Brain breaks are a powerful and effective way to address regulation needs, help with attention, and impact learning into the classroom. Learning can be exhaustive to our kids. They are struggling through the day’s activities while sometimes striving to pay attention through sensory processing issues or executive functioning needs. Brain breaks, or movement breaks can be used as part of a sensory diet or in a whole-classroom activity between classroom tasks. Here are all of the brain break resources here on The OT Toolbox.
There have been studies done on the effectiveness of movement breaks. Specifically, one study showed that increasing movement in students increases engagement in learning. It’s thought that then information retention improves as well Marzano (2012).
Traditionally, brain breaks are a short (3-4 minute) movement break that is incorporated into the classroom. Students may stop work on the task at hand, or perform the movement activities as part of a transition activity.
As a result of the movement break, students are able to “shift gears” and relax, breathe, and refocus after expending attention or concentration on a task or problem. A short movement break, especially those which get the whole body moving in a rapid, cardiovascular activity increases breathing rate and the oxygen in a child’s bloodstream. This may increase concentration and capability to focus on a learning task. Brain breaks that are effective are typically those which stimulate the entire body.
Types of Brain Breaks
Weslake and Christian describes three types of brain breaks in their paper, “Brain breaks: Help or hindrance?” Those types of brain breaks include physical brain breaks, breathing brain breaks, and mental brain breaks.
Each of these brain breaks are ones that you’ve probably subconsciously incorporated into your day to day activities. A quick stretch of the arms…a walk to the water fountain during a hectic work day…a phone call to a friend when stressed about a big decision. Kids can incorporate mental and physical gear shifts too!
Physical Brain Breaks- include physical and sometimes vigorous movement activity. These activities might include Yoga, jumping jacks, running in place, dancing, or other motor tasks. These types of brain breaks can promote increased cardiovascular capabilities and increased oxygen like described above, making them a great tool in learning.
Breathing Brain Breaks- These exercises include deep breathing and visualization. These types of brain breaks can be great for mental health, including as a mental break that allows for the student to ‘re-group” and recenter themselves in the task at hand. Breathing activities might include gentle stretches, rolling the neck, or raising the arms above the head, or shaking out the hands when standing.
Mental Brain Breaks- These brain breaks involve a break from a task requiring a lot of concentration and “switching gears” to a low concentration type of task, such as playing a game, answering trivia questions, or telling jokes.
All of these types of brain breaks add to learning by way of providing a quick focus change and a means to address needed breaks during periods of high concentration.
Using a variety of brain break activities may be the most beneficial, however, it depends on the make-up of the class as a whole when it comes to classroom-wide brain breaks between activities.
Brain Break Activities
Try some of these brain break activities to inspire movement, regulation, attention, and concentration, listed below. Some of the printable pages are available as free downloads that you can add to your therapy toolbox.
Apple brain breaks can fit into a Fall theme, cooking with kids tasks, or lessons about trees, fruit, or colors. Use these brain break activities with an apple theme to add a little movement to the learning.
These Bear Brain Breaks are a fun way to get kids moving and grooving with heavy work, for a sensory experience that can calm or provide a much needed movement task. These brain break activities go perfectly with a popular bear children’s book, but can be used in other learning activities, too.
These Squirrel Brain Break Activities were created to align with another popular children’s book, however, you can use them in any way to provide movement and especially vestibular sensory input.
These Winter Brain Breaks are a great addition to the classroom during the winter months, especially if children are not making it outside for recess due to weather. Get the kids moving and playing with these motor activities to add movement to the classroom or home.
These Farm Brain Breaks were created to go along with the children’s book, Little Blue Truck, but they have a variety of animals so they can be used in different ways, too. Get the kids doing animal walks for movement and activity.
These brain break videos on YouTube make classroom-wide movement activities easy. Use them during transition periods, between activities, for indoor recess, or as an added movement activity right in the classroom or at home.
The school day can be challenging for a variety of reasons. These after-school brain breaks use alerting and calming snacks, movement, and connection activities to refresh and recoup after a long day at school.
Final thoughts on brain breaks
Any child (and adult) benefits from an activity break during periods of high concentration and learning. Use these strategies along with your child, or use one of the three types of brain breaks we talked about today!
Marzano, R. J. (2012). A Moving Proposal. Educational Leadership, 69(7), 88.
Weslake, Alyssa and Christian, Beverly J. (2015) “Brain Breaks: Help or Hindrance?,” TEACH COLLECTION of Christian Education: Vol. 1: Iss. 1, Article 4. Available at: http://research.avondale.edu.au/teachcollection/vol1/iss1/4