school wellness

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
  • BREAKFAST
  • Classroom learning with hourly energizers
  • Recess*
  • LUNCH
  • 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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Healthy Treats for Classroom Halloween PartiesI’m a purist when it comes to trick-or-treating: I pass out chocolate and let my kids have free reign over their stashes (read: “How I Handle Halloween Candy Craziness“). But I think it makes sense to dial it back for classroom Halloween parties. Most kids already haul in loads of sugar from trick or treating. At my children’s school, many of the teachers actually request healthier party foods.

I’ve planned or pitched in food for many classroom bashes, and here’s what I’ve learned: The kids are pretty happy with whatever you give them, and the food is usually secondary to the fun anyway. Which is why I’m unwilling to pull an all-nighter prepping food for grade schoolers.

These are all foods I’ve made for parties (or am making this year). They’re all fun, healthy–and most importantly, totally doable.

Green Goblin Smoothies: Healthy Treats for Classroom Halloween PartiesI made these Green Goblin Smoothies for my son’s preschool class at Halloween. I brought my Vitamix blender to the classroom, and the kids took turns pressing the buttons (free entertainment!). Try this easy recipe: 2 bananas, 2 cups water, 1 cup pineapple (fresh, frozen, or canned in juice), and 2 large handfuls spinach or kale. Use permanent marker to decorate plastic cups with silly faces.

Ghostly Grape Jack-o-Lantern: Healthy Treats for Classroom Halloween PartiesI got this idea from Grapes From California, which happen to still be in season. This makes a fun centerpiece, and kids can nibble the jack-o-lantern’s hair (or brains!).

Eyeballs on a Stick: Healthy Treats for Classroom Halloween PartiesYou can also thread grapes onto skewers and serve them fresh or frozen, branded as “Eyeballs on a Stick” for maximum Halloween creepiness.

Boo-nana Ghosts: Healthy Treats for Classroom Halloween PartiesYou’ve probably seen these guys online. Sometimes they’re dipped in yogurt and rolled in coconut. I take the easy way out: Cut a banana in half, press in two mini chocolate chips for eyes, and insert a lollipop stick (get those at Target, a craft store, or Amazon).

Kiwi Pops: Healthy Treats for Classroom Halloween PartiesUse those same sticks for these easy Kiwi Pops. Just peel kiwis, cut into thick slices, insert a popsicle stick in one end, and freeze. You’ll get about 3-4 pops per kiwi.

Popcorn Hands: Healthy Treats for Classroom Halloween PartiesI’ll admit: These Popcorn Hands are slightly more labor intensive, but I couldn’t resist because they combine two of my favorites, popcorn and candy corn. Be sure to use foodservice-grade gloves (find them at a restaurant supply store or on Amazon). Drop a piece of candy corn into the tip of each finger, then fill with popcorn, and close with a twist-tie. (Get my no-fail recipe for stovetop popcorn.)

Apple Spirals: Healthy Treats for Classroom Halloween PartiesI nabbed this idea from a classmate’s mom, who brought her old-fashioned apple peelerand a bag of apples to a classroom party years ago. Each child took a turn peeling an apple. I thought that was brilliant! Since then, I’ve done this for a few parties, and I love seeing how much the kids enjoy eating their spirals (and peels).

Clementine Pumpkins: Healthy Treats for Classroom Halloween PartiesWhat’s not to love about easy-to-peel clementine cuties? You can draw the faces on the outside with a Sharpie or let kids decorate their own.

For more ideas, visit my “Healthy Halloween Snacks” Pinterest board.

Do you have any good ideas for healthy classroom party treats? I’d love to hear about them!

Disclosures: I’m happy to be working with Grapes From California this year as a Blogger Ambassador. I am compensated for my time. All opinions expressed are my own. This post may contain affiliate links. If you purchase a product through this link, your cost will be the same, but I will receive a small commission to help with operating costs of this blog. Thanks for your support!

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12 Ways To Get Healthy Food Into Your Child’s School

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You’re already doing a lot to make healthy eating happen at home. But you might feel helpless when it comes to your kids’ school. Children spend 35-plus-hours at school every week, eating up to two meals (and maybe even a snack) there. That makes it a natural setting for learning about and experiencing food. Good food. The kind […]

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5 Grab-n-Go Healthy School Snacks

August 22, 2014

Does your child take a snack to school? Many do, to eat in their classroom or between school and sports practices. Sure, it’s easy to wash a piece of fruit–and ideally, it’s good to avoid waste with reusable food containers. But boy, it’s awfully nice to have packaged options on hand for mornings so nutty, you’re lucky if the […]

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School Wellness: 3 Ways To Get Involved This Year

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No Child Should Go Hungry This Summer: Here’s How To Help!

May 26, 2014

Throughout the school year, 21 million children depend on free or reduced-price school lunch for reliable nutrition. But, what happens to those kids when they go on summer break? The USDA’s Summer Food Service Program provides free lunch (and sometimes breakfast) to children at 42,000 sites across the country during the summer months. This federally […]

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A Healthy Treat For Teacher Appreciation Week

May 20, 2014

Looking for a way to make a teacher’s day? Look what the parents at my children’s school did for Teacher Appreciation Week: They filled a bowl with fresh fruit, attached these adorable notes, and set it out for the staff. The bowl will be refilled all week long. It goes without saying, but teachers rock–and […]

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All About Snacktivism: My Interview in StayBasic Magazine

February 23, 2014

A few years ago, I got fed up with the Kool-Aid and cupcakes my son was getting after soccer games and vowed to make a change. I began talking to coaches and parents about providing fruit for post-game snacks instead–or even nixing snacks altogether (read: “What If Soccer Snacks Just Went Away?“). One day, a […]

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In Praise of Food Activism, Big & Small

February 18, 2014

Have you noticed that regular people are doing some very big stuff? Vani Hari (aka Food Babe) gets the attention of major food companies by exposing some of the questionable ingredients in their products–and demanding they do better. In response to her widely-circulated blog posts, Chik-fil-A is removing artificial dyes from its sauces and dressings […]

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