We are halfway through the most unusual and exhausting school year in living memory. Students are tired. Teachers are tired. Parents and guardians are tired. Everyone has had to adapt to an entirely new way of teaching and learning, whether your school is in-person, remote, or hybrid. A lot of folks are experiencing seemingly endless screen time, COVID fatigue, fear and anxiety about politics and the pandemic, boredom and loneliness due to activity closure and social distancing, and even loss and trauma, all in addition to the typical mid-winter seasonal slump.
During a normal school year, children can typically only maintain focus on a single task for two to five minutes per year of age. This means that educators and parents can only reasonably expect a ten-year-old to pay attention to one learning activity for 20 to 50 minutes at a time before boredom and mental fatigue kick in.
This, though, is not a normal school year. Parents, guardians, and educators should be aware that, with the stress of living and learning during a pandemic, learners may find it harder to pay attention for their usual amounts of time. Stress can negatively affect the brain’s ability to absorb information. So what can we do as parents, guardians, and educators to make sure that our kids are less stressed and ready to learn?
Brain breaks are a great tool to help kids stay engaged in learning. Whether you are a parent or guardian supporting your learner at home or an educator teaching in-person, remotely, or both, make sure that your learner has some time to take a break, move, have fun, and switch their focus to something new and interesting, even if it’s only for a few minutes between activities or classes.
10 Great Brain Breaks for Kids
(*A few of these might work better in a classroom setting, but most can be adapted to at-home learning, especially if there are multiple learners in a household (e.g., siblings or a learning pod).)
Yoga and mindfulness
Yoga and mindfulness can help your learner calm themselves by focusing on their body and breath. A calm mind is a mind ready to learn!
Go Noodle’s website provides fun dances to silly songs as well as games that get kids moving!
Dance Party or Musical Statues
Turn on a little music and dance it out!
Outside play time
Playing is an underrated learning activity. Not only can playing help kids destress, but it can help them practice social and emotional skills and provide practical learning opportunities about the world around them. Slides and gravity, anyone?
Arts and crafts
Whether coloring in a coloring book or making a friendship bracelet from embroidery floss and beads, being creative is a great way to calm and refocus the mind! (One of my personal favorite brain breaks was having my students draw their favorite animal pretending to be a unicorn on the back of their test when they were done working. It made grading very entertaining!)
Inside movement games
Games like Simon Says, Musical Chairs*, and Seven-Up* get your kids out of their seats for a quick and silly game.
Scavenger hunts and trivia games
Scavenger hunts can send kids on a learning adventure! Other review games like Kahoot and Jeopardy take the stress out of quiz and test prep by framing the information in a fun way. You could also do random scavenger hunts and trivia to give them a break from academic content.
Social-Emotional Learning check-ins (e.g., “Which snowman are you today?” and choosing from a group of snowmen pictures) and games like “Would you rather…?” give kids a chance to express their feelings and preferences.
There’s a reason why we expect pre-K and Kindergarteners to take naps during the school day. Honestly, some big kids need naps just as much or more! Even short power naps can give those older kids, teens, and pre-teens a little boost to keep learning.
So many teens and pre-teens love to socialize, but this year makes it so much harder to do so safely. Set a time for your learner to call a friend or family member to catch up. If you allow your learner to use social media, give them a little time to learn the newest Tik Tok dance or scroll through their Instagram. (Make sure to help teens and pre-teens set reasonable time limits for social media! No “doomscrolling!”)
This post was written and contributed by MTT tutor, Carolyn Zerhusen.