“Can we take a break?” How many times in a typical day do you receive that question from a student? While you may wonder if they’re hoping to sneak a peek at their smartphone, in reality, their body and mind may be asking for a brief reset. In the classroom, brain breaks are short breaks that use physical movement, mindfulness exercises, or sensory activities to give young peoples’ minds the reprieve they need in order to refocus and improve their attention, retention, and understanding. Read on to learn why brain breaks are essential for students of all ages, especially in the era of remote learning, and how to implement three different styles as learning strategies in your classroom.
The Mindfulness Brain Break
Mindfulness is a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment (Mayo Clinic, 2020). Younger students who discover the value of mindfulness are better equipped to practice this stress-reducing tactic throughout their adult lives. Give students a few minutes to sit quietly and focus on their breathing. Play a relaxing tune or sounds and talk them through a calm breathing cadence.
Clinical studies show that spending too much time problem-solving, planning, daydreaming, or negative thinking can be physically and emotionally draining or cause anxiety and depression (Bhandari, 2020). A few minutes of practicing mindfulness every day can help students calm their nerves and refocus with more confidence. Encourage your students to practice mindfulness when learning remotely or while studying, or doing homework. Ask them to share if they find it helpful to encourage their peers to try the practice at home too.
The Energizing Brain Break
Sometimes young students and especially those who struggle with focus and attention need to get the wiggles out. Energizing break breaks give students a chance to get up and get active. By moving their bodies, stretching, and talking or laughing, they reawaken their blood flow and encourage healthy learning. An energizing brain break also gives their minds a chance to temporarily shut off from processing complex information and soak in their environment.
For just two to five minutes, ask your students to stand up and move around. Play a song and encourage them to dance or stretch. If you are teaching in-person, encourage them to move around the room to chat with one another (from a six-foot distance). When the energizing mind break is over, they’ll be ready to refocus and recommit to the day’s lessons.
The Sensory Brain Break
Sensory brain breaks are your traditional, unstructured pauses from sitting and focused learning. You don’t need to give your students any structure or instructions during a sensory break. The goal is to give them an undisciplined opportunity to rest their minds from the strain of processing complex concepts and reconnect with the space around them. Sensory breaks are particularly valuable for children with sensory needs or modulation disorders such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or sensory processing disorder (Danneman, 2019). Children with these conditions may struggle to regulate and process sensory stimuli around them. By giving them and their peers a few minutes to notice and assess the sounds, smells, and sights of their environment, their minds can relax and refocus.
Finding a Balance in Learning and Experiencing
Goal-oriented teachers and school districts have high expectations for their students. To achieve great results, they must push past challenges and commit to dedicated and structured learning. Still, to achieve the best outcomes, children’s minds and bodies must absorb and process lessons—and brain breaks can help. Try even one of these strategies every day for a few weeks and assess how receptive your students are to the experience, and then enjoy how focused and ready to learn they are as a result.
Bhandari, S. (2020, January 16). Positive Thinking: What It Is and How to Do It. Retrieved January 04, 2021, from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/positive-thinking-overview
Danneman, I. (2019, December 18). How to Calm a Sensory Seeking Child. Retrieved January 04, 2021, from https://www.additudemag.com/sensory-break-ideas/
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020, September 15). Can mindfulness exercises help me? Retrieved January 04, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/mindfulness-exercises/art-20046356
Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action