Brain Breaks: A Classroom Strategy for Learning

ECETT Laurel 7Laurel Schumacher is a 1st Grade Teacher at Metcalf Laboratory School at Illinois State University. In this post, Laurel shares her experiences with and the research behind a certain type of brain breaks that she has found most effective in her 1st grade classroom.

Brain breaks are a quick and effective ways to re-focus, re-engage or transition in a classroom. Brain breaks involve some sort of physical release while providing a quick break from learning. These brain breaks can serve to help students activate, energize and stimulate their brains, and ultimately enhance learning in any classroom.

Kids need to move. They can’t sit all day long. Brain research confirms that physical activity such as moving, stretching, bending and balancing can actually improve concentration. Movement is connected to cognitive learning. When we sit for too long, blood pools in our body. We need to get up to re-circulate the blood back into the brain and pump oxygen back into our system. A quick brain break involving movement can do just that. Students become more calm, alert and ready for learning when given an opportunity to move. Brain breaks can actually wake up a sluggish mind and re-energize it for what comes next. These quick energizers can wake up learners, increase their energy level, improve their ability to retrieve and store information and ultimately, help them feel good.

Brain breaks can come in a variety of formats and styles from a quick round of calisthenic movement to a bend and stretch format at a child’s desk or table. Whatever the style of brain break, the benefits are clear: improved mental awareness, increased focus and increased attention span…all of which can directly impact academic performance. In my classroom, the brain break I choose most is yoga and yoga type movements. There are many benefits of yoga for children and they all involve enhanced learning and mindfulness. Yoga is easy to do with children and I have found that the kids really connect to the yoga pose names and associations. Taking a yoga break with a downward dog, cat and cow or turtle can put a smile on any students face, but yoga has many benefits to learning beyond smiles. Yoga can help bring students to the present moment and create an atmosphere of confidence and connectedness. Yoga can ease anxiety and tension and improve listening skills. Yoga is known to improve attention and emotional control. Research points to yoga as a way to improve frontal cortex functions including the ability to plan and execute as well as influence neurotransmitter function (The Kids Yoga Resource, 2012).

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Downward dog brain break

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Leading the class in a turtle brain break  

There are some outstanding resources available to bring yoga and other brain breaks in to a classroom. One of the best I’ve used, recommended by our physical education teacher, is GoNoodle. GoNoodle is a web site specifically designed to provide digital based brain breaks to a classroom. GoNoodle is a free resource for teachers with a quick an easy sign up process. With Maximo, a monkey yoga instructor, my class looks forward to quick brain breaks using our smart board. These yoga breaks have provided a quick way for me to help my class get calm, focused and ready for the learning ahead.

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Using GoNoodle for a brain break

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Other terrific brain break resources include ABC’s of Yoga for Kids by Teresa Ann Power. We start out the school year by learning a yoga pose or movement for every letter of the alphabet. My students caught on very quickly to the yoga ABC’s and have learned to connect this quick yoga practice to help transition or take a break throughout the day. Once we learn a variety of brain break poses, our Yoga Pretzel cards by Tara Guber & Leah Kalish provide lots of ideas for a quick and easy brain break that kids can even do independently or as a choice when needed.

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These wonderful resources can be easily found on many web sites!

The take home message is that children need an opportunity to get up and move. Whatever the style of movement, providing a 2-3 minute brain break periodically throughout the school day can not only stimulate blood and oxygen flow but also directly impact academic performance and school success!

Resources and credits:
Kim Walker Smith, Metcalf PE dept.
Science Daily 09/2014
The Kids Yoga Resource 09/2012
The ABCs of Yoga for Kids by Teresa Anne Power
Yoga Pretzels by Tara Guber & Leah Kalish


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