These actions can be short pockets of movement, creative activities, or even brief mindfulness practices. The point is to make it active rather than passive.
Research shows that “regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills” (Harvard Medical). When we exercise we pump oxygen to our brains which improves brain function. Yet, we force our students to sit still and sit quietly – and then complain when their “brains” aren’t “on.”
If we know that movement improves brain function, then why do we continuously build a practice that completely disregards the needs of growing brains? A static body creates a static brain. In this collection, we’re sharing a variety of ways to put hands-on, minds-on learning into action with over 45 brain breaks for kids.
Planning for Brain Breaks
Ideally, students shouldn’t sit still for longer than about 20 minutes. Not only can prolonged sitting create health issues, but the longer they sit still, the faster they zone out.
Planning brain breaks into your lessons can be easy by simply getting students out of their seats. For example, after sitting for a mini-lesson, have students apply their new knowledge by creating. This can be done by:
- creating a visual representation on chart paper hanging in the room (that they have to get up to write on)
- have them get into groups and create a tableau (the original mannequin challenge) with peers
- or have them “reteach” by taping a tutorial of the new information.
Even if you don’t “plan” the brain break into your lessons, if you notice students starting to get lethargic, have them move.
This can be as simple as having them stand up and switch seats with a peer. While they are “visiting” their peer’s space, have them comment on their peer’s notes by adding something they forgot or creating a question. They can even write a little note of appreciation to their peer.
After two minutes, have them return to their seats. Even though it’s only a couple steps, it will increase the heart rate, and pump oxygen to their brains.
If you need some more ideas on planned brain breaks, check out these resources:
Regardless of student population, or available instruction time, brain breaks for kids can be the key to successful student engagement in the classroom.
Changing Up the Learning Space
An easy way to incorporate movement into the classroom is by altering the space to fit the needs of the instruction. It will take some practice and very clear procedures, but it is very doable to have students reconfigure the movement into the classroom strategy and make the space conducive for the type of learning that is occurring on any given day.
Here are 5 ways to get students up and incorporate movement into the classroom strategy by rearranging their space:
1. Theatre Seating
The theatre environment is the traditional high school set up: rows of desks facing front. This setting can be used when you need to impart knowledge that students can’t get anywhere else (which isn’t much so you shouldn’t have to use it very often).
Groups and pairs are great for everyday work. They don’t have to be actually doing group work in order to be in this setting (in fact don’t do group/pair work unless it has a purpose).
Debate style has rows facing each other and can be used as debate, but also as an everyday setting.
Discussion is set in a circle, sometimes a double circle and again, doesn’t have to be used only for discussions.
Away, literally no desks. This is great for stations, gallery walks, 4 corners, walk the line, or any activity where you need space.
Partner with PE and Dance
When you are ready to take your brain breaks to the next level, consider partnering with your PE/Dance departments. This is a great way to create school wide brain breaks for kids. Have the PE/Dance departments create and film mini movement segments and then send them out to the staff. If there is at least one “go-to” video per week, then any time your class is losing steam, play the video and have your students move!
Everyday Brain Breaks
After the year begins and classroom routines are established, try introducing brain break strategies that your students can utilize at any time. Access to these tools should be available during built-in brain break segments throughout the day.
Here are some everyday classroom brain break tools to consider:
- pocket puzzles
- cube games (Rubik’s and the like)
- word search
- card catalog listing quick at-desk activities
- mini art-related challenges
- Master’s of Art connect the dots
- questions to ponder
- build mini-structures
- lego architecture
Students may engage in any one of these activities as long as they are respectful of their task, respectful of others, and respectful of returning materials in the same condition in which they were taken.
During instruction, or while reviewing steps of a project, you may decide to ‘press the pause button’ and provide a two minute brain break so that your students can regain focus at the larger task at hand.
Depending on the class, you may also provide students the freedom to pick their own brain break if they are finding it difficult to concentrate. This can be a good differentiation tool for learners who need more movement throughout the day.
5 Fast Arts-Focused Brain Breaks
Whether it’s a 60-second brain break or a 20-minute recess, having release time is important for all learners. And while there are many options out there, not very many really get those creative juices flowing. That’s where these fun arts-focused brain breaks for kids come in!
These mini-strategies are a great way to get everyone up, moving and changing the pace. They’re short (between 2-3 minutes) and offer a way for creativity and focus to intersect.
Engaging Students in Down Time with Fun Arts-Focused Brain Breaks
We use these throughout our online conferences because even though the day is packed with great information, sitting in one spot for 6+ hours is tough. So we intersperse these little nuggets of fun throughout the day and it works wonders for our participants. If it works for adults, imagine what it can do for your students.
The trouble with fun arts-focused brain breaks is that sometimes, they are just about getting up and moving around. But that’s a lost opportunity. You can actually use any break as a way to gently begin weaving the arts in and through your content.
Here are 5 of our favorite artful and fun brain breaks for the classroom that make the building that bridge a little easier:
DOWNLOAD THIS PDF
1. BEACH BALL ELEMENTS
Fill a beach ball with air and on each division, write an art element (ie: texture, line, space, weight, etc). Shout out a topic or idea you’re working on in class and then bump the beach ball in the air. The student who catches it gets to choose one of the elements on the ball. Then they share a reflection on the topic through the art element he/she chose.
2. FIND IT FAST
Call out 3 items. For example: something silver, something soft and something with jagged edges. For each item you call out, give students 5 seconds to find and bring back that item. Then, give students 1 minute to create a sculpture out of those 3 items.
3. YOU COMPLETE ME
This is a student favorite! Here’s what you do: start by pairing up students. One person in the pair hums the beginning of a song and the other person hums the ending. Switch roles and repeat. Then, switch partners.
4. FACE ME
Create a set of index cards with various emotions or expressions written on them. Divide the class in half. One half creates a circle with their backs towards the inside. The other half creates a circle that faces the other students (creating concentric circles).
Give an index card to each student in the inner circle. They may not look at it. Inside circle people hold up their card for their partner to see.
The partner must create the emotion or expression using just their bodies/faces. The inner circle partner must guess what is on their card from the acting of their partner.
Once completed, pass the cards down the circle 3 people and repeat.
5. BUST A MOVE
On strips of paper, write down elements of movement. Things like fast, slow, heavy, ziz zag, high, low, etc. Place the strips of paper in a hat or bag and turn on some music.
Draw out a piece of paper at random and read the element.
Arts integration can be challenging. You aren’t sure where to start, it might be scary to dedicate so much time to a whole new teaching approach, and you may even be nervous that the lesson won’t turn out the way you hoped. All of that is perfectly normal! Which is why I’m a huge advocate for integrating the arts with classroom arts-focused brain breaks.
Brain breaks offer the perfect opportunity for “bite-sized arts integration”. You don’t have to develop an entire lesson idea, nor do you have to worry that you’ll have to sing or draw in front of your students. It’s a nice little gateway to integrating the arts so that you can get your feet wet and get some success under your belt first.
We can all use a little break now and then. Why not turn it into a way to explore the arts?
A specific art-related brain break tool that’s helpful in the classroom is an area called the Creation Station. This area houses a variety of art materials, books, and tools that students can use in any manner they wish.
It is always refreshing to see how creative they can be with the provided tools and materials. Especially when you can see students incorporating various aspects of art that we have already learned!
Students know that anything that is started at the Creation Station doesn’t need to be completed in one sitting, provided their work and tools are properly handled and maintained.
While students are not always able to adequately manage this privilege, it does allow them to better regulate classroom behavior and individual attention span. In the general education classroom, or in the art classroom setting, students feel empowered when they have been provided with a greater sense of ownership to self-regulation.
24 Arts-Based Warm-Ups for the Classroom
Still need some ideas to help students embed some mind stretches throughout the day? Here’s a set of 24 warm-ups you can use in the classroom. Try them as bellringers, brain breaks for kids, or even as a transition in your lessons.
No matter what age or grade level you teach, brain breaks for kids can have a positive impact on learning. Try using just one of the ideas from this collection and see how it affects your classroom this year.