Middle school brain breaks are an important part of the day that is often missed. In the middle school setting, we have kids that are moving from a primary grade setting into more responsibilities when it comes to curriculum. The bigger expectations for middle school students can lead to difficulties with organization, challenges with schedule and social and emotional difficulties. These are just some of the areas middle school occupational therapy addresses. One other tool in our toolbelt is the brain break. And this blog post we’re talking about brain breaks for middle school. You’ll find some brain breaks ideas for middle school students as well as strategies to support students’ self-regulation in the middle school environment.
These brain breaks for high school can be of use, too.
What are middle school brain breaks?
First, let’s discuss the definition of brain breaks. Brain breaks are a quick movement breaks, or active breaks for the brain and the body so that the user can pay attention for longer periods of time when we are participating in a task for an extended period of time. Brain break activity can be an easy to get back on track when middle schoolers become distracted by the many different things in the environment. They are a support for excess energy in pre-teens.
A brain break is a quick movement break or change from the repetition and an opportunity to recharge.
Middle school brain breaks support critical thinking skills, impact distractibility, and are a tool for transition time during this stage of education.
Brain breaks are important for middle school students because these students ages 11 through 14 are still kids who are having a lot of changes emotionally physically cognitively as well as being required to complete larger assignments and follow a more rigid schedule.
The middle school grade levels with effective brain breaks interwoven into the classroom support these changes.
All of this plus the development that happens during the middle school ages can lead to challenges with paying attention in the classroom and learning as well as completing assignments when they need to be done.
Brain breaks for middle school can be a huge support when it comes to emotional development, physical development, self-regulation and executive functioning skills.
We know that executive functioning is developing in this age range however, there are a lot of distractions and there’s just a lot going on in the middle school students daily life. Having a regimen of brain break scheduled throughout the school day in the middle school setting is an asset for the students.
Benefits of brain breaks for middle school students
For middle school students, there are so many benefits to participating in brain breaks during the day.
Focus and Attention- Brain breaks can support the middle school student in focus and attention during the classroom learning.
Stress- Adding brain break tasks in the middle of the classroom day can support the student so that they are less stressed.
Mental health- Brain breaks are especially important for mental health. This is especially true for the middle school aged student during the middle school ages mental health is becoming more and more of an issue for our students.
There are a lot of expectations being held for our students, including classroom expectations, extracurricular activities, and busy schedules. The brain break offers an opportunity to support mental health by reducing stress and anxiety.
Mood- It’s also a tool for improving mood and supporting the student in relaxation strategies. Impacting the social emotional and mental health components support the development of self-awareness skills that our middle school students need more than ever.
Creativity- Brain breaks can improve creativity for the middle school student as well. When the student has a chance to move or get a little bit of activity during the day that can foster creative thought which can support writing, creative projects, and other tasks in the middle school curriculum.
Physical health- Another benefit of brain breaks for the middle school student is overall physical health. Students are receiving more and more screen time throughout their day.
Especially for the middle school student we have of variety in the schedule where students move throughout the building to different classrooms. While moving throughout the building, offers a natural brain break, it also leads us to several classes throughout the day that incorporate screens and technology in the curriculum. All of that screen time adds up, leading to more static time and more time spent staring at a screen, where previously there may have been more workbook more writing activities and more multi sensory tasks for the middle school student.
Physical activity- In addition, there may be less movement time throughout the day than a student is used to in the primary school, because where there may have been a gym class or recess every day for primary students, the middle school student doesn’t have that recess time. So they go from one classroom to another where they’re sitting most of the day. A short break with a movement activity or variations from the routine can become motivation that impacts frustration and improves work time.
Academic achievement- Brain breaks in the middle school, setting are an opportunity for academic achievement as well. We know that brain breaks improve students academic performance as a tool in learning. For the middle school student, this can be a benefit that allows the student to retain information longer and focus on learning, especially when it’s completed prior to important information in the classroom such as lectures.
All of these are reasons why brain breaks support the middle school student.
Types of brain breaks for middle school students
There are many different types of brain breaks, which can be incorporated into a middle school students day. These include physical activities, mental activities, and relaxation breathing strategies.
- Standing to complete activities in the classroom
- Dance party
- Mental exercises
- Jumping jacks
- Multisensory learning opportunities
- This or That brain breaks- Students can raise their right hand for one option and their left hand for another option as a way to incorporate movement into a quick classroom break. Then, get kids moving further by asking them to raise their right or left foot, etc.
- Relaxation strategies
- Chewing gum if it is appropriate for the classroom participants or individuals
- Freeze dance
- Yoga, or specific yoga poses
- The Macarena dance
- Deep, breathing exercises,
- Sign language
- Heavy work activities, or opportunities to add calming and organizing proprioceptive input through the muscles and joints
- Physical break from learning incorporated with just chatting in the classroom as a whole
- Movement songs like these Brain Break videos on YouTube.
- Brain teasers
- Doodling on a piece of paper
- Math problems incorporated into pencil brain breaks (like on our Writing Prompts with Pencil Brain Breaks packet)
- Classic games like Simon Says, tag, dodge ball, catch, etc.
How to incorporate brain breaks into the middle school classroom
For middle school teachers it can be a challenge to incorporate brain breaks because there is a limited time in the classroom to get the information out that the student needs to learn.
This is especially true for students moving from classroom to classroom throughout the day in order to follow a schedule.
They might move into a new classroom and be expected to move through the curriculum pretty quickly for the science program or the math curriculum. There’s only a limited amount of time to get through the material. Because of the time limitation most middle school teachers experience, incorporating brain breaks into the middle school classroom can be a challenge.
However, it is possible to integrate brain breaks into a middle school curriculum.
Middle school teachers can incorporate brain breaks into their classroom routines in various ways:
- Roll call- Ask students to check in to the classroom roll call with a movement task. This could include things like moving materials to a certain location in the classroom.
- Moving materials around the room- Students can obtain needed materials from a certain area of the room. They can incorporate bending and reaching to placed materials into certain places in the room, like cubbies or cupboards. Students can get books from a certain location in the room and then carry them to their desks to complete tasks.
- Kinesthetic learning– Students can participate in movement-based learning, like passing a object or a ball as they go through studies and lessons.
- Stand to read- Teachers can ask students to stand to read off parts of their assignments.
- Use the backpack– There is a thing called a sensory backpack with sensory diet supports integrated into the backpack. However, you can gain all the benefits of heavy work input by simply using a backpack throughout the school day. Students can also move materials throughout the building in their backpacks by carrying the needed materials from their lockers to different classrooms, adding heavy weight weight input through the backpack.
- Yoga- Another idea is using yoga in the classroom as a quick break for the whole class. One way that is a great tool for social emotional regulation, as well as stress and anxiety that sometimes happens for middle school.
- Integrate deep breathing into the classroom- Students is incorporating deep breathing as a lesson for each student. You can print off some deep breathing cards or use sensory station posters and encourage students to participate along with their peers. But then also use those deep breathing strategies on their own.
- Joint compressions– Another way to incorporate brain breaks is to offer heavy joint input through the hands and arms. Students can be taught that they can do chair push-ups, or they can provide joint pressure through their hands in a way that other students might not notice. This is a great self-regulation strategy, especially for students that tend to become stressed or need to focus but they are distracted by thoughts or other things happening in the classroom.
Middle School Mental Health Room
Another strategy for addressing the mental health awareness, self regulation, and overall wellbeing of the middle school student is to create a mental health room.
The mental health room in the middle school setting is an opportunity for a safe space and a tool for self-regulation, metal health, and well-being.
For middle school students especially it can be hard to talk to others about what’s happening with their mental and emotional health. A safe place like a counselor’s office, or a specified relaxation place where the student can go during the day can support the mental and emotional health of middle school students.
A visit to the middle school mental health room can be incorporated into a student schedule during a study hall session or another time when the student can make a quick break to visit the relaxation area.
In a mental health room, middle school students can use relaxation techniques, sensory fidgets, get some reading materials, or participate in deep breathing strategies.
When a mental health room is available for the general population, it’s just part of the day. Making these strategies more mainstream for the entire school is such a positive thing for middle school students and it’s really needed more than ever before.
Heavy work for middle school
Finally, one other tool to incorporate heavy work in the middle school setting during the student’s natural schedule, making brain breaks functional.
Many middle schools offer elective classes, like wood shop, a form of home economics, and required classes such as art, gym, or a STEM/STEAM class. These classes may offer more variety in movement and heavy work opportunities. Also, the middle school time is a place to transition to a high school setting where this they are able to select electives based on their interest and professional goals.
For the middle school student, heavy work and movement breaks can be incorporated into shop classes or industrial arts classes or even the home economics or foundations settings. All of these classes up offer an opportunity for movement throughout the curriculum.
The student is lifting materials, moving items throughout the room, incorporating heavy work input through their body as they participate in these activities. All of these are actually brain breaks that can be integrated into the classroom setting and offered throughout the day. This is just one more opportunity for heavy work, input and movement incorporated into the middle school setting.
Printables like these free heavy work cards can be used in this setting.
A final note on brain breaks for middle school
Middle school brain breaks are such an asset to every students curriculum. Integrating the movement break within the typical classroom schedule should be considered.
For more resources, try grabbing our printable brain brake exercise cards as a heavy work input that can be incorporated into either life skills, activities, or depending on the interests of the student themed versions of brain breaks.
The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook walks you through sensory processing information, each step of creating a meaningful and motivating sensory diet, that is guided by the individual’s personal interests and preferences.
The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook is not just about creating a sensory diet to meet sensory processing needs. This handbook is your key to creating an active and thriving lifestyle based on a deep understanding of sensory processing.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.