‘Tis the Season for Brain Breaks

‘Tis the Season!  We think of the season as a merry time with fun and memory making but it can also bring tons of stress to our families.  December can be filled with worries of custody schedules, work schedules, money and balancing all the elements of life. January intensifies these worries with added stress of bills collected in December. Our students are the recipients of much of this stress because they are “in it” and have no control to fix or change the situation.


Food for thought coming back in January:  

Judy Willis M.D., Edutopia Article, stated the following, “For students to learn at their highest potential, their brains need to send signals efficiently from the sensory receptors (what they hear, see, touch, read, imagine, and experience) to memory storage regions of the brain. The most detrimental disruptions to traffic along these information pathways are stress and overload.”  Providing our students with “Brain Breaks” often throughout a lesson can help students obtain optimal retention of information and attention.


Your brain contains 100 billion neurons or brain cells.  These cells have the primary job of receiving information and signaling other neurons using electricity or chemicals to stimulate messages within the body. The hypothalamus is the regulation center of the brain.  It keeps your body at a constant; including temperature, heart rate, etc.  Learning happens when neurons are activated and a message is sent along the axon.  When repeatedly stimulated a process called synapse is created. Synapse is created when two neurons are connected from the end of the dendrite. The creation of dendrites is when the brain is relating information that is important within the brain and “filing it” for retention or when the brain makes a learning connection which puts it in our memory.


When the brain is exposed to stress the body begins to release cortisol which is the primary stress hormone. This chemical affects your heart, lungs, skin, immune system and circulation.  In addition, it stimulates the hypothalamus and when it reaches the neuron, it shuts off the impulses of the dendrites which halt learning.  This is a temporary response and the dendrites will grow back UNLESS there is a long term period of stress.  When stress is repetitive the brain will respond by short circuiting that pathway which will stop impulses and result in the lack of input and messaging.  Many of our students are in a constant state of stress from instability at home, lack of confidence in a subject, poor self-esteem, and relationships with their peers, etc. This constant state of stress causes inability to stay on task, inattention, and lack of self-control.


Implementing a “Brain Break” is essential to keeping learning happening and can be a natural way for students to “sum up learning” or thinking.  No more than 20 minutes of any activity should be taking place in the elementary school without a change in thought or activity.  A person’s attention limit is approximately their age plus one –a second grader only has an attention span of about 8 to 9 minutes!  By rebooting the brain, you restart the learning process by restoring to a calm state and producing dopamine.


Three Ways to Implement a Brain Break!


  1. Use the summarizing throughout the lessons that was featured the last two weeks.


  • During teaching stop frequently and ask students to talk to a partner and summarize learning or their ideas. To change things up you can have students draw, write or act out their learning as well.


  1. Read Aloud for a few minutes after an activity or lesson to calm and relax students while provoking thought.


  • Read aloud and stop often to discuss or have students act out scenes, visualize through drawing or writing or to chat with a partner about an event or character.


  1. MOVE.  Have students move such as jumping jacks, walking in place, sing a song with movements or throw/catch a ball.  All of these activities help to produce dopamine and increase blood flow to the brain.



  • Just free movement for 3-5 minutes can get blood flowing and stop the production of cortisol in students.  Don’t forget https://www.gonoodle.com/is a great site with videos to get them moving.


Enjoy your Christmas Break and think “January Brain Breaks.”


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