Color & Control:

Using brain breaks to re-engage children 

Imagine you’ve been working on a difficult project for a while; suddenly you realize you’ve been staring blankly at your computer screen for the past five minutes. We’ve all been there.

Now, imagine you are in a classroom, workplace or at home trying to learn a challenging new concept. After a while, your focus will likely start to slip. Your eyes roam around the room, your mind jumps to lunch time or recess, or maybe you start to fidget with your pencil. 

It can be hard for anyone, particularly children, to focus on a lesson or activity for long periods of time. You need a brain break! 

“Brain breaks” are activities meant to relax the brain while it’s engaged in a challenging task, giving your brain a break from the hard work so you can reset and refocus. 

Taking breaks while working through difficult tasks can be a beneficial strategy to re-engage yourself in the task at hand and boost attention when you start to lose focus. 

Brain Breaks are a valuable resource to use in the classroom, but parents and caregivers can also utilize brain breaks to split up long periods of concentration or to help their child or teen through a difficult task.  

Here are 5 examples of Brain Breaks you can use to refocus during longer tasks or activities: 

1) Get up and move your body!
If possible, get up and move. This could mean putting on some music and dancing for a few minutes, doing a few simple steps, or going for a walk outside using a walker or wheelchair.

Moving the body gives the brain a chance to relax and rest while the heart is pumping and the body is engaged in physical activity. After physical exertion, give your child a few minutes to rest and bring their heart rate back down before re-engaging in the challenging task. 

2) Try a partner spelling exercise!
If there is another child present, pair them up and show them how to practice spelling vocabulary words by writing the letters on their partner’s back with their finger. If it’s just you and your child or a friend, you should take turns as both the writer and the speller! 

As one partner draws a letter, the other partner should say the letter out loud until all of the letters have been spelled on their back. Once the letters are drawn, the partner can announce the vocabulary word that was spelled!

This is a great way to practice spelling or vocabulary, as well as peer partnering skills while taking an active break from the more challenging task at hand. 

3) Stretch it out!
Are you familiar with that stiff, achy feeling you get when you’ve been so focused on a task that you realize you haven’t moved from your chair for too long? Your child or teen may feel the same way! 

Guide someone or yourself through a series of stretches to help loosen up and get blood flowing. Start by reaching your hands up into the air over your head, stretching those fingertips toward the sky. With hands raised, bend to the left and hold for 3 seconds, then bend to the right and hold for 3 seconds. Try other comfortable positions based on ability levels to achieve the same goals.

4) Take deep breaths!
Breathing exercises can help calm minds and relieve stress that may be caused by the difficulty of the task or activity. Encourage big deep breaths through the nose and breathing out through the mouth. 

You could also try therapeutic breathing exercises such as the 4-7-8 breathing strategy. This exercise encourages you to take a deep breath while counting to 4, hold that breath for 7 counts, and then exhale for 8 counts. 

Repeating these breathing exercises can help refocus their mind and bring a sense of calm when resuming the task. 

5) Count it out!
If you have more than one child present, pair them up together to practice counting. If it’s just you and your child, you can take the other place and help your child with this exercise. Seat each child face-to-face and ask them to lay their hands on the table, palms facing up, fingers pointing towards one another. Select one child to go first and adjust the counting according to each child’s ability.

The first child will press the palm of their right hand on top of the palm of the other child’s right hand (similar to a high-five but with their hands laying on the table) and start counting down from whatever number you choose, such as 30. Then, the same child will take their left palm and press it against the other child’s left palm and count aloud, “29”. 

Then, the other child will take a turn, repeating those same hand movements and counting down “28” (right hands together), “27” (left hands together) as they press their palms to the other child’s hands. The children should keep taking turns counting aloud and touching their palms together until they reach zero. 

We’ve provided you with 5 Brain Break ideas to try for yourself or others. These are just a start! Flex your creativity and come up with some of your own to use! You may want to consider incorporating your child’s special interest areas such as favourite shows or characters from a story to make it fun! 

Timing is everything. Typically, children can hold focused attention for the number that corresponds with their age, plus two minutes. So, if your child is 8 years old, they may need breaks after 10 minutes of intense work. For older children or yourself, you may need to try a few different options where you can obtain the best outcomes or try different lengths to determine what works best. 

Andrea Morris, M.Ed. has more than 30 years of experience in special education and currently works as an educational consultant for the Watson Institute.


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