At the PSEA House of Delegates in December, delegates passed a new business item to advocate for giving students more “brain breaks” throughout the day. A brain break can be any activity that gives students a chance to take a step back from the academic grind and give their brains a much-needed stimulus boost.
The science behind this concept is sound, and the importance of taking regular periods of rest between bouts of intense focus has been well-understood among education professionals for some time. In fact, it used to be built into each school day in the form of recess and physical education. Sadly, these critical activities are gradually being phased out in favor of more classroom time.
“The emphasis on standardized testing totally correlates with the loss of recess,” said PSEA board member and Southern Region President-elect Scott Penner, who moved to pass the new business item on brain breaks.
Penner, who teaches at Big Spring Middle School, Cumberland County, heard the concerns of other teachers in his district about the reduction in recess, and he’s seen it firsthand in his classroom of sixth-graders.
“Other than lunch they really don’t get any kind of break,” he said. “That’s the case probably for most of the schools around the area.”
The good news is that carving out the recommended 40-45 minutes per day for brain breaks isn’t as hard as it sounds.
All it takes is a couple of 20-minute breaks - one in the morning and one in the afternoon - of unstructured or loosely scripted time where students can get together in a hallway, a vacant classroom, or an outdoor area and just play.
The activities can be anything from a game of checkers to an acapella group to a bit of improv to an impromptu jam session with some ukuleles or percussion instruments the kids can easily store in their lockers. But if there’s one thing the science seems clear on, it’s that nothing beats the benefits of exercise.
Researchers have found that children who engage daily in exercise show enhanced motor skills, academic performance, and attitude toward school. Studies have also found that individuals who regularly exercise demonstrate quicker reactions, think more clearly, and remember more.
So to ensure that students are primed to learn, tell them to get moving!
What the Brain Needs to Learn
Water. Students should drink eight to 12 glasses of water per day in order to keep the brain properly hydrated.
Exercise. In addition to pumping more oxygen into the brain, movement strengthens the brain’s ability to form new connections and transfer new pieces of information into the areas responsible for long-term learning.
Rest & Recovery. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends at least nine hours a night of sleep for children ages six to 12, and eight hours for teenagers to ensure optimal brain function. Daily brain breaks offer another chance for recovery.
Variety. Art, movement, and music enhance the brain’s ability to process information and make stronger neural connections. Designing the instructional day to include physical education, recess, fine arts, and other opportunities for movement will increase student achievement as well as teach skills to enhance social and emotional development and decrease off-task behavior.
Oxygen. Breathing and movement are critical to keeping the brain flooded with oxygen and primed for learning. Schools need more physical education, recess, and physical activity throughout the day to keep students’ brains well-oxygenated. Breathing exercises in the classroom can help quiet the brain and increase oxygen levels.