Have you had a break today? Teachers may feel pressure to cover curriculum and catch up on the lost instructional time. They may feel there’s not a minute to spare – and certainly no time for breaks! However, as it turns out, breaks are essential for effective learning. Recently, a member of our team of educators, Griffith Roberts, shared some insights, research, and resources on how giving students breaks can help them thrive in the classroom.
Do Breaks Work?
Yes. In short, the answer is yes. Breaks do work. Short breaks for physical exercise actually “increase the ability for students to remain on task during instruction and other educational activities” (Mental Health and Physical Activity, Howie et al., 2021). Not only do breaks help children academically, but they also help reduce negative behaviors in the classroom(Carlson et al., 2021). So, although it sounds counterintuitive, taking thoughtful breaks from instruction allows your students to learn more effectively. The question is, how should you implement them in your classroom?
Scheduled Breaks vs. Unscheduled Breaks
Breaks can be a scheduled part of your daily routine, or they can be used to refocus a classroom at your discretion. Scheduled breaks are a wonderful way to allow students to become familiar with the idea of “brain breaks.” It also gives students a chance to become comfortable with a part of a daily routine that provides an opportunity to recharge. Additionally, it creates a motivational factor as a time to work towards.
A paper by the Harvard Business School suggests “unexpected breaks can, under certain conditions, yield immediate post-break performance increases.” A quick mental break can provide a moment to create. Another advantage of unscheduled breaks is that it allows educators to “read the room.” When an educator realizes students are off task, unfocused or physically active, they can use a break as a tool. However, unscheduled does not mean unprepared. It’s important to be ready for unscheduled breaks and to have some ideas in your pocket for when your class needs a pick-me-up or readjustment.
Ideas for Breaks
Here are a few ideas teachers can try for taking physical or mental breaks in the classroom:
- Activities – Stretching, physical icebreakers, student-selected exercise, dancing, desk-ercise videos from YouTube, etc.
- Suggested Use – When you notice students are losing focus or seem restless or after a long instructional block. Students must also have the option not to participate.
- Activities – “Box Breathing,” 4-7-8 breathing technique, “Belly Breathing,” “Windmill” or blowing a sheet of paper, body scan, five senses find (notice something you see, hear, feel, etc.), calming music or peaceful/comfortable visualization.
- Suggested Use – Before a stressful task, i.e.,, state assessment, quiz, presentation or performance or if the class needs a reset or a transition.
Breaks are not only beneficial for students. Breaks can help educators regain focus, empathize with their students’ needs and increase their own level of productivity. Taking “Brain Breaks” is a no-brainer.
Help your students and help yourself; take a break.