Why Students Need “Brain Breaks” & How You Can Help

Why Students Need Brain Breaks & How You Can Help by Real Mom Nutrition

Kids sit an awful lot in school these days. With some schools in the country limiting recess, reducing or even cutting PE classes, and placing a bigger focus on test scores (and test prep), children spend serious time being sedentary.

Why Movement Matters

Being seated for long periods of time has some major drawbacks for kids. Not only does it make it tough for them to get enough physical activity in the day, but it also makes it harder to actually pay attention and learn.

Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist, writes in the Washington Post:

Children naturally start fidgeting in order to get the movement their body so desperately needs and is not getting enough of to “turn their brain on.” What happens when the children start fidgeting? We ask them to sit still and pay attention; therefore, their brain goes back to “sleep.”

In order for children to learn, they need to be able to pay attention. In order to pay attention, we need to let them move.

Movement actually does “turn on” the brain. Look how activity can literally light up areas of a child’s brain that allow for better learning:

Why Kids Need "Brain Breaks" by Real Mom Nutrition

How Brain Breaks Can Help

It may not be realistic for schools to add in more time for recess or extra PE. But students can easily be given “Brain Breaks” throughout the day. Brain Breaks are short, energizing bursts of activity that boost blood flow, send oxygen to the brain, and help kids better retain information. It can be as simple as taking five minutes to stand up, stretch, and run in place next to the desk. My son’s first grade teacher takes the class on a short walk around the building every day. Research has shown that Brain Breaks increase students’ on-task behavior AND the amount of physical activity they get every day so it’s a win-win. (Read more here.)

Ideally, students should get multiple Brain Breaks in the day and be active in other ways as well. Here’s an ideal schedule for students, compliments of fellow dietitian Dayle Hayes, who presented the information at a workshop I attended at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo:

  • Walk to school
  • Classroom learning with hourly energizers
  • Recess*
  • Classroom learning with hourly energizers
  • Recess
  • Classroom learning with hourly energizers

*It’s been shown that kids waste less food, eat more fruits and vegetables, and have better behavior when they have recess BEFORE lunch versus after lunch. (Read more here.)

What You Can Do

If you’re a teacher, consider incorporating Brain Breaks into the day. If you’re a parent, talk to your child’s teacher about the idea. Here are some resources and videos that make Brain Breaks easy and fun to do. And they’re FREE!

Move to Learn Fitness Energizers: More than 30 fitness videos for students K-8 with routines kids can do alongside their desks.

Energizers for Grades K-2: Ideas for incorporating academic concepts into physical activity, such as games that mix jumping and running in place with learning letters and numbers.

Go Noodle Brain Breaks: Tons of free, short videos to get kids moving in the classroom, including short Zumba routines (my son’s teacher uses these when they have indoor recess and he loves it!).

Time for 10: Free 10-minute fitness videos featuring fitness experts and kids, with themes like kickboxing, core, and flexibility.

Adventure to Fitness: Videos that incorporate physical activity and common core-aligned learning, like jogging (in place) through Yellowstone National Park. Free registration gives teachers access to some videos; more are available with a paid subscription.

Teach Train Love: This teacher has compiled several lists of fun Brain Break videos from YouTube.

Action for Healthy Kids: A Pinterest page full of classroom brain break ideas, including some for middle school.

Big thanks to Dayle Hayes for supplying the brain scan graphic and ideal school schedule. Check out Dayle’s blog School Meals That Rock and her School Meals That Rock Facebook page for ideas, inspiration, and photos of school meals from across the country that celebrate “what is RIGHT with school nutrition in America”.

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  1. says

    I love all of these ideas and can even relate as an adult! My husband is in dental school and comes home exhausted every day! I know he works hard, but I also think a lot of it is because he sits all day! How awesome that your son’s teacher gives them brain breaks. Love it!

    • says

      Elizabeth–Definitely needed for grown-ups too. I find myself sitting at my desk for entirely too long, not wanting to take a break. But when I get up and move around I can come back and feel re-focused and less tired. Thanks for your comment.

  2. says

    I’ll have some great updates next month about a PTO-led incentive program for teachers to incorporate brain breaks. We approved to pay for a subscription for GoNoodle for the school and wanted to help teachers start using it. The Winter Wiggles Competition ends this Friday. Great resources, Sally! Sharing!

  3. jane says

    Thanks for the great read.
    What are your thoughts on the amount of time children get to eat their lunches?
    My kids only get 15 minutes. (Elementary age)
    That time includes taking off and hanging up outerwear and boots, hand washing and microwaving/ warming up a hot lunch (if they have one).
    does leave much time to eat at leisure….
    Are we encouraging that food is not important??
    shouldn’t we give adequate time fuel their brains so that they can concentrate?

    • says

      Jane–thanks for your comment. I agree that kids don’t seem to have enough time for lunch. And one of mine spends to much time chatting with his friends that he doesn’t eat much of his food! It would be nice if there were enough time in the day for a longer lunch period.

  4. says

    Really interesting, Sally! I remember seeing something about a school district in Texas that increased P.E. and/or recess time, which meant that class time had to decrease. But despite less time sitting “learning”, math scores actually improved! And research shows similar brain scans for adults who take a 20-min walk in the middle of the day–and their post-walk productivity improves.

    • says

      Thanks Hanna. I have seen similar findings–and while I’m sure it is tough for a school to think about taking instructional time away, it seems as though doing so might actually help in the long run.

  5. says

    I love the work you do on realmomnutrition.com. In particular, I was blown away by “Why Students need Brain Beaks and how you can help” when I was researching my latest post.

    Since it was so good, I had no choice but to mention you and link to the post. Just wanted to give you a quick heads up and say thanks for the great supplementary resource.

    If you get a chance, I’d love it if you gave the article a quick read and left a comment with your thoughts. Here’s the link: http://www.myprivatetutor.ae/blog/kinesthetic-learning-in-the-classroom/

    I think you’ll love it.

    I’d also really appreciate it if you shared it with your followers—if you think they’d enjoy it.

    Best Regards,

    Arpita Paul.


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