Brain breaks can be described as a short break from whatever the person is focussing on. They are taken throughout a working or schooling day. People of all ages can benefit from Brain Breaks. Barnardo’s have come out and said that stress and anxiety levels are rising in children, I am aiming this blog post at adults who care for and/or work with children. Brain breaks can help in reducing stress and anxiety.
There is a great book out there called ‘The Orchid and the Dandelion’, it is written by Thomas W. Boyce. It is based on his research and true-life experiences as a brother to a wonderful sister who he describes as being the orchid. Boyce, through his research as a Paediatrician, talks about there being two types of children. One child is the dandelion. Dandelions as we know are hardy, sturdy flowers that grow in any type of weather and could be seen sprouting from cracks in the cement or out through holes in walls and fences. They thrive in any condition and are thus versatile and equipped to take on challenges. Orchids on the other hand, need a certain amount of water, they grow best in certain temperatures, they are vulnerable to harsh weather conditions and thrive under specific care. Boyce states that orchid people are sensitive and not vulnerable people. Boyce’s research shows that if we treat every child like an orchid then the orchids will bloom beautifully and the dandelions will continue to thrive no matter what. Therefore, every child will grow to be strong, resilient and have a chance to live up to their full potential.
Brain Breaks are in fact aimed at everyone, but as the adult who is helping their child with their zoom classes and homework, it is up to you to observe signs that the child needs a brain break. It is good to introduce a brain break when the child begins to show signs of frustration, fatigue, lack of focus and distraction. Depending on the child and their age, small children may need a brain break every 10-15 minutes and older children and teenagers, every 20-30 minutes. This is very dependant on the individual child. If you are working with a group, for example, of ten children and one child starts to display signs of loosing focus and becoming distracted then that is the time to approach the group as if they are all orchids and give them all a brain break.
Brain breaks are not;
- Something to be reward, earned or gained.
- There are no mistakes, right or wrong with brain breaks
- They are also, not a competition. It is not child verses child, or you verse me.
Brain breaks are;
- For everyone to participate in at the same time.
- Fair and equal for all involved.
- Are pre-planned. This reduces discussion and decision making on the side of the child.
- Can be short, only 3-5 minutes long, but still long enough that the child has had a break.
- Set boundaries. Take a minute or two to explain the activity and say confidentially, that will we only need three minutes to carry it out. If it helps, use a timer.
- Adults, if you are there with them then engage in the brain break too. This reduces the feeling of spectator/performer.
- Encourage laughter. If the bouncy ball hits off your toe and flies across the room then laugh! This introduces serotonin to the brain and we all love that.
When the brain break is finished then return to the homework, study or job being carried out. There is plenty of time throughout the homework or class time to take more brain breaks as required. Please do talk about your brain break after. Ask your child which was their favourite and which one they did not like, if any? This will help you for future planning of Brain Breaks.
The Science behind Brain Breaks
Well timed brain breaks can increase productivity, creativity and social skills. Plan for repeated pauses throughout the day to give your child or students time to process their learning. Integrate physical activity to improve cognitive functioning and boost moods. Movement breaks help children to reset. Be as creative and social as possible while maintaining social-distancing. This will engage the child to use their imagination, as well as conflict resolution and collaboration. The movement children will get during their break boosts neural connectivity which promotes growth in the hippocampus, the centre of learning and memory. Brain Breaks can also:
The Following are some examples of Brain Breaks.
Some of these are common sense and you are probably doing them already without calling them brain breaks. Just in case you need some inspiration, here is a list;
- Have a dance off! Move and shake to some music.
- Action Songs. Move and freeze songs, Tumble Tots and GoNoodle are free on YouTube and Spotify.
- Not just for the gym! Jumping Jacks, hop on one Foot, Skipping, introduce a bouncy ball and having one each try to bounce the ball and hop on one foot. Or bounce one ball to each other while hopping on one foot. If the ball goes flying off in a random direction then laugh it off.
- Balloon games. These are by far my favourite. Play balloon volleyball, you must keep the balloon from touching the ground. Work as a team, it is not you verses me.
- Exercise Ball. If you have one of these, let the child sit and bounce on it.
- Acting out. Ask the child to act out certain everyday things, for example, driving a car, cooking a meal, painting a wall, playing a sport and so on.
- Simon Says. An oldie but a goodie. If Simon does not say it but the child does it, they are not out of the game. Remember, there are no mistakes, laugh it off and try again.
- Animal Actions. Hop like a bunny, leap like a frog, walk like a chicken and so on.
- This is a lovely mixture of movement and mindfulness. Plus, it can complement our next idea nicely.
- Deep Breathing. Help your child decompress, ask them to place their hand on their own stomach, take a deep breath in through your nose, feel your stomach fill up like a balloon, exhale out through your mouth and feel your stomach deflate. You could add sounds to your deflation, like a giant sighing noise. Try box breathing, breath in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, breath out for four seconds and hold again for four seconds before repeating.
- Calming Music. Of course, this is my favourite. Sit somewhere comfy and listen to some chill out tunes. Spotify and YouTube have some great playlists for relaxing music. Also, if you have a Samsung phone, the Samsung health app provides some great mindfulness music in their fitness section. Some are free and created for kids too. This way you can lock your phone screen and it will keep playing.
- Calming Videos. This may not be an option if you feel you kids are already having too much screen time. If you are interested, YouTube Kids provides short suitable clips.
- Pair this with some relaxing music and let the child be creative in their own way.
- Go Outside. I know you have heard this one a lot! But seriously, stepping outside, even for a few minutes, can make a huge difference. The simple change of scenery can provide a welcome break.
- An Indoor Scavenger Hunt. For the Irish rainy days, give your child a list of things to find. For example, a teddy, a cup, a book, an alarm clock and so on. Hey! If you have misplaced your car keys or your reading glasses then put that on the list too.
- Sensory Bin. These have become very popular and you can find many variations on Pinterest. They are great for the child with sensory needs. Absolutely any object safe for children that has different textures, shapes and feels can go into the box.
- An obvious and yet delightful choice.
- Secret Handshake. This one is great fun plus it involves the adult creating a special bond with their child. You could slowly add onto it over time to create this ridiculously long handshake, it could be good fun.
- Story Starters. Make a quick story together. Start with an opening sentence, for example, ‘A monkey walked into a shop’, and listen while your child takes the story somewhere else.
- Write a Book. A longer take on the previous brain break. Write one page of the story per brain break. When the book is done then you can go back and illustrate it.
- Brain Teasers and Riddles. ‘Its as light as a feather, but the strongest person cannot hold it for more than five minutes. What is it?’ Answer; Breath
– Esther-Anna Bennett