Let’s be real: we all need to get the wiggles out at certain times of the day. Think about the last time you were immersed in a big project or studying for an exam back at university. I’m willing to bet you took plenty of mini breaks to stretch, get some fresh air, or zone out on your phone for a few minutes. Brain breaks are necessary for grown-ups, and even more so for our little learners.
Why Are Brain Breaks Important for Young Students?
Have you ever thought to yourself “Why won’t these kids just sit still?!” Well, it turns out there’s actually a physiological reason why children can’t sit still for long stretches of time. Movement, even very slight movements like shaking your head, actually activate the vestibular nerve. The vestibular nerve is what tells the body to sit up and get focused, but it doesn’t work without being triggered by movement. The longer a child sits still, the less focused their brain will become.
Brain breaks aren’t just useful for getting kids to sit still during a lesson, though! They’re also great for helping everyone return to a calm state after a particularly active time of day, like recess or lunch.
When Should You Give Brain Breaks?
I like to give brain breaks at some particular times of the day, but I’m also very open to adding them in based on how the class is doing in the moment.
Some great times to give brain breaks include:
- During our morning meeting, to help kids get calm and ready to learn.
- After recess, to signal the start of a less rambunctious time.
- After lunch, to help them regulate their energy levels after eating and socializing with peers.
- During transitions from one lesson or activity to the next. The small brain break activity helps them clear their minds in order to jump from one subject to the next.
- At the end of the day, as a reward for a job well done throughout the day.
Really, anytime you notice your kiddos getting off track, easily distracted, or simply in need of a reset, a quick brain break might be just what they need.
What Does an Effective Brain Break Look Like?
The goal of a brain break is to help students get focused and calm enough for learning to happen. If the brain break activity gets them riled up and hard to calm, you’ve defeated the purpose. You can expect a bit of a learning curve at first, as you teach your students what your expectations are.
So what does an effective brain break actually look like? I think they need to include the following characteristics:
- They require kids to get up and move.
- They’re short—no more than a couple of minutes.
- They don’t require much (or any!) prep from the teacher.
- They’re fun!
- They’re easy to “recover” from, meaning you can pull your kiddos back into learning mode quickly and easily.
Brain Break Ideas For Your Classroom
There are tons of different types of brain breaks you can try, from mini dance parties to breathing exercises. Check out this resource with 48 different ideas you can use in the classroom.
Brain Breaks for In-Person Learning
- Red light, green light
- Dance parties
- Action songs like Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes
- Jumping jacks
- Jogging in place
- Hop on one foot
- Pat your head and rub your tummy
- Simon says
- Act out a scenario, for example, pretend like you’re walking through a strong wind storm
- Pretend to be an animal
- Play hot potato with a beach ball or balloon
- Rock, paper, scissors
- Silent line-up challenge: line up by birthday, last name, etc.
- Follow the leader, around your classroom or through the halls
- Lead the class through a clapping game
Brain Breaks for Online Learning
Many of the in-person ideas can be adapted to work with distance learning. Here are a few specific ideas for the virtual classroom:
- Share Youtube videos of guided brain breaks (be sure to preview first!)
- Play a game on GoNoodle (one of my favorites!)
- Send kids on a scavenger hunt, asking them to return and show the item on their screen
- Google Quick Draw
- Try a Virtual Calming Room
- Play charades
- Use FitBoost, a guided exercise routine with a warm-up, movement, and cool down
Brain Breaks in a Socially-Distanced Classroom
A lot of the activities I’ve already listed can be done while still keeping an appropriate social distance. You may have to remind kiddos to stay in their own bubble, but they should get the hang of it. Here are a few more ideas that can be easily done in a socially-distanced classroom:
- Spin in circles
- Stand on one leg
- Hop on one leg
- Wiggle in place, then freeze like a statue
- Try some chair yoga
- Write words in the air
- Have them massage their own ears and temples
- Fidget with pipe cleaners
You can download a free list of all these ideas here. Print it out and keep a copy handy for fresh ideas when you need them!
52 Brain Break Ideas for Your Primary Classroom
This resource is a huge hit with teachers! Check out these Exercise Ideas To Get Your Students Moving. There are 48 different cards you can print and keep on a ring for easy access.
I love to use these when we need a small brain break. I’ll fan out the cards and let a student pick a card. Then, we’ll complete the brain break and get back to learning feeling refreshed and refocused. My kids love the variety and the element of surprise that comes from choosing from a deck of cards. There’s also an editable version, so you can add your own ideas as well. My newest update includes a full-screen version that can be easily displayed on your computer or Smartboard!