The concept of mindfulness in the classroom has become quite a buzz phrase over the past few years in education. This term floats around quite often, but what exactly does mindfulness in the classroom mean and how do you incorporate calming brain breaks into the classroom naturally?
As defined by a quick Google search, mindfulness is “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations”. In the classroom, this can be accomplished by implementing short breaks during class time for mindfulness exercises or other types of short mental breaks.
Given that our students in the classroom today lack many of the basic soft skills that previous generations have learned outside of the classroom, it is important to focus on mindfulness to help teach our students coping mechanisms, stress relief, and a general sense of awareness about themselves. There are several ways to take care of it in the classroom, but one easy way is to institute calming brain breaks.
Throughout our brain breaks series, we have talked about several different ways to utilize brain breaks in the classroom. We know that brain breaks could be made to energize (with active brain breaks) or they could be made to relax our students (with mindful brain breaks). Calming brain breaks take care of the latter.
Mindfulness brain breaks allow just a few minutes for students to achieve a level much-needed break that allows their heart rates, anxieties, and energy levels to level out in a way that allows them to appropriately continue on their day in a more relaxed state.
As with the rest of our brain break series, the number one way to ensure that this will work for your classroom is knowing your students and what they will buy into. If you walk into a classroom of rambunctious high school students with a crystal bowl and a series of yoga poses, you may be met with some serious resistance to your idea of calming brain break activities.
It may be necessary to start small and move to “higher level” mindfulness practices during your calming brain breaks. Again, you need to know your students to know what to try and how to build upon it.
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The Significance of Calming Brain Breaks
Depending on what you have at your disposal in your classroom dictates how you can go about executing calming brain breaks. The most basic levels allow you to work on focused attention practices, like deep breathing, with your students. Basically, you don’t need anything more than their bodies and their time to work on these.
These activities usually last somewhere between a minute to a minute and a half and allow students an opportunity to quiet their minds, which helps the parasympathetic nervous system regulate itself. This helps with impulse control, coping mechanisms, and the ease of everyday frustrations.
The easiest starting point is executing various breathing exercises. An easy option is to have students place one hand on their stomachs and the other on their upper lips. As they breathe in, they will feel the hand on their stomach move, and then as they breathe out they will feel the air on their hand. By doing this it allows them to focus on something external and yet internal at the same time, quieting the mind. This can be done individually or with the entire class.
Another good option is to lead the students to inhale for a count of 4, hold that breath for a count of four, and then exhale on a count of four. Keeping this rhythm will also help achieve the same goal. There are many different breathing exercises available; these are just two easy, quick options that work with younger students and older students alike.
If you have access to technology there are a ton of videos on YouTube that can be utilized as well. Below I have a few different calming brain breaks that are appropriate for different grade levels.
Be sure that you listen through these before you use them with your students and make sure they are appropriate for the students that you have. If you think that they may giggle and not take it seriously, I would suggest finding a different one (ad). If you think it is something that they would buy into, then certainly go for it.
Easy Ideas for the K-12 Classroom
Every age group will have days that they seem to be off the walls. From just having too much energy to being amped up from something that just happened in the lunchroom, it is important for us to have some great calming brain breaks in our arsenal as an effective way to help everyone level out and get on the right page for the classroom. From quick games to sensory activities, there are many options to help regulate that heart rate and bring a sense of calm back to the classroom.
Here are 4 fun brain breaks you can use to help your students decompress and get focused again!
1. Strike a Yoga Post
It’s no secret that yoga has a number of benefits as a physical activity. You don’t need to be a yogi to move through some basic poses with your students. A quick Google or YouTube search will give you a good idea of the best way to help your students (and you!) in following exercise prompts that help the blood flow while reducing blood pressure and instilling a calm classroom vibe.
This is a great brain break activity to actively remove excess energy while also focusing on the whole body and, as an added bonus, mental health. The more minutes of mental activity that can be focused on during yoga help with self-regulation skills and other neural activity. When it comes to calming brain breaks, this is probably the easiest and most effective.
2. Wall Sit
I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all heard of the wall sit before, but I like to take it one step further. Have the students sit next to a wall with their feet about hip-distance apart and facing away from the wall. They can put their backs up against it, but then they may start to slouch or wiggle around too much. Then have them take a deep breath in and exhale as they slide down against the wall until their knees are at a 90-degree angle.
You can have them hold it for as long as they need to before saying “Ready, Set, Go!” and have them slide back up the wall until their backs are flat against it again.
This one really gets them to focus on their breathing, which is so important when you are trying to calm down because it helps release tension from your body. Sometimes I even have them count out loud while they are sitting against the wall to keep themselves occupied. This really helps the students regulate and is perfect for your list of calming brain breaks.
3. Walk Count
This is one of my personal favorites because it requires no prep and we can do it right in the classroom! The first thing we do is walk around the room together as a class counting the total number of students. This is a great way to connect the class back together as a unit so they are more focused on what you have to say next. After counting, I have them select one person to be “it” for this game because it does require some responsibility.
Once everyone has their eyes on whoever is “it”, they are divided into two groups by facing one another in two long lines on each side of the room. The students who are “it” have to walk around between both sides, while everyone else attempts to clap their hands under their chins so “it” doesn’t see them do it. If they get caught, they are now “it”.
This game works great because it gets some energy out while they are laughing and having fun, but it can go pretty fast so I like to make sure everyone is listening when the count goes down. Once they get good at this one, you can switch up who is “it” or how many times “it” has to go around the room before they choose someone else. This burst of excitement is great for calming brain breaks because it then brings everyone back to the same level they need to be.
4. Spaghetti String Game
This calming brain break game works really well if your class needs to be brought back together after a group discussion. It’s also one of my favorites because most students don’t even realize how focused they are on what you are saying.
All you need is some yarn or string with two containers at either end of the room. I usually have whoever is “it” stand at one of the containers with some kind of marker, while everyone else sits on the floor across from them where they can see what’s happening.
Once you start this game, you tell the students to wrap their string around some part of their body as many times as possible without letting go. The person who gets the most around their leg or arm etc. without letting go is “it” now, whether that’s determined by whoever has the most wraps or however long you feel like playing.
If you’re unfamiliar with GoNoodle, you’re in for a treat. This is a selection from their programming that is perfect for elementary-aged students to help them find their center. They have a lot of cute options for calming brain breaks, but I particularly like the flow of this one:
Again, the students’ age really comes into play for GoNoodle, so keep it in mind.
This particular option is great for middle school as it helps them gain a greater awareness of their bodies and where they may be holding tension. This stage of adolescence is when stress really starts becoming more prevalent in more of our students, so not only is this a great exercise to help with grounding in general, but they can put it in their own personal toolboxes to start recognizing when they made need to center themselves and use for calming brain breaks.
High school really opens up a whole plethora of calming brain breaks. The issue here is buy-in. Once you get your students to buy into the mindfulness practice, the possibilities are endless. This particular video is a perfect starting point if your students have a bit of interest to start. It will help them to become grounded and focused and move forward with a general sense of well-being and balance.
I also love the video below for calming brain breaks because it is so stinking mesmerizing. Truly, I feel it can be used at any grade level, but of course, you can look around for a different one that may be more appropriate for your students. With this, it is almost like a kaleidoscope that you watch and you get absolutely sucked into it. It also helps with the parasympathetic nervous system and does everything that the other options do, just in a more visual way.
So, in keeping with the trend of accepting (and needing) mindfulness in the classroom for our students, implementing calming brain breaks gets two birds with one stone. You have a way to allow your students the opportunity to learn how to regulate their own minds and bodies and also an opportunity to relax your whole class with a quick brain break.
We will be helping them long-term in their lives by spending just a few minutes a day on this, and I think that is something that we should always remember as we are trying to find those moments in our schedules. Just some quick activities have the ability to challenge kids and also focus on their social-emotional learning. They don’t have to be full lesson plans; if you use brain breaks as an easy activity during your student work time, you will see huge gains in so many areas of your classroom and beyond.
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Originally published on April 9, 2019