Though the concept of brain breaks are quite the buzz these days, the question still often remains, “what IS a brain break?”. Truly, this question is not archaic or a shock. The idea of taking brain breaks is not necessarily new, but it has not been widely accepted as a practice that takes place knowingly, especially in a classroom. While adults will often take a quick walk, grab a coffee, etc. when they need to just get out for a few minutes, the idea of allowing age-appropriate experiences that are similar for our students has never really gone past a few minutes of recess. Fortunately, all that is changing.
Brain breaks help and encourage a student to take some time when they need to become reinvigorated with the task at hand. With the attention span of our society shrinking from what it once was (it’s now roughly 8 seconds, in case you were wondering), it is necessary to help our students learn when they need to refocus. With a typical brain break only needing a few minutes of time, it is well worth the return in the long run.
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What is a brain break?
Usually, there is a physical element to the brain break. As I mentioned, as an adult you may recognize when you need to take a quick walk to go run an errand to collect yourself. Since our students cannot readily go grab a cup of coffee, these moving elements need to be brought to their level. It is something to have blood and oxygen circulating to their brain a bit more than if they were sitting stationary. This may be something the whole class participates in (like brain break bingo) or just something that is available (like a coloring bulletin board). There are countless opportunities to engage in.
Again, it is best to know your students to know the most effective way to offer brain breaks. It could be how you transition if you have students who struggle with that. It can be when things get too noisy. It could be when the energy level has dropped too much for productivity. It could be a combination. To put it simply, any time a student needs help focusing, a brain break is a perfect solution.
It’s odd because so many of us were taught that you need to sit down and pay attention. If you’re quiet, it means you are paying attention. The more we learn about the brain, especially the brain of a child, we know that they simply don’t have the capacity to do this and they need to move. Instead of trying to require them to behave in a way that they are not naturally programmed for, why wouldn’t we come up with opportunities for them to learn what to do with that and actually gain the ability to focus in the meantime?
You can also incorporate what it is that you are doing in class to the brain break. In a high school math class, for instance, the students can complete some type of relay race when they solve the problem they just learned how to complete. In a kindergarten class, students can work with one another to create the letter of the alphabet with their bodies that they are learning. By moving and thinking at the same time, it helps to engage all areas of the brain. The activity does not necessarily need to be spelled out or structured, but just something that helps the students move and get the blood pumping a little bit.
I remember we used to play Simon Says in my seventh grade English class all the time. We thought our teacher was just being fun. Little did we know there was science behind it. As tweens, we thought she was just “off on another one” whenever she would randomly announce, “Okay, everyone up! It’s time for Simon Says!”. However, looking back now at the experience, it was exactly what we needed at that time. It was usually when our participation was less than stellar and our energy level was fading fast. It got us up and moving (much to our chagrin at times) and helped to zero back in on the task at hand. I have fond memories of that class and now realize my teacher was way ahead of her time.
It’s not just fluff, either. There is research that backs up the benefits of brain breaks in children and it isn’t just from some quick classroom observations. In Andrew Thurston’s article Moving to Improve, he looks at several studies that show the benefits of students getting up and moving around and their concentration and productivity levels because of it. He also talks to several teachers who have effectively incorporated brain breaks into their classrooms several times a day.
One key point that he notes is that even though most teachers recognize the importance of having students move (they’re supposed to get 60 minutes of activity a day, for goodness sake), many of them are afraid to incorporate brain breaks due to the fear that it is an interruption and will lead to unnecessary disruption. This is purely a myth. With the correct implementation and knowledge on how to properly incorporate brain breaks, they are seamless and well received in the classroom (at any age).
So when someone wonders, “what is a brain break?”, it’s an easy enough question to answer. A brain break helps a person to regain their focus by creating some type of movement that encourages blood flow and oxygen circulation. The outcomes from allowing these in the classroom way outweigh any detriment that they may cause and when executed directly lead to a seamless transition that helps on a number of levels. To end with the same ending as in Thurston’s article, “It’s not going to interrupt your learning,” says Dultz. “It’s literally just a minute.” You can spare a minute, right? Good. Then before you click away from this page, it’s time to take another break. Everyone up . . .”