Brain Breaks!

Brain Breaks!

Importance of taking time out!

Brain Breaks

When I was asked to write something for the website, I couldn’t quite decide what to say. I made some notes, chatted with colleagues, checked the internet, had a snack did a bit of ironing and then came up with my subject after reflecting on my own behaviour – Brain Breaks! 

Research has shown that Brain Breaks increase pupils’ on-task behaviour and the amount of physical activity they get every day so it's a win-win. Brain Breaks are short, energising bursts of activity that boost blood flow, send oxygen to the brain, and help children to retain information better. Instant, simple activities to help kids re-energise, refocus and give their brains a buzz. These Brain Breaks are what your children need at the moment, particularly working online at home in lockdown which can leave some children sitting for hours at a time. Movement is important for children, especially now. It is not always realistic for our school to add in more time for break or extra P.E. but we can easily add Brain Breaks throughout the day and you can do this at home.

It can be as simple as taking five minutes to stand up, stretch, and run in place next to the desk. Previous schools I have taught in liked the boarders in particular to walk to the perimeter of the grounds of the school before lessons each day or all children to run to the perimeter and back between lessons. Ideally multiple Brain Breaks should be taken in the day along with playtime and PE lessons. 

Being seated for long periods of time has drawbacks for children. Not only does it make it tough for them to get enough physical activity in the day, but it also makes it harder to actually pay attention and learn. Angela Hanscom, a paediatric occupational therapist, wrote in the Washington Post: Children naturally start fidgeting in order to get the movement their body so desperately needs and is not getting enough of to ‘turn their brain on’. What happens when the children start fidgeting? We teachers usually ask them to sit still and pay attention; therefore, their brain goes back to ‘sleep mode’. In order for children to learn, they need to be able to pay attention. In order to pay attention, we need to let them move! Some children with specific attention issues have squeezy toys to fiddle with as they listen. Some are encouraged to doodle as they listen to a lesson which helps them focus, even if to us it looks as if they are completely tuned out. 

Movement actually does ‘turn on’ the brain. Look how activity can literally light up areas of a child’s brain that allow for better learning

With children learning at home, it’s important to build time into schedules for focused educational brain breaks. Maybe they need a movement break to get the wiggles out? Or a quiet moment to just stay still? Research shows that giving children frequent brain breaks to reset their energy level improves their ability to focus, retain more, and stay on task. Drinks, snacks, pencil sharpening, trips to the loo, hunting for paper tissues etc were used constantly in rotation when my son was doing his homework each night but he needed these brain breaks. As an undergraduate when he was studying for Finals, he did an hour of study followed by an hour of break! It took forever but he passed with flying colours – this worked for him, excessive, time consuming, but successful!

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Below are some activities that can be done alone or with someone else which will enhance a working day at home or in the classroom. 

• Have the children stand tall and cross one leg in front of the other while pressing the outsides of their feet together. Now have them cross their arms over one another at the wrists. Clasp their hands and curl their arms into their chest. Take a few breaths, uncross and cross the opposite way for a few more breaths. 

• Touch their left elbow to their right knee, then touch their right elbow to their left knee. Switch back and forth going slowly at first, building speed until they are going at a vigorous pace. Next, do some windmills by standing tall with their feet shoulder-width apart and their arms stretched out. Bend at the waist and touch their right hand to their left toes, then their left hand to their right toes. Switch back and forth.

• Sitting in a chair with your feet on the ground and legs together, curl your body and legs into your lap, folding yourself into a tiny O shape. Next, open your arms and legs wide, forming an X shape with your body. Pull back into an O shape, then back out to an X shape. Repeat three times. 

• Stand or sit with legs and feet together. Bring your palms together in front of your chest. Keep your fingertips together as you pull your palms apart, forming a ball with your fingers. Press your fingertips together until you feel the muscles in your hands and arms activating. See if you feel your core tighten too. Now close your eyes and as you breathe in, inflate your ball and as you breathe out, flatten the ball by pushing your palms together. (Then repeat these instructions for 60 seconds).

• Touch their left ear with their right hand and at the same time touch their nose with their left hand. Then have them switch their hands and touch their right ear with their left hand and their nose with their right hand. Switch back and forth a few times. Then have them close their eyes, take a deep breath, and blow it all out.

• It’s never a good idea to spend too much time sitting in one position. Allow children to take a break and bring some flexibility back into their spines. Have them stand with their feet shoulder-distance apart. Put their left hand on their hip and raise their right hand overhead. Lean to the left and stretch their arm as far as they can to the left. Repeat on the right side. Then stand tall and slowly roll down one vertebrae at a time until their hands reach the floor (or at least their shins). Have them take a deep breath then slowly roll back up. Repeat as necessary.

• Sometimes children just need to bounce their energy out. Have them pretend they are bouncing on a mini-trampoline (this will keep their movement on a vertical plane instead of all over the room) and give them a couple of minutes to let loose!

• Conjure up a rainstorm! Sitting or standing at a desk or table, have your child tap 1 finger on the desk, then 2, then 3, then 4, then their whole hand until you all feel like you’re in the middle of a deluge. Work your way backward from 5 down to 1 as the storm 

• Get hearts pumping with a quick sequence of exercises. Call out 5 actions for your child to do as quickly as they can. For instance, 5 jumping jacks, 4 pushups, 3 situps, 2 squat jumps, and 1 tree pose. 

• Have your children line up next to a wall and place one hand on the wall. Tell them to plant the foot closest to the wall and swing the other leg, as if pushing off the ground on a skateboard. Start slowly, with tiny swings, moving up to power pushes. Repeat on the other side.

• This is a good break when you sense a weariness in the air. Have the children rub their hands together vigorously until they warm up. Tell them to close their eyes and mind and refocus. 

• Music is a great way to reset the mood in a room and raise the energy level. Put on a fun song and have a 30-second freestyle dance party. Maybe teach your children the steps to popular dances such as the Cha-Cha Slide or the Macarena. My class enjoyed crazy dancing to Crazy Frog last year. 

I hope this has given you some food for thought and you will try some of these activities while the children are with you learning at home. I always thought these breaks were time-wasting and based on avoidance, but the children actually gain so much more when they come back to a task with fresh eyes and with fresh air in their lungs.

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