How to Build in Sensory Breaks for Your Kids While Learning From Home

Wednesday, October 7th, 2020 7:21 am

Simple tips for parents.

By Dr. Jennny Nash, Head of Education Impact for LEGO Education

In my days as a science teacher, I was always creating fun and interesting hands-on projects for my students – I saw how much joy (and better understanding) they got from engaging with a tangible project vs. simply reading from a text book or listening to a lecture. Now as the mom of a 12-year-old who has been enrolled in virtual school for years, I know how important it is for her to get these same hands-on learning experiences and have time each day to step away from her desk and the computer screen.

A survey from LEGO Education and Harris Interactive shows that hands-on learning helps keep students more engaged while improving their understanding of STEAM subjects. When students get hands-on and learn through play, they build important social-emotional skills like communication and collaboration. Most importantly, this playful approach to learning builds their confidence and resilience – something every student needs more of now.

As Head of Education Impact for LEGO Education, I help educators get the most out of teaching and learning with our STEAM solutions and hear from teachers around the world how hands-on learning has transformed their students into excited and engaged learners. The powerful concepts behind purposeful play that are effective in classrooms can also be adapted to the home. At a time when parents are even more involved in the day-to-day with virtual and hybrid instruction, many are looking for inspiration and guidance on how to not only facilitate learning at home, but also bring in much-needed sensory breaks. We’ve learned from four decades of classroom experience how to do just that.

Kids are taking in a lot of information, especially from screens, and need time to think about and interact with those ideas. A sensory break allows for this – what I call ‘think time.’ It’s also an opportunity to get playful with ideas by getting hands-on and integrating learning. Here are some tips for how you can bring the classroom-proven approach of hands-on learning to your home and balance online learning fatigue with different types of sensory breaks:

Create a Personal Learning Space

Let your child design, create, and explore their own personal learning or maker space. Whether it’s the kitchen table or a corner of the family room, the idea is to empower them to take control of their learning environment by creating a dedicated space that’s uniquely theirs, where they can go to take a break and get hands-on. I like to think of it as my daughter’s personal engineering space! There are many online resources and activities created specifically for getting hands-on at home like the “Learning Can Happen Anywhere” page which includes a supplies checklist to help build your space:

  1. LEGO Bricks
  2. Craft materials: pipe cleaners, foam pieces, buttons, ribbons, etc.
  3. Pens, pencils, crayons, and markers
  4. Different types of tape
  5. Paper products: construction, sticky notes, cardboard
  6. String, yarn, and wire
  7. Tools: scissors, hole punch, ruler
  8. Different fasteners: rubber bands, paper clips, clothes pins, glue
  9. Recycled containers
  10. Simple machines: gears, wheels, pullies, and axles

Once you have the space set-up, check out these activity starters that allow your child to build and learn like the “Make a Wearable” activity for grades 3-5 or “Make a Carnival Game” for grades 6-8. Whether you have a LEGO Education set at home or the craft supplies in their learning space, they can get inspired and start building and making!

The Six Brick Challenge

This is a quick and easy way to build in sensory breaks throughout the school day. All you need is to grab six LEGO bricks and pick one of the 25 activities from the Six Brick booklet that range from five to 40 minutes. One of my favorites is the 5-minute “Tricky Tower” challenge to activate your brain in a different way. Using any six bricks, your child has to create a tower by balancing the bricks – not clicking them together. For an added challenge, try using only one hand, and then ask questions about why they chose their design or how they could make it more stable. Simple sensory breaks like these help break up the day and support critical thinking and problem solving that will also help your student later in their schoolwork.

Get Outside

An easy way to take a screen break is to physically get up and head outside. Rain or shine use a lunch break to go for a walk. There are so many learning opportunities all around you! Something we love doing as a family is to create a photo scavenger hunt ahead of time. It is a great way to find examples of things your kids are learning about. It could be the number of something for counting, shapes, colors, or for older kids it could be examples of Newton’s laws, examples of living vs non-living things, examples of fractions or decimals. Taking the time to learn from what’s already around you and asking questions helps sharpen your child’s curiosity and can extend what they’re learning in class to the real world.

These easy activities are a good starting point to take a break, get hands-on, and build your student’s confidence along the way!

Share your ideas, learning spaces, creations, and tips by tagging #RebuildTheWorld and #LEGOconfidence on social media!

Dr. Jenny Nash serves as the Head of Education Impact Team for LEGO Education in the US, where she provides direction and leadership in delivering meaningful education opportunities for students. With previous experiences as a professional development provider and STEM teacher, Jenny is an advocate for hands-on, inquiry-based learning for students and building confidence in teachers to provide this type of learning.

Top photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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