Sensory paths and sensory breaks have been shown to provide sensory support and development to both adults and children of all ability types. The sensory paths provide time for children to engage with their senses in a focused way, that has been proven to improve learning and memory as it actively builds connections within the brain.
In order to create a space in which both brain and body are active, the sensory paths incorporate many different activities and themes to suit children of differing ages and abilities. Physical activities range from pushing, hopping, spinning and more.
The gentle and immersive nature of our sensory paths provide a sensory break for these children without removing them from the learning environment. Rather it provides a supported, child-friendly movement breaks that can help to decrease the pressure and allow them to navigate their way back to learning.
REDUCING STRESS, INCREASING PRODUCTIVITY
Research shows that our brains are not idle when we take breaks, they are hard at work processing memories and helping us make sense of what we experience. In 2012 a study by Helen Immordino-Yang and her colleagues at USC and MIT used an fMRI scanner to examine neural activity during the brain’s “default mode”, a state of rest that is usually associated with taking a break or letting our minds wander. In this state, the brain is still highly active, with a different set of regions lighting up than when we are focused on the outside world.
Further experiments showed that this default mode is crucial for consolidating memories, reflecting on past experiences, and planning for the future, in other words, it helps shape how we make sense of our lives. Sensory breaks keep our brains healthy and play a key role in cognitive abilities such as reading comprehension and divergent thinking (the ability to generate and make sense of novel ideas). “Rest is indeed not idleness, nor is it a wasted opportunity for productivity,” Immordino-Yang and her colleagues write.
So sensory breaks are an essential part of learning. But the benefits extend beyond the psychological well-being of students. Particularly for younger students, regular breaks throughout the school day can be an effective way to reduce anxiety or boredom in the classroom. In a series of recent studies, short physical activity breaks in the classroom improved students’ behaviour, increasing the effort they put into their activities as well as their ability to stay on task.
BOOSTING BRAIN FUNCTION
Sensory breaks which include exercise, whether short activities in the classroom or at breaktime, help promote physical fitness, which in turn boosts brain health. In 2013, the National Academy of Medicine (then called the Institute of Medicine) published a major report on the benefits of physical activity on children’s cognitive development and academic success.
At the time, less than half of U.S. students were meeting the federal guideline of 60 minutes of daily exercise. Bringing together experts across a range of fields, the report made the case for why regular exercise crucially belongs in schools: It not only provides physical health benefits to students but also enhances their cognitive functioning, leading to higher academic performance.
How does exercise improve learning?
Engaging in physical activity increases blood flow and oxygenation in the brain, boosting neural connectivity and stimulating nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, the centre of learning and memory. So exercise actually changes the structure of our brains with a number of benefits; improved attention and memory, increased brain activity and cognitive function, and enhanced mood and ability to cope with stress.
Unstructured playtime on sensory paths provides an opportunity for imaginary and creative play and allows children to practice divergent thinking. They benefit from the freedom to explore new ideas without fear of failure or the stress of grades, and regular exposure to new experiences can also increase their cognitive flexibility, preparing them for academic challenges.