New Ideas for Brain Breaks for Kids

Little sibling enjoy online yoga class with laptop computer at home

 

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Brain breaks are short, physical activities that, when interspersed with periods of more focused academic work, can help improve students' attention, efficiency, enjoyment, creativity, and retention of information. These breaks can be as simple as doing a set of jumping jacks or high knees before diving back into schoolwork—at home or at school.

Brain Breaks and Distance Learning

Due to the ongoing pandemic, many schools across the country will be employing distance learning either part or full-time this year. These changes are challenging for kids and parents alike but brain breaks can help make learning from home easier—and less stressful.

Activity breaks are effective for use with homework and regular schoolwork by keeping kids who are learning from home on a more productive schedule, giving them much needed breaks from screens, recharging their energy and minds, and building physical activity into their days.

Overview

The theory on brain breaks is that taking a pause for the mind while activating the body enhances learning. In fact, research shows that taking periodic brain breaks can vastly improve kids' ability to stay on task during more focused work. Plus, shorter, more frequent bursts of instruction are more effective for many students than fewer, longer lessons.

In the classroom, your child's teacher might use brain breaks from a kids' fitness program like GoNoodle or HOPSports. These short physical activities, which are often set to upbeat music, encourage kids to move around and re-set their brains so that they can engage more effectively with their studies. In other words, brain breaks "get the wiggles out."

In addition to the physical benefits, brain breaks are good for your child's mental health. Periodic bursts of exercise can reduce stress and school-related frustration, clearing the way to get back to learning.

Using Brain Breaks at Home

At home, you can use brain breaks in much the same way as teachers do. If your child is struggling with homework, whether this is due to trying to comprehend challenging material or simply staying on task, have them do one or two of these activities.

They're a simple way to fight frustration and boredom while improving focus. Plus, brain breaks can fulfill your child's daily need for physical activity.

Brain breaks should be active and fun, but not so fun or lengthy that kids have a hard time getting back to work.

Implementation Strategies

While school-based programs often use videos to set the scene and demonstrate moves, none of the activities below require screens. Avoid screens, if possible, as it's easy for kids to get sucked in and try to avoid returning to their task. However, it's also fine to use online-led activities if that works better for your family and/or proves more engaging for your child.

Generally, aim to create a reliable schedule with timed activities that won't take up too much of the available time meant for academics. Ideally, your child should know what to expect and when.

So, tell your child in advance how long the brain breaks and chunks of schoolwork will last. This system gives your child structure and can make learning and play activities more fun and exciting (like a race), a strategy that works well for competition-driven kids.

Alternating blocks of learning with enjoyable brain breaks adds a predictable, motivating rhythm and gives your child a sense of accomplishment from completing each block of time—and something to look forward to if they don't love what they are learning.

Activity Duration

Research shows that shorter blocks of instruction are more effective for many kids, with younger kids maxing out after about 10 minutes and older kids lasting up to a half-hour or more.

But finding the right balance will vary from student to student. Aim to tailor activity break timing to your child's specific needs, attention span, and learning style.

Perfect Timing

Some very focused and/or older students will do well alternating between an hour of schoolwork and short breaks. Other kids may need an equal ratio, say 10 minutes of learning, followed by 10 minutes of activity. Some will thrive with 20 to 30 minutes on school balanced with 5 to 10 minutes of physical movement.

There is no right or wrong balance. Experiment until you find the ideal timing ratio for your child.

Tips

Depending on your child's age and interest level, you can decide to dictate what the brain break activities will be, allow your child to choose from a set menu of options, or let them come up with their own brain break ideas. It's great to get buy-in from your student—but don't let overly complex or unfeasible activity break ideas derail getting back on track with studying.

If your child is coming up with their own brain break options, be sure to set up specific parameters for how long the activities can last, where they occur, what supplies are needed, and how simple they should be. Make sure kids have enough space available for the desired activity.

Most importantly, make the brain breaks appealing, easy, and accessible when they need them. Below, we provide a multitude of engaging options for both inside and outside activity breaks.

Indoor Brain Breaks

The following are some inspiring brain break ideas kids can do inside. Be sure there is ample space available for your child to move.

  • Try jumping jacks, jumping rope, high knees, or other jumps. Challenge your child to do a certain number of several kinds of jumps, or ask them to see how many jumps they can do in 60 seconds. Repeat several times with the aim of beating their record. Add in classic jump rope rhymes for extra complexity.
  • Shadowbox. If your child is interested in martial arts or boxing, have them try out varying series of jabs, uppercuts, hooks, cross jabs, and other punches. They can also try out kicks, such as sidekicks, front kicks, and roundhouse kicks. If they are unfamiliar with these moves, there are many free tutorials available online.
  • Take a spin with hula hoop tricks. Get out a hula hoop and time how long your child can keep it going. From there, they can progress to incorporating various advanced skills, such as moving the hoop up or down their body—and back again.
  • Play "keep-it-up" with a beach ball or balloon, or play another quick balloon game. These activities may be more fun with a partner but can also be modified to play by oneself.
  • March, run, skip, grapevine, bear crawl, high-step, or any other move of their choice around the house or down a hallway and back. Again, you can use a timer to motivate your child to complete a set course at increasing speeds. Another option is to make a mini obstacle course or circuit for your child to complete, such as hop on one foot around the sofa, shimmy under the dining room table, leap over the backpack, skip to the kitchen sink, and crab crawl back to the start.
  • Shoot baskets on an indoor, over the door hoop. These easy-to-install baskets come with soft, inside-safe balls but kids still get the fun of basketball.
  • Do push-ups, planks, downward dogs, yoga poses, or stretches. Your child can come up with their own series or switch off with your child on leading a mini-workout or yoga workout. You might also consider doing a family plank challenge.
  • Bounce or jump on a mini-trampoline (or on the bed). Few activities get out the wiggles and the heart pumping more effectively (or enjoyably) than jumping.
  • Play a round or two of ping-pong. If you have a ping pong table, great. If not, you can simply invest in paddles and a ball as you don't have to have a special table to play, you just need a flat surface to hit across. For added fun, set up a family round robin, tracking wins over the course of a week or more, with a small prize for the victor at the end.
  • Set up a mini putting green by putting a golf ball into a cup or box. Decide on pre-determined goals, such as increasing the distance or number of strokes allowed to make it into the cup, to add to the challenge.
  • Have a mini dance party. Pick a couple of songs and rock out. Alternatively, sing a few songs or try karaoke. Many karaoke versions of popular songs are available for free online.
  • Create a brain break jar, with a range of activities, variations, and places on paper slips. Choose a few and perform the task, like "hop 10 times / on one foot / in the kitchen."
  • Go treasure hunting. Tell your child to go find "something soft and purple" or "something that can play music" and bring it back to you.
  • Take a balance test. Put a paper or plastic plate on your child's head and have them walk across the room while keeping the plate in place. Make it trickier by adding something to the plate, like a small beanbag (easy), a handful of green beans (medium), or a ping pong ball (harder).
  • Go on an imaginary roller coaster ride. In a chair, have your child mimic putting on a harness, lean back (as the coaster climbs up a hill), lean side-to-side (as the coaster twists and turns on the track), and raise their hands up high (as the coaster plunges down a hill). They can even add unhooking the harness and stumbling off of the coaster at the end.
  • Breathe and move. Have your child stand and add a movement to each breath. They might raise one leg to a bent-knee or tree pose position, for example, while inhaling (lift) and exhaling (lower). Alternatively, raise arms to the sky for the inhale, then slowly lower hands to the toes for the exhale. Do several different moves to challenge balance and regulate their breath.

Outdoor Brain Breaks

If the weather and your location permits, taking brain breaks outside gives your child a change of scenery, a dose of fresh air, and often, more room to move. The following are a range of fun activity break ideas your child can do outside.

  • Walk or run around the block to get the blood pumping. Bring your dog if you have one. For added motivation, time each lap and have your child work towards beating a specific time.
  • Bike, scoot, skateboard, or in-line skate around the block. To make this efficient, be sure to have their chosen mode of transportation at-the-ready. Don't forget the helmet.
  • Play fetch with your dog. Playing ball with their pup raises the heart rate and provides instant stress relief. Then, spend a few minutes petting or cuddling Fido—the perfect cool-down transition back into academics.
  • Play catch with a parent, sibling, or friend. Alternatively, dribble a soccer ball or basketball, or shoot baskets if you've got a basketball hoop nearby.
  • Draw a hopscotch court with sidewalk chalk and play a game or two. Then, for kids who benefit from a longer break and/or a less physical activity, do some sidewalk drawings before returning to schoolwork.
  • Play on the swings. Or a slide, play structure, or climber, if one is handy.
  • Play a quick game of tennis or badminton. If you've got the necessary equipment accessible, get a game going or just volley with a partner. Alternatively, your child can hit a tennis ball against a backboard or wall.
  • Play the 7-up game. All you need is a smooth, flat surface (a wall or a floor) and a bouncy ball.

A Word From Verywell

Instead of arguing over schoolwork, instituting brain breaks can have the positive impact you want (kids learning and getting homework done) without the stress (or the yelling). Plus, the above suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to brain break options. Use your imagination—and your child's interests—to guide you in finding the best activity options for your child.

Additionally, parents, don't forget that you can join in on the brain break fun, too. Your kids will enjoy their activity breaks more if you participate with them, and you'll get the physical and mental health benefits of a break as well. Doing the breaks together also models the engagement you want to see in your child—and is a great way to bond, showing your child that you are in this together.

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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Howie E, Beets M, Pate R. Acute classroom exercise breaks improve on-task behavior in 4th and 5th grade students: A dose–responseMent Health Phys Act. 2014;7(2):65-71. doi:10.1016/j.mhpa.2014.05.002

  2. Martikainen S, Pesonen A, Lahti J et al. Higher Levels of Physical Activity Are Associated With Lower Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenocortical Axis Reactivity to Psychosocial Stress in ChildrenThe Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2013;98(4):E619-E627. doi:10.1210/jc.2012-3745

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Healthy Schools. Physical activity facts. Updated April 2020.

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