‘Brain breaks’ boost concentration — and add classroom fun
BY LINDA BLASER firstname.lastname@example.org | @LindaJBlaser October 22, 2013 5:56AM
Francesca Pezza, 9, takes a brain break with her fourth-grade classmates at Lake Bluff Elementary School. | Linda Blaser/Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 23, 2013 6:20AM
They’d just come back from lunch and settled in for the long afternoon haul: An hour and a half at their desks learning English and language arts until the end-of-day bell at 2:50 p.m.
Midway through the lesson, teacher Brett Kreimer realizes his 21 fourth-graders need a spark before continuing. And frankly, so does he. Mid-afternoon is the perfect time for a brain break — a two to three minute dancealong that gets everybody up and moving.
“Which brain break do you want to do?” Kreimer asked his students on a recent afternoon.
A clamoring of voices and the words “No Crust” is repeated like a mantra.
“No Crust” it is.
Kreimer uses his laptop to start a Koo Koo Kanga Roo YouTube video while the students hurry to the front of the classroom, leaving plenty of room between neighbors to not cramp their dancing style.
Lake Bluff Elementary School District 65 started using brain breaks this year to stimulate student concentration and, hopefully, boost test scores. The effort earned statewide recognition by Mark Bishop of the Healthy Schools Campaign, who wrote a blog about the district-wide effort.
“Brain breaks are activities where you get the kids up and moving and kind of change the mentality of the room for a few minutes, and then get back to work,” Lake Bluff Elementary School wellness teacher Ryan Regan said.
Regan is among the six district wellness teachers — three each at the elementary and middle schools — who met over the summer with Superintendent Jean Sophie’s guidance to come up with a way to enhance students’ classroom concentration, cognitive and executive functioning, and overall learning.
Taking short two- to three-minute physically active, fun breaks is one way to do that.
“We have a saying, ‘Physical activity is like Miracle-Gro for your brain’,” Regan said. “It truly is.”
Lake Bluff Middle School health teacher Allison Fink, who teaches sixth, seventh and eighth grade, drops in a brain break as often as she can.
“I definitely see a difference when we take the time to take a brain break and do something energetic,” Fink said. “They are more focused as soon as they sit back down and get ready to roll on something academic.”
With silly names like “Baby Shark,” “No Crust” and “Banana,” the quirky songs and stand-in-place dance routines appeal to students from kindergarten through eighth grade.
“The kids love them. They’re fun. They’re quirky,” Fink said.
Carter Horan, 12, believes brain breaks help him let loose and laugh a little, which helps his concentration.
“If we’re having a bad day or if we had a bad test or something, they kind of let us get that off our minds and focus on something that’s physical,” the seventh-grader said. “It relieves your stress.”
Justin McCartney’s personal favorite is “No Crust.”
“Having a brain break just gives you a chance to get up and get active for a little while each day, especially when you’ve been sitting in school for a good amount of time,” the seventh-grader, 12, said. “Some days we really don’t have a recess. It helps.”
Research shows short spurts of physical activity increases brain functioning and helps with memory and overall concentration, Regan said.
“Because that’s happening, it decreases disciplinary situations they may have in the classroom, too,” Regan said.
With all that increase of cognitive and executive functioning, the district hopes to increase standardized test scores.
“They kind of go hand-in-hand,” Regan said. “We expect we’ll see improvement in our academic achievement, which is our overall goal as a school.”
But the best thing about brain breaks?
“They’re enjoyable not only to students, but to classroom teachers as well,” Regan said.
Kreimer can attest to that. He stood at the back of his class during a recent “No Crust” break, following his students’ lead. The classroom broke out in a collective smile and giggles as everyone bopped, finger-wagged, backstroked and “crust sliced” in unison before returning to their desks and that afternoon’s lessons.
“Oh yeah,” Kreimer said smiling. “It’s fun.”