We often hear from teachers that the school day feels too short for them to fit all the material they need to cover with their students. With all that’s expected of today’s children, and the importance of standardized assessments, it’s an understandable sentiment! But for kids, with their growing brains and impatient personalities, the school day can feel overwhelmingly long. That’s where brain breaks— short, preferably physically active breaks from school lessons— can be useful for students and teachers alike.
There are numerous benefits to taking short brain breaks during the school day. Breaks offer a mental reset, which is particularly important when students are concentrating deeply or learning difficult material. They’re also an easy opportunity to incorporate play into the school day. While ideally, play-based learning would be a feature of all elementary school classrooms, the practicalities of subject material and lesson plans can get in the way. Brain breaks can make time for this educational play.
Brain breaks as a concept also support the idea that childhood learning is not merely academic, but also social, developmental, and emotional. School is not just a purely academic setting, but rather one that also teaches kids resilience, positive social skills, and moral values. Teachers can use these much-needed breaks to encourage these positive skills in students, and to give them space to explore and play independently.
There are many ways to incorporate brain breaks into the school day. Let’s explore some methods educators may use to change things up for students during the school day.
A tried-and-true favorite for people of all ages, from young children to older adults, coloring lets kids flex their artistic muscles. In the midst of a curriculum that is often very STEM-focused, a break that is focused on the arts can be a nice change of pace. You can use coloring pages that align with the content you’re teaching, or let students choose their own from a selection.
Take a break and have your students explore their creativity with a multi-disciplinary project. An assignment that encourages them to bring their interests and talents to the subject, be it weather, American history, or a chapter book, will spark joy and intrinsic motivation.
Meditation offers tons of benefits for kids, including better concentration, peace of mind, and emotional stability. Less extroverted students and students who are easily overstimulated may find a quiet meditation break to be restorative. Apps like Headspace and Calm offer guided, non-religious meditations tailored for children of different ages.
Kids love to get up from their desks to sing, dance, and make noise! Music has been proven to improve mood and memory, and physical activity is important for healthy childhood development. If you’d like, you can use educational songs or music videos like those made by Schoolhouse Rock to make the break a low-key educational moment.
Daily devoted reading time is immensely important to strengthening literacy in elementary age students, but not all students have books at home or parents to help guide them through daily reading. Use break time to promote reading as a fun, relaxing, and educational activity for students. If your students aren’t advanced enough to read independently, try group story time instead.
Use play materials like clay, moldable sand, play-doh, or building blocks to provide a playful, tactile break for kids. This can be soothing for students with sensory sensitivities or those who learn better kinetically.
A timeless and fun game that promotes mindfulness, curiosity, and careful attention. Have students pair up and play I spy in the classroom or outside on the playground.
A fun game of charades can infuse the school day with some lightness and humor. You can even create a set of charades prompts to go along with your current subject matter. Charades is a great option because it combines the playfulness of a game with physical activity.
Another fun game, musical chairs lets kids get competitive while dancing and enjoying music.
We’ve already mentioned a few different ways of using games as brain breaks for your classroom, but you can also try combining code and play in your brain breaks. The Unruly Brain Breaks activity pack includes three interactive and fun icebreakers for your students. This can be the perfect way to give everyone a break to get active while still learning new concepts.
Fresh air can cure many ills, and for students and teachers who spend all day cooped up inside the classroom, it can feel wonderful. Weather permitting, take students outdoors to play on a playground, explore, or just socialize and play games of their own invention.
Kids love any excuse to celebrate, and holidays are a great opportunity to give your brain breaks theme and personality. Nancy Penchev, a teacher at Scheck Hillel, told us about how she created an active game to celebrate Hanukkah with her students. “We [used] the cornhole game to light the menorah this week [during] Hanukkah. The kids [loved] it.”
There’s no limit to your options for brain breaks in your elementary school classroom. Think about what your students would enjoy most and listen to their feedback. At the end of the day, they’ll likely be grateful to have some time to breathe away from the usual lessons, so don’t stress over the details. It’s all about balance, and of course, having fun.