Brain Breaks are activities for those who work with children. They last five to ten minutes and help students focus on academic material. Typically, Brain Breaks are used by teachers who work with children ranging from preschool through college, but other people can use them too. Experts agree that they should be used every 25 minutes or so, or at certain breaks in an academic day. Short movement activities in the instructional day not only allow students to get their “wiggles” out, but energize them and increase their ability to focus on the next learning activity. As our world becomes busier, many parents are not able to take their children outside for supervised physical activity. Experts agree that Brain Breaks get their minds focused and their blood pumping.
Using physical-activity challenges in the classroom helps children get ready to learn and remember information better. Physical movement increases blood flow, bringing more oxygen to the brain and leading to improved concentration. Brain Breaks can also be used to energize a group after lunch or relax and calm a class before a test, after lunch, or at the end of the day. Well-developed breaks can help students stretch, develop flexibility, improve coordination, and gain focus for the next lesson. The idea is to provide some moderate activity that gets the blood pumping, so form and skill are not the focus of activity breaks. Some movements can also incorporate core academic concepts.
Many children in a classroom not only need the breaks to release pent-up energy but also because they suffer from various disabilities. Some of these students have medical conditions, mobility challenges, sensory limitations, social-psychological issues, or cognitive challenges. Some ideas to help special-needs students participate include letting students with visual or hearing impairments sit right in front of the teacher to mimic movements, and allowing those with mobility issues do activities from a seated or chair-assisted area. Friends can also help by being near their friends or guiding them in the activity.
Brain Breaks are most successful with a variety of needs of students in a small area. Supervision by the teacher is easier in the confined space of the classroom and helps both regular-education and special-needs students to focus in the confines of a classroom. Efforts should be made to provide students with disabilities their choices about activities and stories that reflect their interests and needs. Teachers working to support specific disabilities will be most familiar with the capabilities of their students and can provide reduced repetitions, different positions, extra reinforcement, and guidance––without interrupting the movement of the students and without limitations. Once classroom routines are established, the energizers and activity breaks will become familiar to all students, including those with disabilities.
Some activities that have worked in my classroom include:
- Cards with stretching, calisthenics exercises, movement breaks, or taking turns playing Simon Says.
- Seasonal movement: Gallop like a reindeer for one minute in December.
- Play catch with stress balls or beach balls for one minute.
- Videos with organized dance moves such as Zumba, or organized dances such as the Cha Cha Slide or Nintendo’s Wii Dance Dance Revolution.
- Any number of Dr. Jean, Greg & Steve, Harry Kindergarten, or Jack Hartmann fun activity songs.
- Play a memory game such as “I went on a trip and I packed ____” and each student around the room has to say everything else that has been packed, plus add a new item to the list. Or as a variation: “I went to the zoo and saw a ____” and each student around the room has to add an animal to the list.
- Teach a few words of sign language.
- Review questions for academic subject, vocabulary, Dolch Sight Words, or math addition and subtraction cards.
- Play a couple of rounds of charades.
- Do the “wave” a few times or another organized movement.
In conclusion, Brain Breaks are effective because they can help incorporate the 60 minutes of activity a child needs daily, and a teacher can modify them with the needs of her students, her own comfort level, and the amount of technology available to her classroom to help the students learn.
Action for Healthy Kids
Church, Ellen. Brain Based-Activities for Young Learners (New York: Scholastic, 2008)
Church, Ellen. Terrific Transitions (New York: Scholastic, 2008)
Gray, Ellen. Brain Breaks for the Classroom (New York: Scholastic, 2008)
Greg and Steve
Harry Kindergarten Videos
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