Epic, Calming Brain Breaks in the 21st Century Classroom

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The concept of mindfulness in the classroom has become quite a buzzphrase 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”.

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 or they could be made to relax our students. Calming brain breaks take care of the ladder.

They allow just a few minutes for students to achieve a level of mindfulness that allows and 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 breaks.

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.

Epic, Calming Brain Breaks in the 21st Century Classroom

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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 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 stomach and the other on their upper lip. 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.

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.

Click for Free SCL ideas

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 options that are appropriate for different grade levels.

Again, listen to make sure 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 to help everyone level out and get on the right page for the classroom.

Here are 5 brain breaks you can use to help your students decompress and get focused again!

1. Pass the quiet game

This is one of my favorite because it requires almost no prep at all, but works like a charm each time I play it with them. All you need is some string (or yarn) and paperclips. I usually try to have everyone sit down at their desks with the string lying across them and the paper clips on each end. Once they are all ready, say “Ready, Set, Go!” and watch the students begin to criss-cross their arms over one another as fast as possible so they can be first to get out of their seat and get their paperclips.

The last person to get out of their seat without touching the ground is the winner, or you can keep score for more than one round.

Side Note: I definitely recommend that you start this game before everyone gets too amped up because then it just becomes hectic instead of calm. If they are already hyped up, try using a softer voice and reminding them to stay calm and focus on what you say.

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.

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.

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 breaks game is kind of like the “Pass the quiet game” because it 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 “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.

5. Countdown Game

This game is similar to the spaghetti string game because it’s another way of keeping everyone focused on what you are saying. You can have “It” be the person counting or you can tell everyone to start on a number of their own.

I like to have them count by twos because it seems to work best for me. I will say, “Ready? Start at 20 and then switch to 19 when I say go.”

They then have 2 minutes to switch their number down until they are at zero. They cannot speak or make any noise while doing this, so it’s kind of like the quiet game in that way.

Elementary School

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:

Middle School

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

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, 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.

Calming Brain Breaks and the 4 Keys

Determining which calming brain breaks will work for the students in your classroom isn’t difficult, it just needs to ebb and flow with the students and where they are (physically, mentally, and emotionally). Being flexible is the key to making all of this work. The key is engagement. There are four keys to student engagement that I discuss in my video training challenge that releases twice per year. It is called “Finding Your Student Engagement Formula” and it walks you through those four keys and how to implement them in the classroom.

If you are interested in registering (it’s totally free), visit the Finding Your Student Engagement Formula Challenge registration page and you will be notified the next time the series is available.

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