Quick Brain Breaks

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Need a few quick brain breaks to have on hand for a busy classroom or therapy session? These easy and fast brain break ideas are perfect to add heavy work, calming sensory input, and movement activities that help self-regulation needs. Explore all of the brain breaks below but be sure to check out the other resources we have on the site: brain breaks for high school, middle school brain breaks are just some examples!

Quick brain breaks

Quick Brain Breaks

In this blog post, we are sharing some quick brain breaks or activities that you can use for quick brain break ideas in the classroom. This is important because most classrooms are a busy place and there is a lot of material that needs to be worked through. Self-regulation needs don’t stop just because of a busy schedule!

Brain breaks support attention, focus, organization, and social-emotional needs. Not only that, but having a quick movement activity worked into the classroom allows students to re-focus and refresh for learning.

Why have quick and Easy brain breaks?

There can be a lot of activities kids are pulled for extra-curricular activities, special classes during the school day. Even with the fast pace of today’s classrooms, testing and full curricula needs to be done. Teachers are asked to fit more and more into the school day, so learning in the classroom follows a very quick pace.

But self-regulation needs do not follow along with that quick piece of the classroom. Because of this, and the schedule in the schools, quick brain breaks are needed to meet the needs of students: self regulation, emotional regulation, attention, and focus.

Having a handful of fun and easy brain break ideas on hand that you can pull out quickly in a moments notice is a true tool for teachers and therapists working in the schools.

As a school-based occupational therapist, I love to have a few two minute brain break ideas or three minute brain break ideas on hand, because having those quick movement breaks available to use at a moments notice is perfect, especially for students that are on the go in the classroom.

Two or three minute brain breaks are great because they can help students refocus and recharge so that they can pay attention and be productive in their learning in the classroom. This is great to fit into a busy classroom schedule…and a busy pediatric OT‘s full caseload.

Research on Quick brain breaks.

Studies have shown that switching between activities can support attention and attentional control specifically cognitive flexibility.

One study suggests that individuals that are better at switching between tasks then show better attentional control in skills. This happens because they are able to attend to certain stimulation, but ignore others.

When this happens, one is able to avoid distractions. This type of switching between activities would not work for every individual.

However, we can see that switching between activities does activate portions of the brain.

We know this, because another study determined that some sexual regions of the brain Are associated with the control and the ability to attend and regulate attention.

We also know from research that switching between activities supports one type of attention called sustained attention.

This skill, called quick activity switching, supports as sustained attention on tasks more so than those who don’t take breaks between tasks and just keep going.

All of this tells us that switching between activities (like when we take a break to do a different activity like a brain break), can support cognitive control, and the ability to switch attention and focus.

This is important because in every situation, we are prone to distractions or things in our environment that distract us. The ability to return to the task at hand is essential. Sustained attention with working memory to the task is needed for functional skills daily life tasks, and learning.

So knowing all of that, we can see that brain breaks that are very quick in nature (like a 2-3 minute brain break) can be really beneficial to students.

Quick brain break ideas

Let’s get quickly to some fast and easy three minute brain break ideas that teachers can use in a busy classroom.

These are great to help kids refocus and attend, especially when attention levels are super low or extremely high.

Some brain break ideas that can quickly help with refocus and self regulation needs include:

  • Brain teasers use things like crossword puzzles
  • Wordsearch puzzles
  • Riddles
  • Simon Says- We love our Simon Says commands because they are easy to attach to popsicle sticks and pull out at in the moments notice. Having some gross motor activities on hand that the whole class can do quickly is a real life saver for a classroom who needs to refocus and attend.
  • Chair yoga- Seated yoga is a great quick brain break idea because students don’t need to get out of their seats. They can get some added movement activating the vestibular and proprioceptive systems, which can be calming and organizing.
  • Counting activities- Students can use forehead tapping exercises or joint pressure input by counting as they do chair push-ups right in their seat.
  • Music breaks- turn on some music and allow students to chill to the music for a couple of minutes.
  • Dance breaks- Dance breaks are a great three minute activity because you can pull up some brain break YouTube videos and get the classroom moving and then get them right back to their classroom activities.
  • Breathing exercises- we have a lot of breathing exercises here on the website and you can print these off and have them ready to go at a moments notice. Print off our deep breathing cards to have on hand.
  • Stretching- Stretching is a great quick brain break because it offers gross motor coordination opportunities and activates vestibular and proprioceptive input while calming and organizing the body.
  • Relaxation Breathing– The quick breathing exercises activated by relaxation breathing calms and regulates.
  • Laugh Break- When was the last time you really laughed? A big belly laugh is a calming and organizing sensory task. A laugh break is when you activate your belly, laugh, and really get into the sillies. Much like the concepts behind relaxation breathing, proprioceptive input enables internal calming. The thing to consider is that as a result of a laughing break, you have emotional input that can help to switch back to an activity and focus. This might be a quick brain break that isn’t used all the time, but you can pull it out for something that is motivating if needed.

Guided drawing activity

One quick and easy brain break activity that I remember from third grade (which was many years ago) is a guided drawing activity.

You might call this a blind drawing activity, because when you when kids participate in this activity, they close their eyes and the teacher or the therapist describes a scene, and the students can then draw what they imagine with their eyes while their eyes are still closed.

The teacher can describe a very descriptive scene or an object, describing how the materials look the feel, and the shape of objects, etc.

The students can draw the object in the picture in using their mind’s eye. Then, once the scene is described, the student opens their eyes and looks at their picture.

Some guided drawing scenes might include:

  • A strange planet scene with a rocket ship, space aliens, with planets and stars in the background
  • An underwater scene
  • A forest scene with flowers, trees, and animals
  • A farm scene with farm animals, a barn, plants, and the sun

This is a very therapeutic activity and it supports spatial relationships, pencil control imagination, and creativity, as well as sensory processing because the student is hearing descriptive terms, and putting that onto paper. This is a great quick brain break for students because it’s calming and centering. Guided drawing is also a great auditory processing activity.

Quick Guided Meditation

One fast and easy brain break for students is to walk them through a two minute guided meditation.

For students, this might look like a very simple, guided meditation. Try this quick guided meditation for students:

  1. Ask the student to close their eyes and get comfortable in their seat.
  2. Ask the child to take a deep breath in through their nose, filling up their lungs and slowly breathing out through their mouth.
  3. Ask the student to imagine they are in a peaceful setting like a beach or a deep forest.
  4. Describe the scene around the child and ask them to take deep breaths as they imagine the air, feel of the grass or the ground and they can imagine the things that they can hear in their imaginary descriptive world.
  5. Encourage the students to keep taking deep breaths in through their nose and out through their mouth as they relax each part of their body starting at their head and working down towards their toes.
  6. Allow the student to rest with their eyes closed for a few minutes as they keep imagining the sounds that they hear around them.
  7. Finally, ask the students to open their eyes slowly and bring them back to attention in the classroom. There will be a definite and noticeable calmness.

Guided meditation is great for students because it gives them the tools they need to relax and reduce stress and anxiety. And, using guided meditation is an activity that they can carry with them into middle school brain break needs and high school brain break needs.

3 minute drawing activity

One quick sensory drawing activity that can be completed in 3 minutes or less is a “scribble drawing” exercise. Here’s how it works:

  1. Give the child or student a blank sheet of paper and a crayon, marker, or pencil.
  2. Set a timer for 3 minutes.
  3. Tell the student to close their eyes and position the writing utensil on the paper surface. 
  4. They should use the writing tool to make a continuous scribble or squiggle on the paper, without lifting it from the page.
  5. When the timer goes off, ask the student to open their eyes and look at their scribble.
  6. Then, show them how to turn their scribble into a drawing by adding details like facial features, added objects, details, and by coloring it in.

This activity encourages participants to let go of control and embrace the spontaneity and creativity of the moment. It also allows for exploration and experimentation with different materials and textures, and can be a fun and engaging way to promote relaxation and stress relief.

Do any of these Quick brain break ideas work for your classroom? It’s always good to have new strategies on hand.

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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Quick brain breaks

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