60 Engaging Brain Breaks for Elementary Students
Do you often take short breaks when reviewing student work or creating a lesson plan? These short breaks are effective when you need to refocus your mind, and children need them, too, if you want your students to retain new information effectively. In this guide, we'll introduce the concept of classroom brain breaks, effectively integrating them and a comprehensive list of brain break ideas for kids.
Unraveling the Science Behind Brain Breaks
Brain breaks can be a critical tool in maintaining student engagement and leading them to a successful future. Before we jump into the various brain breaks you could incorporate, let's explore what they are and why they work.
What Are Classroom Brain Breaks?
Brain breaks are short, structured actions that allow students a mental pause from classroom activities so that they may return to new tasks with a clear and focused mindset. This is a powerful activity that students need to perform regularly to stay productive and understand work throughout the day. Studies have shown short breaks in between learning tasks improve cognitive functioning and attention control.
Evaluating the Effectiveness of Brain Breaks in the Classroom
In a world where using technology and looking at screens form a large portion of children's lives, it's easy for children to lose attention in an environment that requires them to stay focused and on-task. When you switch up their tasks every few minutes, you may be able to reduce their frustration, refresh their mind and refocus their attention with ease. One study showed that students were 9% better at their tasks after a brain break than children without a brain break.
Unpacking the Benefits of Brain Breaks for Classroom Productivity
When you allow students to take a brief break, whether mentally or physically, they learn to self-regulate or “shift gears.” This gives them a chance to breathe, relax and return to a task with better focus and concentration. These breaks are especially helpful for those who have a short attention span or feel overwhelmed easily. By incorporating brain breaks into the classroom, you'll create a positive environment and help students build healthy habits for maintaining focus and reducing stress.
Mastering the Integration of Brain Breaks into Your Classroom Routine
There are certain rules to incorporating brain breaks in the best way to ensure their effectiveness. Let's take a look.
Decoding the Timing and Frequency of Brain Breaks
Given that a student's ability to stay focused decreases after 20 minutes, it's best to incorporate a brain break every 20 minutes for one to five minutes each time. Usually, you could change up this time as you see fit. The key is to stay observant and notice when there is a drop in productivity and focus.
How to Seamlessly Use Brain Breaks in the Classroom
Brain breaks are only as effective as you make them. Here are some expert tips to ensure they stay engaging:
- Plan your breaks: Whether you want to follow the timing advice above or monitor what will work best for your individual class, implement it into a student planner, along with lesson tasks for the day, to stay on track.
- Read the room: Some tasks require more brain power than others. When this happens, use your best judgment for the best time to do a brain break activity.
- Wrap up the break: Before the break is over, announce to the class that the break will end in two minutes for a smooth mental transition.
Your Ultimate List of 60 Engaging Brain Break Ideas for the Classroom
Now, on to the exciting part! Here, we've curated a list of 60 brain break activities for elementary schoolers — all of which you can rest assured will provide you with all the benefits this mental break has to offer when you integrate them properly.
20 Physical Activity Brain Breaks to Energize Your Class
Sometimes children need a good physical brain break with fun-packed dynamic movement activities to either work out any excessive or built up energy and excitement levels. At the same time, these activities promote increased cardiovascular capabilities and oxygen to the brain, improving learners' brain function. Let's explore this list of 20 physical brain break ideas:
- Just jump: Get your students off their seats with this exercise and tell them to just jump around and shake it off. You can also teach them different jumps, like bunny hops and star jumps.
- Do a dance-off: Gather your students in an open space, play some upbeat music and start a dance-off between students to show off their moves and let go of any tension.
- Line up in unique ways: When lining your elementary kids up, have them arrange themselves in fun new ways like alphabetical order, height or from oldest to youngest.
- Play Simon Says: Play a game of Simon Says where one student instructs the rest to do different physical activities and actions. Give a few kids a chance to fill this role.
- Do a freeze-dance: A fun way to turn dancing into a game is by putting on some music and telling children to groove. When you press pause, the children should too, and you'll just carry on this way, turning the music on and off. If any children still move while the music is paused, they must return to their seats.
- Celebrate with a silent cheer: If your students have just finished a high-concentration task, give their brains a break by telling them to celebrate with a cheer without making a sound and encouraging them to make the most animated cheer they can.
- Have a short workout session: Are your students looking low energy? Get their energy levels up by putting on a workout video for kids and have them follow along.
- Make an obstacle course: Set up an obstacle with a few chairs, tables and cushions and instruct children on how they need to get to the other side. This can be a fun task that gets them excited.
- Play balloon volleyball: Inflate a few balloons and let them pass them to one another with any body part except their arms or legs without letting it touch the ground.
- Play popcorn: This interesting game requires each student to say “pop” and stand up without another child doing it at the same time as them. If they do, all students will need to sit down and start over. It's a test to see how long they can go without sitting down.
- Try facial gymnastics: Challenge students to see how flexible their facial muscles are. Let them explore and share with others how wild they can wiggle their eyebrows and whether they can roll their tongue.
- Play movement songs: This brain break for kids involves playing a song or putting on a video that encourages movement. For example, it might tell them to stomp their feet or do the wave, and children can follow along.
- Do the human knot: Have your students gather in small groups and let each student connect their left hand with another student's right hand rather than the person next to them and connect their right hand with a different student's left hand. Students will then have to try and undo the knot without disconnecting their hands.
- Mingle, mingle, group: This game requires students to get together and whisper, “mingle, mingle, mingle.” When you shout out “group of five” or another number, students must get into groups of five, or they are out of the game.
- Practice name moves: Have your students get out of their seats and shout out their names accompanied by a dramatic signature move to either amaze everyone or get them laughing.
- Go out for a walk or jog: For this physical brain break activity, you can take your learners out of their learning space for a short walk or jog.
- Play tug of war: Children love a good game of tug of war. Divide your students into two equal groups and have them play the game with a blanket or rope. Let them earn a prize to make it exciting.
- Do an outdoor scavenger hunt: This exciting game will get the children's energy levels right back up again. Hide an item outside and have students search for it in teams.
- Play diamonds, hearts, clubs and spades: Place one card of a particular shape in a designated corner and do so for one card of each shape. Shuffle the deck, have the children in the center of the room and pull out a card. Depending on the shape, children should all move to the correct corner, or they'll be out of the game when moving to the wrong one.
- Do friendly crab walk races: Want to give children a laugh and a good exercise session? Let the kids do a race on all fours with their backs facing the ground as they race each other while walking like a crab.
20 Mindfulness and Relaxation Brain Breaks for a Calm Classroom
Mindfulness and relaxation brain breaks are essential because they help students to either release excess energy after a high-activity task or build up their excitement and energy again after long teaching sessions. If you're looking for a way to change focus and help the mind relax quickly, these 20 handpicked brain breaks may help you:
- Take a stretch break: Students can become restless after sitting too long, reducing their attention span. Take a short break to do some stretches.
- Breathe like an animal: Let your students get creative and mention different animals as you all try to breathe like them. For example, they could pretend to breathe like snakes while hissing and slithering from side to side.
- Focus on sounds: To help your students calm down after a high-energy task, have everyone sit and quiet down. Have them focus their energy on listening and identifying the different sounds they hear in the distance.
- Do the ear-nose switcheroo: This fun exercise requires students to follow your instructions carefully while you tell them to touch their nose with their right hand and their right ear with their left hand and constantly switch them up.
- Play with mindfulness activity cards: These cards are some of the best educational brain breaks for kids because you prompt students with a question, and they think carefully about their answer, allowing them to refocus their energy and recharge.
- Do cross-body exercises: Allow your students to relax with stretches like crossing their legs while standing so that the outsides of their feet touch or crossing their arms while clasping their hands together and then curling them into their chest.
- Rest for two minutes: This simple task requires students to rest their minds and body after an energetic activity by resting their heads on the desk and closing their eyes.
- Spread your wings: Ask children to stretch out their arms on their sides and flap them up and down and then back to front slowly while breathing deeply.
- Do mental check-ins: In elementary school, children are still fairly new to the school system. Take some time every now and then to check in with your students about their emotions so they learn how to acknowledge and cope with overwhelming feelings and then refocus on their next task with a clear mind.
- Take a yoga break: Encourage your students to do some yoga exercises for five to 10 minutes. This is a great way to empty their minds and relax their bodies.
- Talk about accomplishments: Have your students think about the things they achieved that day or during the week and share them with the class one by one.
- Listen to music: Play some soothing music for your elementary learners to help them calm down or some fast-paced music to bring up their energy levels again.
- Put on a calming video: Need your kids to calm down? Play a calming or fascinating video of an animal or nature, such as a jellyfish video, to intrigue them.
- Start coloring: You can give your students a short break to color in an image, allowing them to rest their minds for a while.
- Enjoy nature: Take the students outside and let them sit or lie down as they observe the clouds or nature and comment on the things they notice.
- Have a fun class discussion: Before transitioning to your next learning topic, take a brain break to discuss everyone's weekend or let them talk about something they really enjoy or love.
- Practice animal poses: Start a fun exercise with your class where everyone practices animal poses such as cat and cow or the downward dog, allowing them to stretch their back, legs and shoulders after long periods of sitting.
- Do a mindful listening activity: Put on a video with multiple sounds, whether it's a song or a nature video, and ask students to identify the different noises they hear.
- Test their imagination: This is a great way to help students expand their creativity. Describe an object, scene or living thing as detailed or as vague as you like and have children draw it and show off their artwork to the class.
- Play the five senses game: Ask kids to name a few things they can see, hear, smell, taste and touch.
20 Creative and Fun Brain Breaks to Spark Joy and Creativity
Unique and fun break brains are sometimes necessary to keep children excited and happy throughout the day. It creates a balanced intake of knowledge and exciting experiences for elementary school learners. Here's our unique list of fun and creative brain breaks for the classroom:
- Play Mirror, Mirror: This fun game requires each student to have a partner who stands opposite them. While one partner does the most animated poses and facial expressions, the other should follow as best they can.
- Give a story starter: See how creative your kids can get! Play a game where you give an opening sentence to a story, and students follow one at a time, adding to the story.
- Play a game of You Complete Me: In this unique game, each student will have a partner, with one humming the start of a song and the other completing it.
- Clap and repeat back: Need to improve your students' listening capabilities and memory? This exercise requires you to clap a unique pattern and the students to clap it back accurately. Get as creative as you can and make them more complicated with each round.
- Play charades: Have one of your elementary school learners act out a prompt you give and let the students guess what they're acting out.
- Gather some fun GIFs: Collect all your favorite GIFs, show them to the class and let the kids try to imitate the GIF.
- Create a drawing challenge: Allow your kids to get as creative as they please with a drawing contest, and have the students vote for the top three winners.
- Do a paper airplane challenge: Children love playing with paper airplanes and trying to create even better ones than the last. Turn it into a classroom activity to officially name the top creator after seeing which ones look best and glide the furthest.
- Play Stop and Go: This game requires children to stand on one end of the room and one student to stand on the other with their back to the other kids. While the student is looking away, students can make their way to them. As soon as they turn around, students should freeze. When a child is caught, they're out of the game, and others continue until they reach the other end of the room.
- Give puzzles and brain teasers: Take out a few puzzles and brain teaser games for kids to test how fast they can complete them.
- Find out how it's made: Children are always curious. Take some time to ask kids how certain items like Legos and Play-Doh are made. After everyone has made their guess, tell them what it's actually made of and whether any kids were correct.
- Practice sign language: Give learners a fun break to learn a new language, like sign language. You can do this by teaching them the alphabet so they can practice signing their names.
- Share fun facts: There's so much to learn about the world, especially for elementary schoolers. Share a few fun facts to expand their knowledge and bewilder them.
- Tell a few jokes: Lighten up the atmosphere after an intense learning session with a few jokes, whether it's a knock-knock one or a riddle. Allow children to share some, too!
- Play I Spy: Describe something according to its color or shape and have students guess what it is as quickly as they can. The winner gets to lead the next round.
- Have a playdough contest: Give everyone some playdough and see who can make the most creative structure. Be sure to reward them with a prize.
- Create shadow puppet shows: Dim the lights and switch on a flashlight to let a group of kids make the most creative puppet shows they can for the class to watch and enjoy.
- Play a round of Pictionary: Have one student draw something on the board while other children guess what it is, then let the winner do the next picture to continue the cycle.
- Do Bubble Wrap stomps: Kids have a fascination with Bubble Wrap. Some could pop them all day if given the chance. Lay some on the floor and give them a fun session to jump and stomp on them all they want.
- Host an alphabet challenge: This fun game lets you test their vocabulary by choosing a letter of the alphabet and having the children name words that start with that letter.
Create Invigorating Learning Environments With Brain Breaks
Regardless of the grade your students are in, classroom brain breaks can help improve their focus and engagement when you implement them correctly. Which brain break idea was your favorite? If you plan to incorporate these exciting brain breaks into your classroom, we recommend adding them to student planners to ensure your class stays on track and looks forward to each day.
At Success by Design, we offer educators and school administrators the tools and information they need to influence student success. To help your elementary schoolers establish healthier habits and relieve stress, contact our team for help selecting the appropriate planner, or visit our blog for more classroom resources today.
- SBD, Inc.