Do you ever feel like your brain could use a break? Your students feel that way too. Learning is hard work, and it’s difficult to stay focused for extended periods without taking a break to rest and recharge your thinking power.
Facilitating learning with breaks
Research suggests that shorter educational lessons with more breaks in between can help students learn more effectively. When students return to their assignments they are able to maintain better focus on their schoolwork and retain more of what they learn. What’s more, using recurrent brain breaks and mini mindfulness sessions throughout the day can support mental and emotional well-being in all areas of life.
Whether you are teaching remotely or in a classroom, using brain breaks is proven to support kids in processing and retaining information, all while helping them feel good. In this article, we will discuss the benefits of brain breaks and introduce some fun and easy techniques that can help students channel pent-up energy and calm their bodies and minds.
What are brain breaks?
Brain breaks are short periods of downtime during class. During a brain break, the teacher pauses the curriculum during natural transitions to engage students in a brief game, group breathing activity, movement break, or mindfulness exercise. The goal is to give students a time to rest and relax, so that they can continue to mentally recharge and refocus.
Brain breaks either stimulate or hush activity in the prefrontal cortex, the part of our brains where problem-solving and emotional regulation occur. The break charges up the sometimes tedious flow of information and gives overused mental roadways some time to rest. Afterward, students will be more relaxed and focused on learning.
Taking a brain break after concentrating for awhile can allow our brains to see the problem or content in a different light, making it easier to process information. Brain breaks are proven to reduce stress levels and improve emotional self-regulation so that students can access the parts of their brain needed for learning.
Why should I use brain breaks?
Whether you are teaching in person or in a remote learning setting, implementing brain breaks into class time is proven to increase students’ interest and engagement in learning. Brain breaks also help support mental and emotional well-being, which allows each student to get more out of learning and helps the entire classroom feel safe and connected.
Taking breaks boosts engagement and participation by addressing students’ social-emotional needs. Mindfulness exercises in particular allow students to learn critical skills like self-awareness and self-management, which in turn allow them to make better decisions and form healthier relationships with others.
Since brain breaks can help students feel good and engage more deeply in learning, teachers also benefit from giving students this time to recharge. When teachers engage in brain breaks along with their students, they too can learn skills to regulate their emotions, manage stress, and increase overall well-being throughout the school day. When both students and teachers feel at ease, the whole classroom community can thrive.
How often should you take a brain break?
Brain breaks are most effective when used regularly throughout the school day during natural transitions. There are many different ways to insert these breaks into the daily routine so that students and teachers can look forward to regular breaks to reset their bodies and minds.
Studies have shown that splitting up longer classes or lessons with kinesthetic or movement-based breaks every ten minutes can keep younger students more engaged. Middle and high school kids typically have longer attention spans and can wait 20 or 30 minutes before taking a brain break. Feel free to adjust the timing of your breaks to fit the moods and attention levels of your classroom.
Some teachers may also find it beneficial to use a brain break when students become increasingly restless or disinterested in the topic. By taking a couple of minutes to ‘wiggle it out’, jump around, or practice deep breathing, students can learn how to regulate their bodies and minds and teachers can benefit from having a moment to pause and connect with their students.
How can I use brain breaks in the classroom?
There are many different brain break techniques that can be used in a variety of different ways, depending on your students’ age and the information they’re absorbing.
Focused attention exercises can reduce heart rate and blood pressure, which ultimately lowers stress in both students and teachers. These techniques are also proven to help with relaxation, resilience, and propensity to experience positive emotions.
Try leading a focused attention practice before a test or quiz, or to break up a lesson that requires critical thinking. Here are a few to consider:
- Deep breathing
- Visualization exercises
- Playing calming nature sounds
Other kinds of brain breaks are intended to stimulate the brain. These exercises can help students reengage in learning by allowing them to channel pent-up energy into movement. Stimulation techniques can also take students’ minds off of the lesson just long enough to see the information in a new way and problem-solve.
Here are a few popular brain stimulation activities:
- Artistic or mathematical games
- Exercise-based activities
- Singing songs
What are some good brain breaks for kids?
There are many different brain break activities that are effective in a variety of learning environments. Here are some brain break activities you can try to help students of all ages refocus their energy:
- Silent ball: Incorporate a little physical activity by having students pass around a soft, medium-sized ball in silence. Ask them to avoid letting the ball touch the ground without using any noises or words. This exercise challenges students to be in tune and responsive to each others’ body language and reactions
- Dance break: Pick an exciting and upbeat song that’s about three minutes long and allow students to dance and wiggle it out. This kind of exercise helps students release energy and move their body to work out any stiffness or stress.
- Activity pages: This is a classic brain break activity that allows students to stay quiet and focused while enjoying an independent game like a crossword, sudoku, or word-find.
- Squiggle drawing: Hand out a piece of paper to each student with an abstract squiggly line on it. Ask students to make the squiggle into whatever they imagine it to be and come up with a short story to share with the class.
- Deep dive breath: Invite students to inhale for four seconds, hold that breath for four seconds, and then exhale for four seconds. Do this a couple of times to lower students’ heart rates and blood pressure.
- Yoga break: Take 3-5 minutes to go through a simple yoga routine to get the blood flowing and increase calmness. If you can, try to introduce new poses each time you take a break.
- Listening to sounds: Ask students to close their eyes and focus on the sounds they hear. You can play chimes, drums, or other calming noises to help students take a quick break between lessons and reduce stress in the classroom.
- Energize: Up the energy in the classroom by instructing students to do a series of quick-paced exercises. For example, you could have the class do five jumping jacks, four hops, three push-ups, two high knees, and one spin.
- Coloring books: Help students relax by giving them sheets of paper to color in. They can color as they wait for other students to complete an assignment or for a quick 5-minute break between lessons. Coloring reduces the heart rate and calms the mind.
More brain break ideas
Interested in integrating brain breaks into your classroom curriculum? Calm Classroom provides a variety of scripted mindfulness-based brain break exercises for Pre-K through 12th grade classrooms. Reach out to us for more info!