5 Ways to Give Students a Brain Break

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Give your students' brains a rest and a recharge with these brain break activities.  They aren't just fun - they're critical for many kids to be successful in the classroom!

What is a brain break activity?  It's a way to fight the fidgeting, reenergize your students and and bring them back to a state of being able to learn.  Just a couple of minutes is all it takes.

If you're like me, there's more piled on the academic instruction plate and less time for play. And we know that kids learn through playing, whether it's on the playground or using their imagination.

Both guided play and free play are equally important for the development of social and academic skills.  

How a brain break impacts student learning
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9 Ways Brains Break Activities Support Learning

  1. Develops mathematical and literacy skills
  2. Improvement in fine motor skills
  3. Activates pleasure centers (release of dopamine)
  4. Develops primary circuits
  5. Boosts long term memory
  6. Allows the opportunity for revision of learned material (the brain does this without you even knowing it!)
  7. Replenishes neurotransmittors
  8. Focuses attention
  9. Targets a variety of kids learning styles


While researching for this article, I came across some really interesting information from MIT and ACSD (Educational Leadership) about how the brain processes information.  Basically if we can make learning a pleasurable experience we can activate the thinking part of the brain.  When kids are overwhelmed, their reactive brain takes over and very little is remembered.

These are huge implications for learning to read, do math or any other academic skills!

Take a 3-5 minute brain break with your kids every hour.  Here are 5 ways to give your students a break that is:

  • purposeful
  • cross-lateral (cross-lateral movements are when the arms and legs cross over each other, which is important because the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body and vice-versa)
  • increases their heart rates to get the blood flowing and neurons activated

5 Brain Break Activities

1.  Brain Break Dances
This first activity I stumbled across on Google Plus.  The Learning Station has these awesome videos that my students LOVE! Watch my students doing a brain break dance to "Icky Sticky Bubble Gum."  

Here's the most fascinating thing to me:  after doing these songs (there's lots more for free on YouTube as well as complete collections for sale) my kids were so attentive!  My kiddos that absolutely cannot control themselves were focused and ready to learn.

So this week I tried using these brain break dances right before math time since we are learning subtraction with regrouping across zeros.  Out of 7 kids who were really struggling with it, despite having a whole month of concrete experiences with Base Ten blocks, 5 of them began to internalize the concepts and show signs of independence.  

Even better, the next day I gave a quick formative assessment to see if they had retained what was learned...and 6 of the students did!  One more than yesterday! 

So, I am now a HUGE fan of The Learning Station.  Not only are their songs fun and engaging, the movements are purposeful, cross lateral and I saw the difference in my own students.  

Subscribe to their YouTube channel here (and be sure to follow them on G+ too!).

2.  Karate Simon Says 
I may be partial to this one because all three of my boys are involved in martial arts, but this is an excellent activity.  

I taught my class these basic movements:

  • spear hand strike
  • palm strike
  • front kick
  • horse stance
  • side kick
  • two finger strike
  • attention stance
  • round house kick
  • upper block
  • lower block
  • outer block

I just flip from right to left when playing Simon Says with them (i.e. right front kick, left lower block).  They get a real "kick" out of this (bad pun, I know).  If you don't know any martial arts, just watch a video or two on YouTube to get the basics.  It's likely that one of your students takes classes and can teach everyone!

3.  5 Minute Fitness
Do these activities for 1 minute each.  Just be ready for a drink break afterwards!  This is my favorite when there is a full moon out, the tide is coming in, it's raining...you know what I mean.

  1. Jumping Jacks
  2. Crab walk the room
  3. Alternating knee raises - touch the knees with the opposite hand
  4. Plank (show the kids how to use their knees/elbows for a modification)
  5. Chair squats

4. Yoga Yogis
This is a quieter but still intense brain break for kids.  Most of it is standing as there isn't always a lot of space in the classroom.  Hold each pose for 10-20 seconds and modify as needed.

  • Tree Pose
  • Airplane Pose
  • Frog Pose
  • Rainbow Pose
  • Chair Pose
  • Ragdoll Pose

Namaste Kid is a great site to learn the poses from (and more!) and there are pictures with each one.

5.  Around the World
Get creative and tie this into what you are learning in social studies.  If you are learning about the coastal region of the United States, you could say:

  • Swim the outer banks of North Carolina
  • Stomp through the swamps of Florida
  • Jump up and pick the peaches in Georgia
  • Hop over the crabs in Maryland

We just finished studying the Mayflower voyage, so we did these motions:

  1. Stay steady on one foot aboard the Mayflower
  2. Raise the sails
  3. Row your boat to shore
  4. Bend over to see the fish (or if you are seasick)
  5. Look right and left for land
  6. March around the ship

What other brain breaks in the classroom do you use?  They really do make a difference in both academics and behavior, plus it's good for all of us to get up and move throughout the day!

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