Brain breaks stimulate the part of the brain responsible for focus and attention and help regulate emotional responses to stress.
Maintaining student attention and focus during class time can be challenging for teachers in both the junior and senior school environments. Short breaks during class time can increase attention and focus while also helping to regulate emotional responses to stress. With students and teachers feeling the additional stress and fatigue associated with the pandemic, finding ways to help boost student wellbeing in the normal school day is vital.
“With students and teachers feeling the additional stress and fatigue associated with the pandemic, finding ways to help boost student wellbeing in the normal school day is vital.”
Daydreaming, doodling, procrastinating and even playing up in class are all signs of waning attention and focus. Lengthy class times and demanding academic curriculum places increasing pressure on teachers to deliver content in an interesting, stimulating and effective manner. However, studies have shown that focus and attention can decline as instructional duration increases (1). In Godwin’s research, it was discovered that children spent over a quarter of the time within a classroom lesson distracted and unable to focus on the task. It was found that shorter lessons broken up with brain breaks led to greater attention, focus and enhanced learning.
Brain breaks can involve both cognitive (e.g. mindfulness) or physical activities to achieve benefits. This has been proven in recent studies linking single bouts of physical activity with improved attention (2-4), better working memory (4), and increased focus and reduced distraction (5-6).
Children and adolescents are experiencing increased emotional stress in our modern world. This is brought about by social media use, the pandemic and social relationships at school and in the home. Such stress can affect the student’s academic performance and social development. Schools are taking an increasingly proactive role in developing resilience within students for their mental wellbeing. Resilience requires people to push through challenging circumstances, to dust themselves off after disappointment and move forward. Self-care in regulating personal stress is one skill that can be developed through the practice of taking habitual short brain breaks. Studies have shown that brain breaks and mindfulness practices can positively impact our emotional states and learning. These breaks reset the neural circuitry in our brain as a response to either stimulating or quieting practices that generate increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, where problem solving and emotional regulation occur (7-8). This reset helps us cope better and feel more open and calm. Such calmness will enhance wellbeing and help reduce stress.
When students take a brain break, it refreshes their thinking and helps them see a situation through a different lens and find solutions to problems they didn’t see before. During the few minutes of a brain break, the brain shifts away from learning, memorizing, and problem solving. When the student returns to their task, they see it with fresh perspective. They notice details they didn’t ‘see’ before due to fatigue. This improves academic performance and regulates mood.
Brain breaks can be active, involving movement and exercise, or they can be calm and relaxing, involving deep breathing and stretching. Short bouts of exercise boosts mood through the release of endorphins and improved blood supply to the brain (9-10). Short breathing breaks help slow breathing which is an effective technique used to evoke calmness and reduce anxiety.
Health Breaks’ healthy schools program provides extensive resources to help teachers to seamlessly integrate brain breaks within the normal school day. Teachers login to the ‘calm breaks’ Playlist for a selection of age-appropriate breathing, meditation, positivity and stretching activities to help students feel connection and calmness. The ‘active breaks’ Playlist can be selected to encourage movement, release excess energy and promote oxygen flow to the brain. The 2-10min activities include an array of multimedia resources for teachers to weave wellbeing into the classroom. Students learn that self-care practices that help boost mood, relieve stress and improve focus is possible within and beyond the classroom setting. This is an important life-skill students can take forward into adulthood.
To find out how you can adopt the healthy schools program with Health Breaks app, contact firstname.lastname@example.org and request a demonstration.