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 break activities, 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.
Movement Breaks or Brain Breaks?
Maybe we should consider the term movement breaks.
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, movement 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 brain/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 and body breaks that are effective are typically those which stimulate the entire body.
Occupational therapy professionals use movement breaks to integrate the body’s sensory systems with intentional movements, or motor plans. Brain-movement activities utilize the important basis of the sensory system:
- Proprioceptive input
- Vestibular input
- Visual input
Movement breaks and proprioception
Brain breaks often incorporate heavy work activities, or proprioception.
The proprioceptive system receives input from the muscles and joints about body position, weight, pressure, stretch, movement and changes in position in space during movement, at rest, and during activity.
When we move, the body is able to grade and coordinate movements based on the way muscles move, stretch, and contract during activity.
Proprioception refers to the amount of less pressure and force the muscles and joints exert in a task. In a movement activity, we are able to coordinate our movements effectively to follow a movement pattern.
Examples of heavy work brain and movement activities include:
- Animal walks
- Wall Push-ups
- Chair push-ups
- Traditional push-ups
- Carrying a heavy load like a stack of books or laundry basket
Proprioception breaks occurs with Simon Says activities, when following a brain break YouTube video, or when following a movement exercise card.
Along with these examples, you can get tons of ideas for proprioception activities here. These are great ways to add heavy work to the classroom, home, or therapy clinic.
Movement Breaks and Vestibular Sensory System
The brain also must coordinate input about gravity, movement, and balance involving the vestibular system. Vestibular activities or movement activities are those that offer movement through various planes.
Movement that stimulates the vestibular system utilizes receptors in the inner ear when changes occur in position in space. With the addition of input from the eyes, and feedback from muscle and joint receptors (proprioception), we are able to move through space.
Vestibular sensory input is a huge component of brain breaks.
Movement can be calming or alerting and when it comes to brain break activity, these are the key goals. We may want to calm an unfocused classroom so they can attend and focus in learning. Or we may want to “wake up” a class of fatigued and drowsy students.
Adding a few vestibular activities can have a big impact on attention and focus.
Movement activates the vestibular system and the vestibular system allows movement and participation in tasks.
Vestibular brain and body activity can include breaks such as:
- Simon Says
- Kneeling on your knees
- Walking on your tiptoes
- Doing somersaults
- Navigating monkey bars
- Bouncing on a trampoline
Vision and Brain Movement Activity
A final piece of the brain break puzzle is the vision system. To motor plan and complete a movement, in most cases, we need to move in our space. Activities like moving heavy items, completing jumping jacks, following a dance movement, or navigating our space requires some aspect of the visual system.
Specifically is visual motor integration.
Visual Motor Integration- This combination of movement and visual information refers to several areas: including visual perception, visual processing skills, and eye-hand coordination.
The integration of these areas enables the eyes to perceive information through the vision functions so that one can process visual information information in order to perform coordinated hand (and body) motor actions. This integration results with motor task completion.
Visual motor integration includes a perceptual component that allows one to move through space and offer the necessary amount of force to complete movements in the area we are in.
Types of Brain Breaks
Weslake and Christian describes three types of break activities 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 activity 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 physical 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 breathing breaks can be great for mental health, including as a mental break that allows for the student to ‘re-group” and re-center 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 mental 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 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 breaks between activities.
Brain Break Activities for Kids
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 movement breaks use alerting and calming snacks, movement, and connection activities to refresh and recoup after a long day at school.
Final thoughts on Movement 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 movement 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