How to Add Student-Centered Brain Breaks

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Many people ask the question, “what are brain breaks in the classroom?” Brain breaks in school give students (and teachers!) the opportunity to freshen their brain to prepare to excel more effectively. Research on brain breaks in the classroom shows that students who are taught these exercises do better long term in their educational studies and have an easier time controlling stress and remaining mindful.

We’ve all been there…you’re just feeling off. You can’t concentrate. You have a deadline looming and you’re just muddling through to get it done, but you know it’s not your best work. No matter how hard you try to focus, your mind wanders and you just can’t seem to accomplish the things you have set out to do. You need a brain break, and there are plenty of options for brain breaks to choose from.

man rubs his eyes under his glasses in exhaustion with the caption, "do you ever feel like you just need to give your brain a break?"

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There are many different theories out there about how much time you need to take to do your best work. I once read that 52 minutes on and 17 minutes off is the most productive. You may be familiar with the Pomodoro Technique of productivity. No matter what method you have heard of, one thing is the same across the board: it is documented that the human brain needs time to relax in order to perform at its best. While workplaces are embracing this and adults regularly take the time to go grab a cup of coffee or take a quick lap around the office, often students are expected to stay put and do what is told of them with only a few passing minutes in between tasks.

Why do we expect our students needs to be any different than adults??


One thing everyone needs to remember about Student-Centered Learning is that the main goal is to help the student achieve at their highest attainable level. One thing everyone also needs to remember is that students are human, too. If it is commonplace for an adult to take a few minutes to collect themselves before moving forward with a task, why in the WORLD would we expect our students, whose brains are still developing, to be an exception to this norm?

If anything, kids are more likely to struggle in areas requiring focus because they’re still learning how to deal with them. They’re still figuring out the necessary skills to be able to regroup and get their work done.

However, most teachers have been trained to believe that when a student walks through their door, they should be on their game from “bell to bell”. That’s really just not realistic.

I’m not saying that we should give these kids a pass. They need to learn how life works, and in life, you get your work done or the consequences are generally not in your favor. However, I am saying we should give them the tools to learn how to realistically deal with the times they’re just not “feeling it”.

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So, how do we do that? Add a brain break opportunity.

We all have coping mechanisms, also known as “brain breaks” where you give your brain a moment to settle down. Sometimes we listen to music, or go for a drive, or peruse the internet. It might be a snack or a walk, or playing with our pet. Obviously doing this in the classroom in a short period of time is not possible. There are small things that can be set up in a classroom to help these students take a moment and then get back to work.

This year, I created an “adult coloring book” bulletin board. I made several copies of a drawing that would look okay over and over again as a pattern and then put a basket of markers next to it. All students (high school students, mind you) were told that if they needed a brain break, they could go and color for a bit.

I was skeptical, anticipating having to talk to students about spending way too much time coloring. Honestly, I thought it wouldn’t work.

I was wrong.

All year long, students have taken no more than 3 or 4 minutes to color at any given point. Sometimes it is to help them focus and prepare for the day’s activities…or to just take a break from the lesson…maybe it is to unwind before their next class. Whenever they do it, I can tell you first hand….it works.

four students standing at bulletin board coloring with caption, "coloring boards are an easy brain break option"

I don’t have the easiest group of kids in the world that are compliant with rules, either. But this gives them an outlet to give their brain a break and the ability to refocus. No screens, no requirements, just a moment to catch their breath and regroup. A basic, simple brain break. Boys, girls, overachievers, and those “too-cool-for-school” kids have all taken me up on this….and it’s COLORING. Who knew?!

coloring bulletin board example of flowers with caption "brain break coloring board"

Not only does this give your students the chance to increase their own productivity, but they are given the opportunity to regulate themselves and learn their exact needs in order to do their best work. Will this always work perfectly? No. Of course, you may have students that try to work the system. Keep in mind though, most students who work the system are because they are the ones who are having trouble staying engaged. Helping them especially learn how to take and use a brain break effectively may be a life skill that will help them throughout the rest of their lives.

It is such a simple idea, but it makes a huge difference in behavior and time management. Again, we should be helping our students develop skills that will help them throughout the rest of their lives, not just the minutes that are ticking until the end of their time in our classroom. By giving them the tools to learn their best, we are helping them much further than our curriculums are requiring, and that is the true meaning of education.

Think about your own classroom. What little corner can you transform into something that can give the students an opportunity to police themselves in a simple way, but also give them the space to breathe? Sometimes we all need a moment to get it together. Shouldn’t we allow our students the same opportunity? Creating a student-centered brain break is a perfect way. Thanks for reading.

                                                                    

What have you done similar in the classroom? Feel free to comment and let others hear your great ideas!

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