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Once students move from elementary to middle school and beyond, their morning and afternoon recess is no longer tether ball, four square, handball, jump rope and kickball. Students are now simply “at break” or “on a break” from their regular work load at school.  All kids, no matter the age, needs breaks at school.

Most schools offer a morning and lunch break for teen students and young adults in transition programs. However, for many of our “kids,” knowing how to best spend this time is a mystery. If you ask a typical high school student, “What do you do at break,” most likely the response will be, “We just hang out.” How do you explain or teach “hanging out” to students who have cognitive or social challenges? Well, perhaps we need not teach the exact skill, but simply offer opportunities for them to “hang out” in their own way.

Breaks from the regular school academic schedule provide vital cognitive, social, emotional and physical benefits. They enable students to eat a nutritious snack, release pent up energy and reduce anxiety. Students tend to be more attentive and productive in classrooms after breaks. Plus, breaks can offer a setting to practice social and communication skills.

Middle School

• “Refuel” by eating a nutritious snack with water – this can help give brain and body a boost of energy
• Tune out by tuning into some music on an iPod or mp3 player
• Start a game of basketball or a simple game of “HORSE.” Bring your classroom ball and share with others.
• Like crafts? Bring a simple craft kit and one to share with a potential friend
• Ask the teacher if you can bring out games such as Jenga, Uno or Kerplunk. They might draw other students to join the game and practice turn-taking.
• Walk the perimeter of the school and use a pedometer to track steps.
• Bring age-appropriate magazines. They might interest others and create a conversation.
• Best Buddies – many schools have a Best Buddy program which pairs “typical” students with students who have special needs to facilitate unique friendship opportunities.
• Is your child passionate about a hobby? Maybe you can work with the teacher or aide in class to start an informal group or club in relation to that passion. That might connect others with similar interests together.

High School & Adult Transition

• “Refuel” by eating a nutritious snack with water can help give brain and body a boost of energy
• Most schools offer many clubs from which to choose. At the beginning of the year, review all the options and help your child get involved.
• Sit with friends and talk about favorite hobbies.
• Tune out by tuning into some music on an iPod or mp3 player
• “Veg out” – break time might just be a time when your child needs to completely “disconnect” and rest with no demands or activities. Getting fresh air, change of scenery and relation are good break options.
• Bring an iPad to break to play games, listen to music or whatever is fun.
• Read a book – if others are interested, consider starting an informal book club.
• Best Buddies – same program as mentioned above.
• Some students may benefit from sensory activities including walking with a weight vest or relaxing in a quiet room.

Depending on the student’s abilities, a staff member may have to help facilitate these opportunities. While aides might be necessary for a student’s well-being or safety, they should facilitate healthy interaction or shadow from an appropriate distance. They should not be a substitute for actual peer interaction. Giving a student a break from academics and structured classroom activities is a healthy way to decompress and give the brain a break.