Adults and children alike can all relate to that feeling of exhaustion and restlessness while working on a tedious task. Sometimes you just need to take a lap around the office, get up and pour that second cup of coffee, or focus your mind on something else for a bit. In the classroom, our Georgia private school teachers know that children often need a chance to reset their minds as well. We call it a “brain break,” and it’s just as essential to implement this game-changer at home as it is in the classroom.
But are brain breaks actually effective in stimulating and refocusing the mind, or are they merely a waste of time? The science behind these short intervals of movement is pretty fascinating, so let’s unpack it.
Ease Anxiety and Stress.
The amygdala might sound like the name of a Star Wars character, but it’s actually a part of the brain responsible for processing memory and emotions–namely fear-based ones. It is also the filter that processes new information to the prefrontal cortex in order for it to become a memory. When the brain constantly takes in information, the amygdala can reach capacity and go into overload mode, causing anxiety and stress. Shifting the brain’s focus to another network allows other areas of the brain to rest and reset.
Are Not Actually a Break for Your Brain.
A 2021 study found that periods of “wakeful rest” allows the brain to bind “together the memories required to learn a new skill” (Buch). This means that though the student may be taking a break from a particular task, the brain is using this time to commit the skill to memory.
Replenish the Brain’s Vital Chemicals, Renewing Its Ability to Focus.
Neurotransmitters (think of them as the postal service of your brain) are chemicals that transmit messages between nerve cells. These chemicals are crucial for attention and memory retention, but they come in a limited supply. In fact, too much of the same activity can quickly deplete a person’s supply of neurotransmitters. Brain breaks help the brain to replenish neurotransmitters by momentarily shifting its focus.
Our Atlanta private school teachers have noted that brain breaks are especially beneficial for children who struggle with self-regulation. When areas of the mind become overworked, it’s nearly impossible to move past the brain fatigue and stay on task. For these students, a calmer, more relaxing brain break can give the brain the time-out it needs to recharge and return to the task with the ability to push themselves to the finish line rather than being prompted to it.
Children can only remain attentive for so long when working on those less-than-exciting tasks. When information seems to be going in one ear and out the other, or you’re met with blank stares, it may be time for a brain break.
Using brain breaks as an incentive to help children complete tasks (or even segments of a task) is an effective way to keep them motivated. Try setting a timer and giving them an allotted amount of time to work on their task before taking a break, or provide them with a goal (e.g., “Complete ten problems and then you may take a brain break.”). Although it may seem that these frequent breaks will slow task completion, you’ll find that your child will be able to work faster and more efficiently after a brain break.
Brain Breaks Should…
- Be frequent (but not too frequent)
- Reflect the child’s age and attention span
- Be active and engaging
- Provide incentive
Brain Breaks You Can Try at Home:
- Jumping jacks or other exercises
- Balloon volleyball
- Action songs
- Freeze dance
- “Simon Says”
- Outdoor exploration
- Sensory bin
- Scavenger hunt
- Deep breathing
- Relaxing videos
- Relaxing music
- Drawing, coloring, or painting
- Reading aloud
- Story starters
- Activity pages
- Brain teasers
- Science experiments
Brain Break Games
- Board games
- Card games
- Relay races
- Obstacle courses
- “Name That Tune”
Motivating your child to finish tasks such as chores and homework can seem daunting and, at times, impossible. By utilizing the science behind brain breaks at home, parents can better aid their children in working through brain fatigue and reaching goals more effectively.