The question, “Why do Students Need Brain Breaks?” is often accompanied by eye rolls and a general lack of understanding of why this is important. Over the years, the idea of how students were to behave in the classroom was relatively consistent. They come to school, sit down, are given information, and then they go home (where they are to practice that information. Many people have the idea that kids should be able to sit still because kids years ago were, in fact, able to sit still. They would go to school they would complete the learning and they would come home. So why shouldn’t kids today be able to do so? The issue isn’t that inside school has changed, the problem is that outside school has changed.
Why do Students Need Brain Breaks?
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By far, one of the best articles I have seen that breaks down this modern phenomena is titled, Why So Many Kids Can’t Sit Still in School Today. In this article, authors Valerie Strauss and Angela Hanscom explain that students are coming to school ill-prepared to be able to focus because of their body structure. years ago when kids were in school they were playing, they were active they were spinning in circles and rolling down hills and climbing trees. To add to this issue, Hanscom explains, “Recess times have shortened due to increasing educational demands, and children rarely play outdoors due to parental fears, liability issues, and the hectic schedules of modern-day society. Let’s face it: Children are not nearly moving enough, and it is really starting to become a problem.”
Today, more and more kids are stationary and sitting in an upright position. With the rise of technology comes a decrease in child movement, and that literally makes their bodies physically unable to sit still. They are constantly wiggling and moving because they don’t have the appropriate muscle structure that supports sitting still for long periods of time. Couple that with the modern human’s attention span decreasing dramatically and you have a recipe for students who literally cannot sit still. Why do students need brain breaks? Because their body physically can’t handle NOT having them. Hanscom explains, “Ironically, many children are walking around with an underdeveloped vestibular (balance) system today–due to restricted movement. In order to develop a strong balance system, children need to move their body in all directions, for hours at a time. Just like with exercising, they need to do this more than just once-a-week in order to reap the benefits. Therefore, having soccer practice once or twice a week is likely not enough movement for the child to develop a strong sensory system.”
Knowing this information makes a huge difference in the mentality of why Brain Breaks matter. We now have a generation of students who come to school and they literally aren’t prepared to learn because their bodies aren’t physically able to do so. This is not their fault, nor does it make them less of a student than those in years past. They just are not being given the tools to make sure that they are able to learn at the best of their abilities.
So when asking the question why do students need brain breaks, the answer is clear. If we don’t get them moving around in the classroom, they simply are not going to learn at their best. Our job as teachers is to make sure not just that our students are learning, but they’re learning at their best if that means taking just a few minutes a couple of times a day to get them moving around, there’s no harm in that. Incorporating Brain Breaks is not a difficult thing to do, it just takes a little bit of organization. There are several different ways that one can do this. It can be a full class activity at times where your students needed such as transitioning or when the energy level has just sunk. It can also be individualized so students can get up and do something when they feel that they need to. It takes a little bit of time for them to learn how to police themselves, and off and it works better with older students (yes, even those in high school).
So what are some easy ideas to incorporate into a classroom? It can be something as time-tested as a quick game of Simon Says. You can incorporate something larger such as Brain Break Bingo. Another option which I love and this works at every grade level is you create a bulletin board in your classroom that is one giant page of coloring. Students can get up when they need to and spend a couple of minutes filling in a part of the picture and then going back to their work. When I personally started this in a lower achieving high School, I was concerned that the students would take advantage of this opportunity as I’m sure most of you are thinking right now as you read this I was shocked to see that the students would go up to the board just when they needed to get up and move around a little bit take a couple of minutes and then police themselves enough to go and sit back down without any type of prompting from me. There were some students that always started my class by taking a few minutes at that board. There were others that always ended the class that way. Gave them a little bit of choice at a moment’s to be able to collect themselves in a way that they did not have in other places.
So why do students need Brain Breaks? Because if we want them to do their best in our classrooms, we need to give them the opportunities to move around. Not only do Brain Breaks help circulate the blood and get the oxygen flowing to their brains, and also gives them the opportunity to move that they aren’t necessarily taking outside of the classroom. Don’t forget, our children are supposed to get 60 Minutes of physical activity a day. Are they really getting that? Sadly, most are not. Previous generations have, but we know that this generation is different. We need to make sure we are doing everything we can to give them all of the tools at their disposal to do well and to excel. Brain breaks are the perfect way to encourage this.