Brain Breaks for Kids

As adults, we know we need brain breaks. It’s why the phrase “water cooler chat” became a thing. Workers realize they need a break, so they walk to the water cooler for movement and refreshment. While there, they may discuss the holidays or Fantasy Football, which gives their brain a break from whatever they were working on.

Students need brain breaks too! Even when teachers use a multi-sensory approach to learning, kids need a break from thinking about schoolwork throughout the day.

Everyone needs to take a break throughout the day.

Taking brain breaks will increase focus and attention in the long run. Some school staff people wince at the thought of taking breaks with kids. This is often because some kids struggle with getting off task and then on task again.

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But, without brain breaks, they can become fatigued and will go off task anyway.

What is a Brain Break?

Brain breaks are just what it says. Your brain takes a break. Using the examples stated above, it’s the office worker who needs a break from her spreadsheets, so she goes to the water cooler to talk with her coworkers about fun stuff.

For kids, it’s taking a break from whatever they are working on in the classroom. Whether it’s math or grammar or history, for 5-10 minutes they can dance or hop in place and not think about that subject matter for a few minutes.

Brain breaks can be short, easy exercises like jumping jacks or stretches. Or, a brain break can even involve quiet time such as deep breathing exercises, meditation with or without music, or resting the head on the desk.

Another brain break idea is taking a walk around the classroom or building. Or, allowing students to interact with their peers, aka ‘free time.’

Sometimes the natural school environment provides this, such as older students moving between classrooms for different classes.

Brain Break vs Sensory Break

I have done other posts about students taking a sensory break and sensory break ideas. That list of sensory break ideas will also have some great brain break ideas.

So what is the difference between a sensory break and a brain break?

Not much. A sensory break is designed to accommodate and support students with sensory processing issues. A brain break is for everyone.

Everyone can (and should!) take both sensory breaks and brain breaks.

But a child with sensory processing issues may require more frequent or different types of downtime.

And, a child with different sensory needs may also struggle with emotional regulation. So, if frustrated or overloaded, they may not react as appropriate to the brain overload.

Who needs a brain break?

Everyone! No, seriously, everyone. Do you wear a Fitbit or smartwatch? And doesn’t it tell you to get up and move at least once an hour?

This is because that is what long-term health data tells us. The human body was not designed to sit and be still for long periods of time. The healthiest communities on the planet are those that move about throughout the day. Sitting has become the new smoking, as they say.

Brain breaks for school students have many benefits.

Brain breaks can:

  • increase information retention
  • decrease stress
  • prevent boredom
  • increase focus
  • increase concentration

How often should you take a brain break?

The short answer is multiple times, every day.

In elementary school, the natural environment provides these breaks with lunch, recess, and gym. Younger students should get 1-2 breaks every hour. Older students need less frequent breaks.

Adults can watch for signs in their students. Most teachers can tell when their students are losing focus, and that can be a good indication that it’s time to take a break.

Brain Break Ideas

I have seen much creativity from teachers when it comes to doing brain breaks.

Some keep a rotating list at the front of the room, on a whiteboard. Others keep the ideas on notecards or little slips of paper in a big jar.

Brain Breaks for Gross Motor Movement

  • Calisthenics–Pushups, situps, jumping jacks, or windmills, the possibilities are endless. Incorporate some old-school exercises to get that blood pumping!
  • Walking Breaks –Students can walk around the classroom or building. As age-appropriate, they can do something like follow the leader. Or add things like jumping, skipping, and bunny hops.
  • Beach Ball or Balloon– A beach ball or balloon is inexpensive and easy to have on hand. You can either do an informal volleyball game or have the students toss the ball to each other and have to say something when they do. (like an important fact that you just covered)

Mindfulness Brain Breaks

There are so many great mindfulness activities for kids out there to choose from. You can click that link for more suggestions, but here are a few to get you started.

  • Use a mindfulness app to do some deep breathing or meditation.
  • After doing the calisthenics listed above, bring calm back to the classroom with some deep breathing and stretching.
  • Star Breathing Technique
  • 5 Finger Breathing
  • Yoga is really popular right now and chances are that some of your students or their parents are already doing it. Learn a few basic poses and get started. There are plenty of exercises you can do that do not require a yoga mat.
Adapt your yoga exercises and poses to the outdoors if the weather permits.

Reading and Puzzle Brain Breaks

Do you know why games for our phones like Candy Crush became so popular? Because they give adults a much-needed brain break!

In the classroom, you probably don’t want to do a brain break that requires kids to use phones. But, old-fashioned pen and paper work just as well.

  • Coloring Pages: Coloring is fun for all ages, even coloring pages for adults. There are plenty of resources online to download and print free coloring pages, so you can probably even find some related to the subject matter you just taught.
  • Word Search, Word Puzzles, or Sudoku–Any of these can be adapted to review the lessons you just taught. And, they reinforce other skills like literacy and critical thinking.
  • Card Games–You can get decks of cards at dollar stores. Introduce or reintroduce games like War, Hearts, or Rummy
  • Bingo–You can find bingo cards with just about anything on them, including football bingo cards.

When in doubt, ask your students! I’m sure that there will be no shortage of ideas coming from the kids.

And teachers and parents, don’t forget yourselves. I talked a lot about brain breaks for kids in the classroom, but adults need them too. Don’t get to engrossed in your work that you forget to take your brain breaks too.

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