Classroom Breaks and Behavior | The OT Toolbox

Classroom Breaks and Behavior

Adding movement breaks to the classroom can be a tool for helping kids focus and learn. Read below about some research related to classroom breaks and behavior, learning, and focus in the classroom. These are brain breaks that can be used as classroom breaks to take a short break from learning...OR used as a strategy to incorporate movement into learning activities!



Classroom breaks add an opportunity to boost learning skills and reduce behaviors that interfere with academics. These movement activities and classroom breaks can be incorporated into the classroom and are evidence-based.

I was thinking about the cold weather we've been having recently. My kids have been cooped up in school and when they get home from school, it's been FREEZING. Sure, we can bundle up and run around the yard for a bit (and I try to get all the kiddos to do this)...but it is downright cold out there. We can't last too long when the wind chill is -4 degrees F!

Not only that, but many schools aren't having outdoor recess when it's this cold. Some are getting their kids bundled up and outside, but for the most part, it's been indoor recess for many kids.

So when the school day is an indoor affair all day long, kids can become antsy!

Research on Classroom Breaks


Research tells us that activity breaks in the classroom can improve classroom behavior and can increase students' overall physical activity.

We know as therapists, that behaviors are just the tip of the iceberg. They are the sign that something bigger is causing the behavior we see. It might be anxiety, worries, sensory needs, communication issues, emotional concerns, social situations, or a myriad other underlying areas that lead to the behavior we see. 


So, to know that science tells us that a brain break can help get out of that rut of behaviors is huge! It's a strategy to help reduce the behavior and move toward focused learning and attention. In fact, there's been some findings indicating physical activity during the school day improves attention-to-task in elementary school students. 


The evidence suggests that increasing physical activity may improve academic performance, in the forms of recess, physical education class, and physical activity in the classroom. But if indoor recess is the only option this time of year, and gym class occurs every one day out of 6 in a classroom rotation schedule, or even one day/week, where does this leave us? Movement and learning and classroom breaks seem to be the option left!


In my research of the available evidence-based practice scenarios out there, I found some interesting points related to learning and specifically executive functioning skills and overall cognitive functions related to learning. 


Here is some more information on physical activity and brain structure such as brain white matter and brain function. 


Executive function is related to learning

It seems that executive functioning skills play more into learning that just having a neat and tidy desk space or remembering homework. 

In fact, executive function plays very much into the use of those mental skills in learning and classroom tasks. These skills can play a big role in attention levels and impulse control of kids in the classroom. They play a part in learning in many ways. Here are just a few examples:

-Arriving to class on time
-Staying on task in an assignment
-Staying focused when completing minor tasks such as retrieving a pencil. Here's a scenarios you may have seen before: A student drops their pencil. They bend to retrieve that pencil and then get distracted and lose focus on the assignment they are working on. Sound familiar?
-Visual attention in order to scan a math worksheet and going through the assignment part by part without skipping sections or getting distracted or overwhelmed

Activity and Learning

  • Evidence suggests that mathematics and reading are the classroom subjects topics that are most influenced by physical activity. These academic areas depend on "efficient and effective executive function, which has been linked to physical activity and physical fitness".
  • Executive function and brain health are the basis of academic performance. The cognitive functions of attention and memory are essential for learning. These executive function skills are enhanced by physical activity and higher aerobic fitness.

Physical activity and behaviors

It seems that when physical activity is used as a break in the classroom, whether as a brain break or , during gym class, recess time, or during active learning, attention, on-task behavior, and academic performance  improves as well. 

How to add more physical activity to the school day 

Some ideas for adding physical activity into the classroom in order to improve behaviors include:

1. Offering physical activity breaks within the curriculum or learning activity

2. Allow students to stand at the student's discretion. This strategy should be used with a training period and even a contract signed by the student that says they will not move away from their desk and that they will perform the work that's asked of them while standing at their desk.

3. YouTube Videos- Here are our recommendations for YouTube brain breaks that can be added into classroom breaks. Some of these would be great for an indoor recess dance party, too. 

4. Print off a collection of brain breaks and pull them out at different times during the day or as a transition activity. Here are some printable sheets of brain breaks: Bear brain breaksSquirrel Themed Brain Breaks apple themed brain breaks

5. Add a beach ball or bean bag to group activities. Toss while naming the answer to questions. 

6. Jumping Jack Spelling Words- This is a whole-class exercise drill that gets the brain and the heart moving!

7. Make indoor recess an active time. Here are indoor recess ideas to get the kids moving. 

Use these classroom movement ideas to help with behaviors, learning, and to promote academic skills like math and reading.

References:

Grieco LA, Jowers EM, Bartholomew JB. Physically active academic lessons and time on task: The moderating effect of body mass index. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2009;41(10):1921–1926. 

Mahar MT, Murphy SK, Rowe DA, Golden J, Shields AT, Raedeke TD. Effects of a classroom-based program on physical activity and on-task behavior. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2006;38(12):2086.

Donnelly JE, Lambourne K. Classroom-based physical activity, cognition, and academic achievement. Preventive Medicine. 2011;52(Suppl 1):S36–S42.