If you are a classroom teacher or homeschool your kids, you know that kids need frequent breaks improve children’s learning and get their wiggles out! These brain breaks for kids will do just that. Even junior high and high school age students need to step away from their schoolwork several times to stay focused and keep up their energy levels. That is where brain breaks come in!
Make sure to check out my 10 Best Fidget Toys To Calm and Reduce Stress as well!
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What is A Brain Break?
We all know the feeling of sitting too long, focused on one task: teachers working on lesson plans, parents setting up a home budget, drafting and sending work emails. The list goes on. It is the same for our kids when they are hard at work practicing their spelling, working on math problems or reading stories.
Brain breaks are simple and short–about 3 to 5 minutes each. They consist of movement breaks, quick games and deep breathing and mindfulness exercises. They are easy to set up and while some use specific materials, many do not require any physical items.
How Often Do Kids Need Brain Breaks?
Some children will need breaks more often than others. Sometimes they will need a physical movement activity and other times they will want to sit quietly.
Consider what might be the best way to plan to include brain breaks for kids.
- Time-based: Work for an agreed-on amount of time then stop for a break. Use a timer to help students keep track of work time. Classroom teachers, this might be a good option for you. A visual timer can help all students stay on task and look forward to a fun brain break.
- Task-based: Complete specific tasks before stopping for a break. For example, complete five math problems or write out ten spelling words. This is a great option for parents and caregivers since you can easily keep track of the amount of work being completed.
In general, plan to include a brain break after no more than 15 minutes of lessons for elementary school and junior high and no more than 30 minutes of lessons for high school students. You know your child or students best and can determine what amount of work time they can tolerate before a brain break will help them reset.
Why Do Brain Breaks Work?
Have you ever felt the need to walk away from a challenging task only to return refreshed and motivated to get the work done? It’s the same for children.
Brain breaks can:
- Help reduce stress
- Re-energize kids after a long work period
- Refocus kids’ attention on the task at hand
- Increase time on task
- Improve student behavior in the classroom
- Physical brain breaks (which leads to better physical fitness) improves blood flow to the brain which helps support brain development and academic performance
Brain break activities are perfect for tailoring to a specific child or classroom’s needs. You can plan a movement break or physical activity for when kids have been sitting focused on a task for a while. Or you might want a more calming brain break after a heavier task, such as a science experiment, to get kids ready for a simpler activity.
Brain Break Ideas
I am going to share a list of some of the best brain breaks to get kids refreshed, focused and ready for learning. You can keep this list handy anytime you need a quick idea between lessons. What’s great about these fun brain break ideas is that many can be changed and modified easily to keep them fresh and exciting.
Become A Noodle
This activity helps students relax their bodies. They should be sitting. Starting with their feet, they should imagine their feet becoming noodles. Move up to their legs, belly, arms, hands, neck and face. This will help them reduce stress and tension.
“Hot Chocolate” Breathing
This involves a breathing and visualizing exercise. Children will imagine a big mug of hot chocolate in front of them, steam billowing out. They should breathe in deeply through their nose, imagining the sweet smell of the drink. Then they will slowly exhale through their mouth, blowing the steam away.
Yoga Poses and Stretching
Yoga is a great way to help children reduce their stress and manage their emotions. Check out our Yoga Posters and Cards for printables to keep on hand for when a yoga break is needed.
Simon Says – Draw it
A fun twist on “Simon Says” for this you will just need something to draw on and a writing utensil. Play Simon Says by having kids draw what’s said. “Simon says draw a circle.” At the end, see how the drawings turned out!
Here are some great Simon Says Ideas For Kids.
A simple game that you can play in any setting. You can tailor it to your learners’ needs. Find things that begin with letters of the alphabet, things that are certain shapes or things that are different colors.
Kids love this dance! Play the video and let kids follow along. What’s great about it is that there are seasonal versions such as Halloween Freeze Dance and Christmas Freeze Dance. A fun way to keep a dance break novel and fun!
Word ladders are a puzzle-like activity that involve playing with words. Starting with a given word, students will change at least one letter at a time to form new words based on clues. These puzzles work on phonics skills and vocabulary. Scholastic offers Daily Word Ladder books for use with kids grades K-6.
Rebus Puzzles: Visual Brain Teaser
These are picture puzzles where the picture represents a word or a phrase. You can choose to present simpler to more challenging puzzles depending on the age of the children playing.
Here is an example: m1llion → “one in a million”
Blow up some balloons and have fun tossing them around the room. Challenge kids to see how long they can keep them up in the air, and try to beat their best time. They can also be used to play balloon tennis!
Sensory Calm Down Bottles
Sensory bottles can be used when students need to regulate their emotions. But they can also be used to give students a quiet brain break. Use our sensory bottles tutorial to put together fun glitter bottles that work for a quiet, calm brain break.
Paper Plate Drawing
This spin on taking a doodle break is a more physical version of drawing a picture. Have students balance a paper plate on the top of their heads and, using a prompt (“draw a snowman”) try to draw the picture. Kids will giggle to see what their pictures look like.
Play with a Pop It
Pop-Its are a great sensory tool for students, especially those who need the use of a fidget item when learning. They can also be used to play games for a quick brain break. Some can be purchased with letters and numbers, but you can also write on them to practice sight words, math problems and more. Have kids pop the answer to a math problem or find a word that rhymes with “cat.”
Related post: Make your own fidget spinner, see how here.
Some kids enjoy being given a prompt to work with. Choose 3-4 fun stickers, add them to a page and have students complete the drawing. It will be amazing to see where their imagination takes them!
Act out the butterfly life cycle
This body awareness and stretching exercise involves the life cycle of a butterfly. First, students crouch down in a ball to become an egg. They “hatch” and stretch out on the floor. Next, they stand and hug themselves as a chrysalis and last they become a butterfly, stretch their arms out wide and fly around the room if they want.
In 60 Seconds
How many things can you do in 60 seconds? With the use of a stopwatch or timer, challenge students to see how many things they can do in one minute. You can modify this to add more time or less depending on the kids. Suggestions: number of jumping jacks, number of state capitals you can think of, how many circles can you draw on a paper, etc.
Upside down, rightside up
Give kids a predetermined time limit and place down disposable or plastic cups in a space on the floor. How many can they flip upside down within 30/60 seconds? Repeat as many times as needed.
This activity requires a little prep ahead of time but is so worth it! It can be customized to whatever theme or learning you want! Tape a large sheet of paper to a wall and draw the letters of the alphabet, numbers 1-20, sight words, whatever you want children to practice. Write the same terms on Post-Its and stick them around the room. Have students hunt for them and match them to the right spot on the paper. Add to the challenge by having students match answers to questions. For example, have students match rhyming words or answers to math problems.
Cotton Ball Races
All you need for this activity are some cotton balls and straws! Place cotton balls on the table and blow through the straws to watch them race across the table to the finish line!
A novel spin on simple stretching that children will love. Bonus: they will be practicing letters too! Students will use their pointer fingers as an air pencil and draw letters, numbers, or words in the air.
You can put down some painter’s tape on the floor, use a string or even pencils to form a tightrope. Have students carefully balance on the tightrope. To add to the challenge, they can walk backward, hop on one foot or balance something in their hands.
Write the room
Put schoolwork on the walls to turn boring worksheets into a fun and active brain break. Tape worksheet questions around the room, hand kids a recording sheet and have them walk around and record their answers.
This activity is great for older kids. Plus, it can be modified to suit your learners or subject matter. Introduce a category and see how many words you can come up with! Simply come up with a word in the same category that begins with the ending letter of the previous word.
Example Category: Food
Strawberry → Yogurt → Tortilla → Apple (and so on)
This math game is great for older elementary students up to high school. One person chooses a number and writes it down where others cannot see. The guessers take turns offering guesses as to what number is written. The only hints that the writer can give is whether the written number is higher or lower than the numbers guessed.
Quick write – What if?
Get students writing with some fun “what if” scenarios. For quick writes, students do not have to worry about their spelling or grammar, giving them the freedom to write whatever comes to mind. Topics can range from silly to serious. See the table below to get you started.
|SILLY TOPICS||SERIOUS TOPICS|
|What if animals could talk?||What if you were on a deserted island? How would you survive?|
|What if you could be the teacher for a day?||What if humans could live on Mars?|
|What if you could fly? Where would you go?||What if you could visit any historical time period? Which would you choose & why?|
|What if you had one million dollars? How would you spend it?||What if we no longer had access to technology?|
Grab 5-10 items and arrange them on the floor or table. Have students take a look then close their eyes. Quickly hide one item. How quickly can they figure out which item is missing?
Have a fun dance party to shake those sillies out. You can make it a freeze dance kind of thing or just put on some music and let children move around for a few minutes.
Who doesn’t know the Macarena? Put on the song and get shaking with these dance moves. Next do the YMCA song.
Wall push ups
Have children push on the wall for ten seconds at a time or make a diagonal with your body and do wall push ups.
Trading places is fun! Have children take turns calling out traits or letters and trade places with a person whose name starts with that letter or who has that trait. (Example of a trait could be: someone with curly hair, a person wearing stripes, people with middle names, hair length, etc.)
Brain Breaks in the Classroom
Do you notice your students have a lack of focus or are showing the beginnings of rowdy behavior? Stop and get a fun brain break going! While it is important to plan brain breaks for times where you know your class needs them, such as after recess or a test, having a list of tried and true activities will make resetting your class so easy when things start looking unmanageable.
Be sure to change up your brain breaks regularly to keep them new and exciting for students. Keep our list handy so your students will never get bored!
It’s so important to make sure that the brain breaks that you decide to use are inclusive of all the different learners in your classroom.
Here are some tips to easily modify brain breaks to make sure all kids are able to participate.
- Provide visuals whenever possible
- Follow a predictable routine
- Spontaneous brain breaks should be announced with at least a few minutes warning
- Try to choose a familiar and simple break activity if it is not pre-planned
Brain Breaks for Junior High and High School Students
High school students’ attention spans are vastly greater than that of a preschooler. But even teenagers need brain breaks. These students are more likely than elementary-aged kids to be sitting for longer periods of time. While at times, a preplanned brain break that is related to their learning will be in order, you can create a “brain break station” for your older kids.
This station can be a rolling cart or even just a basket with handles that contains their materials for breaks. This gives junior high and high schoolers a little more control and independence in their school day.
Some ideas on what to include:
- Playdough (fun for all ages!)
- Paper & dry art supplies (crayons, colored pencils, etc.)
- Puzzle books (word search, sudoku, dot-to-dot, etc.)
Virtual Brain Breaks
Distance Learning and virtual classrooms are still part of the new normal for many students. There are many simple ways to utilize brain breaks whether you are a teacher teaching over live video or a parent helping your child refocus between class breaks.
One of my favorite brain breaks to use with distance learning is scavenger hunt. Students will be on the hunt for objects in their room or house. Here are some easy things they should be able to find:
- Something round
- Something soft
- Something red
Another great brain break activity for kids pre-k through high school is to hold a talent show or have Show and Tell. These work very well in the virtual classroom because, in general, students are in their homes. You will want to set aside a specific time in the school day for these breaks and limit it to a few students per session.
Brain Break Videos for Kids
There are tons of great video resources that you can use as a brain break for students. These videos are perfect for when you might be occupied with another task (homeschooling multiple children) or need to set up the next activity (classroom teachers prepping while students are occupied).
In general, you can use a video for dance breaks, movement activities and exercises. Here are some sites to check out.
- GoNoodle: Find tons of videos here perfect for brain breaks. Topics include breathing, stretching and dance breaks.
- The Kiboomers – Kids Music Channel on YouTube: Find the Freeze Dance here along with other fun, educational and themed videos kids will love.
- National Geographic Kids: These videos are fun and educational! There are four categories to choose from – “Amazing Animals,” “Weird, but True,” “Party Animals,” and “Try This.”
With all of these tips and tricks, you’ll never have trouble setting up a brain break for your child or class! These short breaks are so important for kids. The time you will gain in increased focus will be more than worth the few minutes it takes to do one of these activities.