I do this all the time. I've got that thing I should be focusing on (like writing this blog post!), but I've been concentrating so long it feels like my brain has gone to mush. So what do I do? I click over to Facebook for a bit or scroll through some Pinterest pics. I've learned that sometimes I just need a quick time out to let the jumble in my brain settle.
Everyone has these same issues with concentrating, but for some reason, we expect children to be exempt. We move from task to task, from lesson to lesson, and get frustrated when the kids' attention starts to drift.
A way of combating this struggle is to introduce Brain Breaks to your class.
What is a Brain Break?
A Brain Break (sometimes called a Brain and Body Break), is a 1-5 minute low-key activity, often including movement, that lets students shake out their minds and bodies a bit. This little burst of activity gives them the boost of renewed energy they need to maintain their concentration. Some examples are:
- jumping jacks
- freeze dance
- the Hokey Pokey
- lining up in alphabetical order without speaking
- playing Telephone
- yoga stretches
- and many, many, many more!
Really any activity that gives students a little time-out from the rigor of the day can serve as a Brain Break.
Why Do Brain Breaks Matter?
With the ever-increasing demands put on teachers, it may seem that intentionally using precious, finite classroom time for a goofy activity is an unconscionable waste, but neuroscience disagrees.
Current research shows that humans learn best when we're given new information followed by a space of time to allow this information to be transferred. That's because the hippocampus--the part of the brain responsible for memory--is overwhelmed after 20-30 minutes or so.
It's like stacking books on a shelf.
You may have some amazing literary treasures--Oliver Twist and Of Mice and Men--and you've got the energy to shove books up there all day, but once the shelf is full, no matter how great the book, it just won't fit. It's the same thing in our classrooms. You may continue teaching, but the kids' brains won't continue learning. Unlike a bookshelf, the brain has a way to clear more space. The hippocampus works to convert working memory to long-term memory. So a Brain Break is literally a time-out for the brain to have a chance to free up some space for future information.
What Are the Benefits of Brain Breaks?
Obviously, the biggest benefit of consistently using Brain Breaks is increased learning. But Brain Breaks support learning in other ways besides giving the hippocampus some catch-up time. They also contribute to the tone of your classroom. Brain Breaks help keep the mood light.
If there is a positive, upbeat atmosphere in your room, students are more willing to learn. It's not just that everyone feeling warm and fuzzy leads to hardworking kids, it has to do with the brain's hard-wiring. Positive social interaction and gross motor movement trigger the brain to release dopamine (the neurotransmitter that produces good feelings). Those positive feelings are motivating. On her site The Second Principle, Dr. Leslie Owen Wilson says,"One of the key tenets of brain-based education is that attention follows emotion..." Having a silly minute or two with your students goes a long way toward boosting the positive emotions in your classroom and creating students who are ready to pay attention. And if students wind up laughing, so much the better: laughter is a healthy thing!
Another benefit of taking a quick minute for fun is the increased community spirit in the classroom.
When Should I Use Brain Breaks?
Look for opportunities when switching gears for a few minutes would be beneficial. For example, a Brain Break would be a great way to start the day. For years I've done Morning Meeting with my class. As part of our routine, we ended with a brief whole class game, basically a Brain Break. By this point of the day we hadn't done any lessons yet, but this fun activity helped cue up the mind for learning and strengthened the feeling of community in the classroom.
Times you might need a Brain Break include:
- before starting a rigorous lesson
- during transitions
- when you notice students' attention wandering
- when energy is low
- if students are restless or fidgety
- to break up the monotony of testing
- during a review
- as a reward for focused effort
- if students are short tempered with each other
- to fill the last few minutes before the bell
- as a celebration
- for a Morning Meeting activity
Brain Breaks are very versatile; you can use them in lots of different situations.
How Do I Use Brain Breaks?
Because the when of Brain Breaks varies so much, the how part is also variable. For me, it's helpful to look at my purpose of using a Brain Break in that moment.
Are students drifting off? Could they use a boost to their concentration? Then I need to choose activities that refocus them with some controlled movement (like yoga) or mediation.
Are students fidgeting? Do they need to get some wiggles out? Then I will provide activities to recharge them with gross motor movement, especially movement that crosses the body's midline.
What if I need my students to mentally gear up? Do I want to prepare them for some academic instruction? In that case I'll give them a chance to refresh their minds with some fun challenges.
Where Do I Find Brain Breaks?
Pinterest is a great place to go to find Brain Breaks. We have a Brain Breaks board that you can follow.
FREE Brain Breaks for You!
Because we have seen a need for more non-video Brain Breaks that are simply grab and go (no computer necessary!), we have created several Brain Breaks sets including small sets for free, with more on the way. Click below to get a free sampler of our brain breaks. The sampler contains 36 brain breaks: one page from each of our themed sets. Check out all the full sets in the shop, including the bundle which is definitely the best deal!
See our other brain breaks products and posts (some include freebies!):
Summer Brain Breaks (Note: summer brain breaks would be an extra fun change of pace during the long, cold winter!)