Brain Breaks: Not Just for the Kiddos

Cailyn Dougherty
English & Creative Writing Teacher

When I think back to when I was in school, we worked from the start of class to the end of the day. The only time we had breaks was if we needed to go to the bathroom, or finished all of our work. These little moments were few and far between. I remember stealing away moments between activities to jot down a few words, or images I would include in my poetry or short stories. These little moments allowed me to refocus myself.

As a student with A.D.D., I would, as you can imagine, get off task. I never prevented anyone else in the classroom from learning; however, I needed little moments to allow myself to jot down ideas, or draw something quickly. My mind was moving much faster than the pace of the classroom. Occasionally, I would get in trouble for not paying attention, or being off task, and I could never really wrap myself around the idea of a fourteen to seventeen year old paying attention 100% of the time regardless of any other distractions both in the room, on the campus or in their lives. As you can imagine, when I went to college some years later, I was thrilled to hear about this concept of brain breaks.

As a relatively new teacher, I am constantly trying new things in my classroom, and as of lately I try to include brain breaks at least once every two weeks. I've thought about including it more often, but as a Pre-Ap teacher, sometimes it isn't practical. When it's not practical I do try to implement some higher level Blooms which allows for "create" activities.

These "Create" activities provide an excellent opportunity for teachers to participate. For example, during our Drama Unit, this year, my team and I were covering Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet with our Freshman. I was able to find several coloring pages depicting some of the major scenes from the play. The one I chose to focus on was The Balcony scene since my students were super engaged in reading it.

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Originally, I planned on handing out the supplies, color sheets and actively monitoring them as they enjoyed their brain break, but this overwhelming urge to color with them came over me. So, being the responsible young teacher I was, I obviously chose to do the active monitoring...WRONG! I totally, and very apologetically sat down with a group of my more talkative group of kids and began to color with them. There was a part of me that felt guilty sitting there with this group of students.

At first, the students just talked softly amongst themselves, but soon they started engaging me. They asked about the activity, and the requirements but from there it started expanding to my favorite music, and if I had seen the Deadpool movie. I started talking to them about their home lives, their favorite actor or actress, and more. Not only was I able to relax and let the stress of the day slowly slip away, I was also able to build some valuable connections with kiddos who really needed it.

Based on this experience, I've been adding other little brain breaks as needed throughout the week and day. I have a group of kiddos at the end of the day that always seem beyond hyper. It's like they stole sugar from downstairs, mixed it in with their soda, and ate four candy bars before coming to class. I mean H-Y-P-E-R.

I've implemented a 5-minute stretch session for them. Not only does this help relieve the tension and break the energy up a little, it allows me to do a little yoga throughout my day. Most of the students were excited about the ability to move around.

What I've learned about this experience is it is just as important for us as adults to take brain breaks as it is for our students. It gives us an opportunity to destress before class starts, take a moment to refocus, and it's a wonderful way to transition from one activity to another.

There are several websites you can go to to help introduce this concept into your classroom or to get extra ideas to help you out.

Check out the following to get started:

Take-a-Break-Teacher-Toolbox. Denver: The Colorado Education Initiative, 21 Sep. 2012. PDF.

"PHYSICAL ED. & HEALTH ED." AISD: Physical Education and Health Education. Web. 03 May 2016.

Cailyn Dougherty
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