This year I've found that I have a few students who just need a break sometimes. They aren't in trouble (yet) but I've learned that if they don't get a break at the right moment I will regret it later.
I've been trying to keep a collection of things around for kids to do when they need a break- things like running a note to another teacher, washing tables, making confetti (ripping construction paper), sorting books. Some kids need something mindless (sorting/cleaning) and others need something that will pull them away from whatever they are obsessing over.
My new favorite break-time activity for kids who need to think about something else is to give a kid one of those classroom material catalogues we get. Usually I dump those things straight into the recycling. A few weeks ago I discovered how valuable they are. Now I ask my friends who need a break to work on a shopping list for our class. I ask them to cut out what they would like our class to have and glue it on a paper.
It's pretty much just shopping therapy. I mean, who doesn't fill up an online shopping cart at Nordstroms only to hit delete?
The first time I did it was out of desperation. I hadn't gotten rid of a catalogue yet so it happened to be near me when I noticed a friend needed a break. When she was done I was amazed at her choices. Of course it was full of toys- I mean, she is 7 and I did tell her to make a dream list/ but it also had things we actually could use. It told me a lot about her as a learner. She picked out things that would give her a more private spot to work, products that would help her not get so distracted by her friends, and things that would help her organize herself.
When I talked to her about it I was surprised how self aware she was of her learning and working habits.
Since then I've asked her to do it once or twice a week. It is a great distraction for her and within five minutes she's usually ready to come back to the task at hand. I love that it lets me know so much about her at the same time it de-escalates her.
And so far she hasn't asked me where the things are. I suppose once that starts we'll go into budgeting.