Brain Breaks for High School

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In the high school setting, we are seeing more of a need for brain breaks for high school kids than ever before. In this article we are covering brain break activities for high school as a way to incorporate movement within the high school setting. You’ll also want to refer to our resource on middle school brain breaks for more tools on brain-break ideas for teens and older kids.

brain breaks for high school

Activity breaks in the high school setting support so many areas of social emotional development, self-regulation, cognitive learning, stress, relaxation strategies, and overall well-being of the high school student. Having accessible and readily available tools to support these varying needs is essential to learning and participation in the high school environment.

Brain breaks for high school

Brain breaks are a way to incorporate movement into every day tasks. This can include heavy work that offers calming and organizing sensory input. It can also include a break within a repetitive task, such as learning in the classroom. 

Brain breaks might also incorporate a shift in cognitive thought processes, which may include puzzles or a mental brain break where the student is offered a chance to regroup, recharge, and refocus on a different topic. This is a tool for organization, focus, and sustained learning. 

For high school-aged students in particular, we are seeing more challenges with mental and emotional health needs as well as increased screen time. These needs occur during a pivotal time in executive functioning skill development

Shifts from technology and screen use to movement-based learning is an asset to the high school student. In this way, brain breaks for high school are not only a benefit. It’s actually essential to cognitive learning and cognitive development for highschoolers.

How to incorporate brain breaks into the high school setting

Brain breaks for high school are kind of a challenge because typically, the term “brain breaks” leads to thoughts of yoga or a movement break during learning. 

These types of breaks are easy for primary school students or younger learners because you can incorporate silly wiggle songs or kinesthetic learning tasks where the young learner is moving in the classroom. 

However, for highschoolers, it’s more of a challenge because of the age of the students, educational expectations, and the high school curriculum.

However, this is not to say that brain breaks in high school are not impossible.

Brain breaks in the high school setting actually can become a learning strategy that supports the learner even after high school, in college, and beyond.

For example, adults have likely included various strategies for brain breaks that are used throughout the day.

Think about a time when you are doing a task repetitively. Sometimes we stretch or we roll our shoulders. Maybe we crack our gum, or we change positions in our chair. Perhaps you click the top of your pen or bounce your knee. All of these are brain breaks that are natural to us. We do these things throughout our day without even thinking about it. 

This is the concept of interoception and the awareness of our sensory, movement, and subconscious needs. It becomes natural that the body has an awareness of the need for that shift in movement in order to complete the task at hand. 

Most of us do these movement breaks naturally and incorporate them into the task at hand. However, we may notice that when additional stressors are added, things become out of control. This might happen when a mental or emotional stressor is involved. Maybe we are overly focused on a work task or we are under a strict deadline and we keep getting distracted by calls or emails. The compound impact of added cognitive, social, or emotional stressors on top of our normal tasks can make us feel like we might “break”. 

This is when we see anxiety. We see the heart rate rise. We see examples of stress. All of these signs are typical of stress responses. At this this point, as a functioning adult, we might know that we need to take a break. We need to go outside for a walk. We need to take some deep breaths get a drink of water. 

Stressors are a natural part of life and responding to them is part of functioning.

But for our students in high school, this can be an opportunity during a pivotal time of their development that we can help them to gain these strategies so that they can incorporate them naturally into day-to-day tasks.

Brain Break Strategies for High School

Multisensory learning- One tool in our toolbox is multi-sensory learning as a teaching approach in the high school. Multi-sensory learning offers input through various sensory systems: the visual sensory system, auditory sensory system, kinesthetic sensory system, tactile sensory system, etc.

Incorporating these strategies not only enhances learning and retention, but it also offers an opportunity for improved engagement.

Role-playing- One way to add meaningful brain breaks for the entire class is through role-playing. This strategy is possible in the high school setting by engaging groups of students into scenes including learning experiences. A typical high school curriculum includes fast-paced learning, many different topics, and sometimes for just a single semester. In these different courses, it’s possible to enhance learning through role-play. 

Role-play education is also a way to add movement to the lessons. This gives the students an opportunity to get up out of their chair, move around and actually practice what they’re learning. At the same time that they are acting out information, they’re also incorporating movement in their day.

The Use of Multimedia- Another tool to incorporate brain breaks in the high school setting is through multimedia. When we refer to multimedia in high school, it can include various tools for multi-sensory learning that includes various technology. 

This might include things like creating videos, interactive activities, STEM or STEAM lessons, and different sensory activities that are also age-appropriate for the high school student. 

In most cases this multimedia offers a chance for movement by the students obtaining materials that are needed for the activity. Re-arranging desks and chairs for group work, or standing at a desk are strategies to add movement and offer a change from their typical seated position.

Hands-on learning- Another strategy for brain breaks in the high school setting is through hands-on activities. This goes back to the multi-media example, but to take this a step further, brain breaks for high schoolers can include using various sensory activities like experiments which incorporate the kinesthetic sense. Hands-on learning also makes the lessons more engaging and interactive. 

When we incorporate that interactive component, you’re adding movement and switching up how the brain is working because you’re asking them to incorporate various senses into the learning situation.

Deep breathing lessons- One strategy that is extremely effective for stress, reduction, relaxation, and overall overall well-being and mental health is by using deep breathing exercises

More than ever in the high school setting, students should be taught deep breathing strategies because this is a tool that they can carry with them throughout their life. 

When they transition after high school into the college setting, students will be presented with more stressful situations and more responsibilities.

Deep breathing strategies can be such an asset. Because of the life skill application, teaching teens about brain breaks and the tools they have in their toolbox is an important part in transition services for post-high school, as well.

Highschool is the perfect time to discuss rhythm of breathing, relaxation breathingbreath control,  interoception, the limbic system and how these things impact daily functioning.

Brain Break Games in high school

One way to really hone in on a lesson and engage the students in a motivating and meaningful activity is through the use of games. But there’s another benefit to playing games as well. 

Using games as a brain break offers an opportunity for movement in an age-appropriate activity. You can incorporate things like Jeopardy or Cahoots with movements where the student needs to get up and move to a SMART board and touch an area on the board in order to enter their answer. 

Students can work together with groups or individually, but just offering that chance to move in the classroom is an asset to the student as well as incorporating learning for the whole group of classmates.

All of these ideas are perfect for older students and offer the opportunity for a mental break, physical movement (increasing blood flow), and supports creativity in work and learning.

Other ideas for brain breaks for high school include:

  • Elective classes
  • Games
  • Multi-media learning opportunities
  • Puzzles
  • Exercise like yoga poses, jumping jacks, or push-ups, walking outside
  • Use of a high school outdoor space such as a plaza, nature walk, or outdoor learning space
  • Crosswords
  • Identify and talk about natural brain breaks that we all do naturally: twiddling our hair, bouncing a knee, doodling with a pencil, fidgeting, etc.
  • Card games or card tricks
  • Scheduled downtime
  • Use of a therapy dog in the school (available for any student)
  • A mental health room
  • Meditation exercises
  • Physical brain breaks like using a standing desk, taking a stretch break, or fun games
  • Brain break Youtube videos on deep breathing or meditation 
  • Educate high school students on the benefits of brain breaks. This can support the learner as they move out of high school and onto either higher learning or the stressors of the real world.
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Deep breathing posters hung in classrooms
  • Hands-on learning
  • Role-playing learning opportunities

High School Brain Breaks…elective classes?

In the high school setting we see course elective opportunities based on their interests and future goals after high school. High school students are encouraged to try different electives as an opportunity to experience different things that they might want to try post-high school. 

These electives are very vast and can include things like woodworking, jewelry making, pottery, aerobics, or even business and finance, among many other options. Best of all, elective classes have short breaks incorporated right into the class. Hands-on tasks require short periods of education or lecture followed by active learning and activity. 

All of these movement-based learning opportunities are an option for students to not only advance in their post-high school goals, but also offer an opportunity to move during their school day. 

This is a meaningful and motivated break from sitting and taking notes or working at a tablet or laptop in their school day, particularly when the student has selected elective offerings that align with their personal interests and goals.

To make the most of alerting opportunities in battling fatigue through physical activities, consider schedules that prime the student for learning. Consider scheduling electives mixed within the day of the main core classes. This becomes a natural brain break for high school students and a way to promote spikes in mood and motivation naturally throughout the high school day.

Active High School Schedule, Active Brain!

Taking that a step further, high school students are required to participate in physical education classes. However, physical education in high school is not the same as it used to be with the same gym class offered to every student.

High school students now have an opportunity to try different types of physical education, and these are all ways to offer different movements and brain breaks throughout the school day. Physical education brain breaks might include classes like swimming, dance, yoga, Pilates, aerobic fitness, weight training, weightlifting training, kickboxing, and other activities.

All of these classes can support activity movement that prepares the teen for the next task of learning as they move through their daily schedule.

A final note on brain breaks for high school

Hopefully these ideas have given you some ideas some ways to incorporate movement into the high school setting! Brain breaks in high school are a tool for self regulation, executive functioning development, focus, attention, relaxation, and overall mental health awareness. 

The ideas listed here support teenagers and all the stressors of school, home, work, social situations, and more. Perhaps most importantly, the classroom management strategies used by teens in the high school setting can be carried over to adulthood!

For more information check out, our resource on middle school brain breaks for brain breaks in the classroom.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

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brain breaks for high school

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