Support attention with sensory circuits

Sensory circuits have evolved from sensory diets.  They are like a gym circuit, but using sensory based activities to support a child’s readiness to learn.  You can easily integrate sensory circuits into a child’s day.  However, it is important that you are choosing the right activities to match their arousal needs.  This article will explore

  • Examples of sensory circuits

  • How to set up a sensory circuit

  • Benefits and issues of using sensory circuits

children yoga mats text sensory circuits

Support attention with sensory circuits

Sensory circuits have evolved from sensory diets.  They are like a gym circuit, but using sensory based activities to support a child’s readiness to learn.  You can easily integrate sensory circuits into a child’s day.  However, it is important that you are choosing the right activities to match their arousal needs.  This article will explore

  • Examples of sensory circuits

  • How to set up a sensory circuit

  • Benefits and issues of using sensory circuits

The goal of sensory circuits

The goal is to help children’s arousal to prepare them for learning. Usually they are most helpful for sensory seekers and pupils who are slower to process sensory information.  You can read more about the different sensory processing patterns here, and you can learn a lot more in my training Sensory Aware with GriffinOT.

What does a sensory circuit look like?

A sensory circuit will typically include different activity or movement stations.  Imagine a gym circuit, but with a different goal.  Instead of focussing on the cardiovascular system and building muscles, the focus is getting ready to learn and attend.

Usually a sensory circuit includes movement.  There might be faster movement to help children who need to become more alert.  There could be heavy work activities to support children to get organised.  Typically, there are different stations of activities which children move around during the session.

An example sensory circuit

Jane, as teaching assistant, has set up a circuit in the PE hall for four students who need to increase their arousal.  These students spend at least a half an hour on the bus to get to school and typically arrive sluggish and tired.  Along the sides the hall, she has set up:

  • Star jumps
  • A balance beam
  • A slalom run
  • Bucket stilts

The students have 2 minutes on each activity and then they move to the next one.  She finishes with a GriffinOT or Go Noodle movement video as there is a screen in the hall.  The circuit takes about 15 minutes and is timetabled in for these students every morning before lessons.

children holding dumbells

Sensory circuits to organise

Liam is a movement seeker. He finds it tricky to stay still when seated on the carpet in the morning. To help, his teaching assistant uses a sensory circuit to help him to get organised. She uses the PE hall and sets up a structured routine of four exercises which Liam has to complete three times. There is a visual plan to help Liam remember the activities and the order.  He has to count his movements when running or jumping. She also includes a lot of crawling at the end for proprioceptive input; Liam loves crawling through the hoops.

Setting up your own sensory circuit

Before setting up your circuit you need to consider the following questions as they will help with your planning.

Sensory circuits can be a great way to support a child’s arousal to allow them to participate at school.  You must individualise them to match each child’s arousal needs.

Supporting arousal and regulation

Sensory activities can be used to change arousal and to support regulation.  Typically, movement helps to increase arousal.   Breathing, yoga or heavy work can help to reduce arousal.  However as each child is different, they will need access to different activities.

Before creating a sensory circuit, you need to know how you want the child’s arousal to change.  Does the child need to increase or decrease their arousal?  Or, do they need to be more organised?   It is important to know the needs of each individual child.

If you have multiple children in your group, you may need to give them individual plans within the circuit.  Children who need to get organised typically need more structure, so they might have to count their movements.  Those with low arousal might need to do faster movement for longer.  If the child needs to calm down, they might avoid the faster movements.

Overall, the goal of the sensory circuit is that the pupil will be more ready to attend and focus on their lesson.  It is your job to tailor the circuits so that they achieve this goal.

children stretching on mats sensory circuit

Benefits of sensory circuits

You can use sensory circuits with a number of children at the same time, making them a helpful tool for schools.  They can provide structure to the morning or during other transition periods, and children find them quite fun!  Children can use sensory circuits as a tool to regulate and become organised for learning.

These benefits only occur if you are individualising the circuit activities to meet each child’s needs.  It is also important that you monitor the impact of the circuit.  There should be an improvement in the child’s capacity to access learning when the return to the classroom.

Issues with using sensory circuits

The primary issue with using sensory circuits is that there is no one size fits all.  This means that you need to tailor them to each individual.  Often, you can use the same activities, but children will need to complete them differently.  It’s important to consider the needs of all children in the group. Staff using sensory circuits report that they see positive changes for their children, however there is currently little research evidence to support their use.

A second issue I see, is that staff have not received any training to support their understanding of the senses and how to use sensory circuits effectively.  This is easy to resolve with my online sensory aware training!

Further information

Jan Horwood has written a book called ‘Sensory Circuits’.  This book is popular, but it doesn’t give a lot of information or new activity ideas if you already have some knowledge.  In my opinion the structure of alerting, organising and calming does not work for every child.  Depending on their arousal needs, different children need a different combination of sensory activities to prepare them for learning.  Please consider this when you are setting up your circuit.

My book Success with Sensory Supports explores arousal needs in further depth.  There is a checklist to help you to evaluate children’s sensory needs, this can be used to help identify whether alerting, organising or calming activities may be best for them.  It also provides clear instructions on how to complete different activities, including safety considerations.

Other articles on the GriffinOT website which include activities that can be incorporated into a sensory circuit:

Finally, Twinkl has a huge number of movement, balance, beanbag, animal walk and yoga cards which you can use for visual prompts.

Other Articles You Might Be Interested In

father holding child up, smiling, text sensory strategies
child holding sibling text what is sensory regulation
Boy standing at bubble tube text Sensory Processing Disorder Training with GriffinOT

Join Our Community