpful aid for student self-regulation.

Implementation Tips

Sensory Input Chart
Become familiarized with the effects of calming and alerting stimulation to help determine the expected effects of different Sensory-rich Transitions. For an outline of calming and alerting actions, click [[ | here ]]. Turn this chart into a visual display for students by adding images to symbolize actions.
Preparing Materials For Sensory-rich Transitions
Gather materials for quick accessibility in the classroom that provide a variety of different body sensations, such as weighted materials (e.g., weighted beanbag/backpack, box of books), stretchy materials (e.g., theraband, bicycle tire inner tube), and fidget toys (e.g, stress ball, putty).
What Calms, What Alerts
Explain to students that calming sensations include slow, heavy muscle work (e.g., push/pull against resistance, carrying something heavy), firm pressure (e.g., getting squished under pillows), and gentle rhythmic motion. Also, explain how alerting sensations include sudden movement or impact (e.g., jumping, clapping) and spinning.

Additional Calming Sensations:
--Wall or chair push-ups
--Toss a weighted ball in the air
--Deep breathing exercises
--Wearing spandex

Additional Alerting Sensations:
--Desk-side dancing
--Jumping jacks
--Erase the whiteboard
--Sit and spin in a swivel chair
Conducting Trial and Error Sessions
Conduct trial and error sessions in order to allow a student with sensory needs to experiment with a variety of transition actions. Clarify how certain activities suit certain needs (e.g., “Wearing this weighted backpack will feel like a hug and will help calm you, while stomping will help wake your body up!”).
Setting Expectations and Limits
Set clear expectations that while students applying Sensory-rich Transitions have choices, all actions must be safe (e.g., keeping hands to self, controlled motions). Consult with an Occupational Therapist (OT) to confirm that sensory choices provided and chosen will generate desired sensations and effects.
Establishing Routines vs. Variety
Establish a list of strategies that were effective for the student applying Sensory-rich Transitions when initially trialed. Monitor if the student benefits from a consistent routine of the same transition actions daily, or if some variety of actions are needed in order to keep the student engaged in the process.
Visual Reminders
Provide a student applying individualized Sensory-rich Transitions with a visual reminder of the actions to choose from. Include listed options with images to support the student’s selection. If materials are involved, make them accessible for the student (e.g., near the student’s desk) to minimize distraction.
Whole Class Sensory-rich Transitions
Provide opportunities for whole class Sensory-rich Transitions between learning blocks to support energy levels and minimize stigmatization. Take advantage of free sites, such as [[ | GoNoodle ]], to engage the class with short, structured transitions (e.g., music and visuals for dance routines, mindfulness exercises, yoga).


Individualized Sensory-rich Transitions
While conferring with a student’s educational team, the Occupational Therapist recommends that the student maintain a planned schedule of sensory input throughout the school day to decrease sensory processing issues, which previously attributed to irritability and aggressive behaviors. The teacher decides to incorporate many of the student’s sensory breaks into daily transitions to minimize interference with learning (e.g., carrying a heavy box of books to the rug before reading, wearing a weighted backpack while walking to speciality classes, active door holder, deep breathing between classroom tasks). At other scheduled times, the student engages in wall pushes and push-ups to calm the body.
Whole Class Calming Transition
After centers, a kindergarten teacher notices that the class often has difficulty settling down for upcoming lessons on the rug. To support students, the teacher decides to incorporate a Sensory-rich Transition to help calm students down. The teacher explains, “Today, you’ll notice that there are piles of books at your centers. When it’s time to transition into our next activity, I’ll turn off the lights and gently play some music in the background. Each of you must carry a book from your center to hand in as an admission ticket at the rug.” The combination or low-light, music, and heavy muscle work provide students with the calming sensations needed to launch the next lesson effectively.
Breathing Break Transition
After a lively discussion, a fourth grade teacher quickly observes some students struggling to get organized and start work independently, and that several students are getting flustered (e.g., moving frantically, dropping materials). To support these students and minimize stigmatization, the teacher initiates a whole class deep breathing exercise (e.g., slow breath in for a count of three, hold for three, slow breath out for three) for 1-2 minutes before having the class continue with independent tasks. The teacher checks-in with students and students reflect on how they feel after the exercise (e.g., “I feel less jittery.” / “I feel more relaxed.”) before having students continue their previous tasks.

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