Teacher Inspiration: Brain Breaks to Get Out the Wiggles

Sometimes teachers break up a long school day by using brain breaks to help kids get out some energy before returning to focus. These can also be used by parents at home! We checked in with elementary educator and coach Lisa Lefrak Newby for the best brain break inspiration:

The average school day is busy, long, and can be jam-packed with stimulation for children. As educators, we want to push and engage our students with learning material but also value their development. Kids need to move! So, we have to adjust our day to address their needs.

One of the tools that teachers like to use is something we call “brain breaks.” They are quick, structured breaks from academic subject matter that give kids a chance to take a deep breath and do something else for a few minutes.

Kids playing brain break games in a classroom

From my perspective as a teacher, brain breaks are a vital tool for both kids and adults working together in the classroom. We know that kids need a break every once in a while. 

A brain break may also be needed after a quiet session of independent work, trying a new task, or completing a test. Sometimes we just need a moment to do some deep breathing, move our bodies, practice a mindfulness exercise, or exert energy with a game or a sensory activity.

Brain breaks can reduce frustration, stress, exhaustion, anxiety, and the feeling of being overwhelmed. They are a great distraction and can be just the thing to get students back on track.

I keep a small notebook where I jot down brain break ideas.

Here are a few ideas to refocus and re-energize your students - or that parents can try at home with their little ones.

Brain Breaks for Kindergarten

For Kindergartners my number one choice for a brain break involves movement.  When things are tough, feelings are big, or the work is challenging, we take a moment and give our brains a break. I often put on a video (gonoodle.com) and let the wiggling, dancing, and singing begin. The kids love it and soon everyone is giggling and moving. Then we take a big deep breath and get back to the task we were working on. 

Another one of my favorite tools is the Movement Ball. I take a beach ball and write different movements with a permanent marker. The students take turns tossing the ball to each other. Wherever their thumb lands the whole class has to do that movement.  Examples of movements are: Hop on one foot, Row a boat, or Jump in puddles. The kids have to perform that action in place. They think it is very silly and they love to act out each movement.

My students also get so excited when I bring out Guess in 10 Junior: Animal Kingdom. This gets them working as a class, interacting and laughing as they ask questions before guessing the correct animal on the card.

Two girls playing Guess in 10 Jr. Animal game on a table

Brain Breaks for 1st through 5th Grade:

Some favorite brain break ideas for elementary school-aged students include freeze dance, yoga, mindfulness breathing, and stretching. I love to use games such as “Would you rather?” For example, “Would you rather have a pet elephant or a pet giraffe?”  Or, “Would you rather come to school on roller skates or on a skateboard?” 

I also love to play a game where I use a die stencil and add animal movement prompts on each side. We take turns rolling the die and acting out the fun animal movements. Here is the free printable link if you want to try this out in your classroom as well!

Games are always a great tool. Competing can get their blood pumping while collaborating can decrease stress levels. My students always ask to play one of the Guess in 10 games.

Two favorites with the 1st and 2nd graders are Guess in 10: Things that Go! and Guess in 10: Animal Planet. The 3rd graders usually request Guess in 10: Deadly Dinosaurs and Guess in 10: World of Sports. The 4th and 5th graders tend to lean towards Guess in 10: Marvel and Guess and 10: States of America. The Guess in 10 games are easy and quick and the students love to use the clue cards. I can play this with the whole class or give a different game to each table group.

Brain Breaks for Middle School:

Some middle schoolers will act as if they are too cool for a break, but they need it! After periods of heads-down work on new and challenging curriculum or assessments, it’s time for a brain break!

I like to invite them to get out of their seats to rejuvenate. They enjoy when I pick a student to call out an exercise (such as jumping jacks, high knees, etc) and then they pick another student to pick a number between 5-10. Then the kids do the exercise 5-10 times. 

Sometimes we pick a funny movement to go with the exercise, such as a jumping jack and then a ballerina twirl. This gets everyone moving – sometimes even breaking a sweat!  The middle schoolers also have fun playing Guess in 10: Foods Around the World and Guess in 10: Marvel.  The games are easy and fun because they have to ask and respond to smart questions and see who can guess the correct answer first.  

Scout It Out is another fun game to let students play with their peers for a rainy day break. This gives students a chance to step away from their work for a little friendly competition with their classmates.

The key to using brain breaks is that they are quick and designed to give students a respite from the rigor of classroom learning and routines. They can help kids focus and be more productive. Sometimes stepping away from the routine allows the students to unwind, laugh, move, and breathe.  Don’t forget to use a timer so you can have some fun, but also return to the task at hand.

Lisa Lefrak Newby, M.Ed is an elementary educator and coach with 24 years of experience in the classroom teaching grades TK through 5th. She is the mother of two boys ages 15 and 11. Lisa is the oldest of five daughters and the organizer of all family game nights!

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