Brain Breaks Q&A: Surprising Science Behind "Getting the Wiggles Out"

Posted in Teaching on June 5, 2017 - by

Brain Breaks stop you from pulling your hair out!

Buzzword alert! Chances are, you've heard of "brain breaks." And unless you've done a good deal of research yourself, you probably have some unanswered questions. This article will provide a question and answer session that will introduce you to the popular focus and engagement activity.

Q: What is a Brain Break?

A: “Brain Breaks” are short activities that provide a break from prolonged, stationary school work. They usually encourage physical movement with a quick game or fun exercise. But brain breaks aren't exclusively limited to combating "school work." When applied, they bust up any dull, repetitive, or monotonous task where our brains have become accustomed to the information it is processing.

Our brains prefer paying attention to out-of-the-ordinary events, not to routines we're accustomed to. Anytime you can just "go through the motions," you've handily worn-out the novelty of that information pathway.

Q: How Long Should a Brain Break Take?

A: Most brain breaks take about 1-3 minutes, although some people suggest even a 5-7 minute break.

Q: How Often Do Students Need to Take Brain Breaks?

A: Brain breaks should be taken about every 25-30 minutes, but feel free to do them more often, as needed.

Q: Doesn't That Take Up Useful Time?

A: It may seem like a waste of valuable study time, but brain breaks actually improve students’ efficiency and focus.

Just don't forget to keep things structured, lest you lose the students’ attention entirely.

Q: Who Benefits From Brain Breaks?

Class of kids anxiously waiting for a break

A: Brain breaks are helpful for every student, and are especially useful for active children who have trouble sitting still for long periods of time. Taking a moment away from the work also gives the teacher a break, and can help ease frustration for all parties.

Q: What’s the Scientific Secret Behind Brain Breaks?

A: The science behind brain breaks goes beyond “getting out the wiggles” after sitting too long.

The truth is that wiggly kids aren't just bored, being impatient, or misbehaving. Instead, they are obeying a natural, beneficial impulse. Inside the inner ear is a nerve called the vestibular nerve. This nerve tells the body to be alert, focused, present, and upright. And the way you activate this nerve? Movement.

When students use brain breaks to get up and move around, they activate the vestibular nerve and return to their seats refreshed, energized, and ready to focus.

For some children, especially those with a history of ear infections, it takes lots of movement to activate their vestibular nerve. They need significantly more movement to regain the ability to focus on their schoolwork. The vestibular nerve is the linchpin brain breaks—so important that some people refer to brain breaks as "vestibular activities."

Q: Do All Brain Breaks Involve Running Around?

A: Nope!

Brain breaks may be simple group games, stretching techniques for individuals, or one-on-one parent-child interactions.

Some brain breaks are verbal only or use just hand movements, but those with physical movement are the most effective.

For some children, even a small amount of movement will be sufficient to activate their vestibular nerve and stay focused.

Older children can even be taught techniques they can do on their own while remaining seated, such as stretching, handling a fidget toy, or chewing on something (one suggestion is to attach a small piece of new fish tank tubing to the end of a pencil).

Bottom line: Experiment to see what works best for your child.

Q: Where Can I Find More Ideas for Brain Breaks?

A: Check out our other blog post on brain breaks, which is packed with great ideas to get you started.

You can find brain breaks as video clips of exercises, songs with movements, or dancing; flashcard collections; books; apps; or print a list of your favorite ideas you find online.

Brain breaks have been a popular and useful technique in traditional school classrooms for quite some time. A quick internet search will uncover a multitude of ideas, many of them helpful in a homeschool setting as well.

Q: Can I Make Up My Own Brain Breaks?

Absolutely! Don't be afraid to just get started on your own, with jumping jacks, Simon Says, races or anything you can think of! You can't go wrong.

Soon-to-be Homeschool Mom

About Kelsey Gilbert

Kelsey Gilbert is a homeschool graduate from a class of seven siblings. A former newspaper reporter and community editor, she now works as a freelance writer and stay-at-home mama. She and her husband live near Colorado Springs with their three future homeschoolers.

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