Ideas for Brain Breaks and Why They Matter
“Brain breaks” are brief mental breaks that give students a chance to relax and reset. They are healthy for both students and teachers, and these brief moments of time are a major investment in the success of your school day. In this post, I’ll explain why brain breaks are an important classroom practice, plus share some fun and creative ideas for brain breaks your students will love!
What Are Brain Breaks?
Specifically, brain breaks are short, structured breaks led by the teacher. They are usually focused on mindfulness exercises, physical movement, creativity, collaboration, or sensory exercises. They can involve the whole class, pairs, or an individual activity, such as deep breathing.
In most cases, brain breaks are 3-5 minutes. You can use them at specific intervals, when students seem chatty or distracted, or as a way to transition from one part of the lesson to the next.
Why Kids Need Brain Breaks
Brain breaks are an evidence-based strategy that offers enormous benefits for kids. Here are a few reasons to add brain breaks to your daily routine!
Since brain breaks are an opportunity to refocus and reenergize, they increase productivity in the classroom. Breaks prevent students from becoming overwhelmed with stress, boredom, or fatigue. Brain breaks often involve movement, which also gets the endorphins flowing and boosts students’ overall moods.
Together, these factors leave students feeling refreshed and ready to learn after a brain break. Just like in the workplace, taking frequent breaks ultimately increases focus and productivity.
Research shows that short, physical activity breaks lead to improved behavior in the classroom. Students who don’t get enough physical activity during the school day struggle to stay attentive and on task in class. Those who receive more physical activity also tend to put more effort into their lessons and schoolwork. Physically active children outperform their peers academically on a long-term basis.
The amount of time your students get at recess is beyond your control. But you can use brain breaks to put movement back into the classroom. As a result, you’ll find that your students are more engaged, on task, and ready to make an effort during your lessons, leading to better behavior and increased achievement.
Social Skills Development
Similarly, brain breaks give children short bursts of socialization and play. This is essential for learning skills like empathy, conflict resolution, and the ability to manage emotions. Students will enhance their social-emotional growth as they practice assertiveness, composure, empathy, cooperation, responsibility, and more.
Brain breaks prepare children for learning by incorporating brief intervals of play, movement, and social activity throughout the school day. You may feel like brain breaks sacrifice time you can’t afford, but that isn’t the case.
As productivity, engagement, positive behavior, and social skills increase, so will your teaching time. You’ll also maximize the effectiveness of your lessons by delivering them to students who are ready to listen and learn.
Best Practices for Brain Breaks
Before we get into some fun ideas for brain breaks, let’s look at best practices for incorporating them in your classroom.
- Young students can benefit from a brain break every 10-15 minutes, while every 20-30 minutes is sufficient for older students.
- Alternatively, you can gauge your students’ engagement, energy levels, and moods to determine when a brain break is appropriate. If kids are getting wiggly or chatty, or if they appear to be zoning out of your lesson, you know it’s a good time to take a brain break.
- You can also use brain breaks as transitions from one lesson segment or activity to the next. For example, if kids just finished a math lesson on the carpet, send them back to their desks by saying, “Count the number of steps it takes to get back to your desk.” Similarly, you can conclude a lesson segment by asking kids to meet with a partner and share the most interesting or surprising thing they learned.
- Before you start to incorporate brain breaks, make a list of ideas for brain breaks you’d like to use. Ensure you have any necessary materials, and that they are quick and easy to access. Build in time for brain breaks in your lessons, and note which activities you plan to incorporate. As you get more accustomed to incorporating brain breaks, you may be able to choose the most appropriate timing and the best activity (e.g., energizing or calming) on the fly.
- Some teachers have a brain break die with six options, while others have a brain break box. If these options interest you, have kids roll the die or draw a slip from the box to select a brain break.
- Talk to students about the purpose of brain breaks. After your first couple of brain breaks, chat with students about how they helped. Explain that you’ll be trying out different types of brain breaks to see what works best for your students.
- Set a timer to ensure brain breaks don’t go over 5 minutes (unless you’ve planned for an extended break). Ideally, students will be able to see the timer so they have a warning that the brain break is winding down.
Ideas for Brain Breaks in the Classroom
Now that you’re ready to use this practice in your classroom, here are some helpful ideas for brain breaks!
- Try ready-made brain break activities from GoNoodle.
- Dance along to music videos from Flocabulary or The Learning Station, or simply have a three-minute dance break to a song your students enjoy.
- Lead a mindfulness activity, like deep breathing or a yoga pose.
- Give students a few minutes to quietly doodle or to process something they just learned.
- Ask students to pair up and create a secret handshake.
- Walk, skip or leap-frog through a sensory path.
- Rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time, or try to blink your left eye while snapping the fingers on your right hand and vice versa.
- Get with a partner and talk about your plans for the weekend. Alternatively, post four prompts on the board and have kids rotate partners, spending one minute per question.
- Stand facing a partner and copy one another’s actions like you’re in a mirror.
- Let them take a break to color.
- Play a game like “Four Corners” or “Would You Rather?”, asking silly questions and sending kids to designated areas of the room to indicate their answers.
- Play classic games like Follow the Leader, Simon Says, or Telephone.
- Give students a few minutes to quietly color and practice mindfulness.
- Do jumping jacks or jog in place.
- Play air instruments to form your very own air band.
- Toss a ball around.
- Make silly faces.
- Tell a collaborative story by saying a sentence, then having each student add another sentence or phrase.
- Challenge a partner to a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors.
- Pair up and brainstorm a brain break to try next time. Add your students’ ideas to your brain break die, brain break box, or brain break list!
By incorporating these ideas for brain breaks in your classroom, you’ll plan for a more positive and productive school day.