Engaging your students in regular breaks throughout the day has been shown to improve attention, focus, retention, self-regulation, and so much more. We’re excited to share our favorite quick and easy energizing brain breaks for kids to help children of all ages shed excess energy to reduce feelings of stress and frustration while also boosting morale and motivation in the classroom. These movement activities are fun, engaging, and calming, and double as great team-building activities and indoor recess ideas!
What Are Brain Breaks?
Also known as ‘mental breaks’, brain breaks offer a short break during periods of intense focus to help reduce feelings of frustration, stress, or anxiety, while also improving focus, attention, and retention. In order to be successful, brain breaks must be implemented before a child begins to struggle. Younger kids may require breaks from their school work every 10-15 minutes, whereas older kids can often work for 30+ minutes at a time. Certain learning delays and challenges like ADD, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, and autism may require additional brain breaks throughout the day – it’s all dependent on the individual student and the type of material he or she is working with.
Why Are Brain Breaks Important?
Working for long periods of time can lead to feelings of fatigue, stress, and frustration, particularly for younger children and those who struggle with attention, hyperactivity, and impulse control. Proactively scheduling regular 5-10 minute breaks allows a child’s brain to rest before fatigue and frustration sets in, and has been shown to:
- Improve attention and focus
- Increase retention of material being taught
- Improve emotional regulation
- Reduce behavioral problems
- Increase motivation
How Often Should Kids Take Brain Breaks?
There are many factors that determine how often kids should take brain breaks throughout the day, and younger kids probably need more breaks than is realistic in a classroom setting. A child’s age is a huge factor, as is the type of material he or she is working on and how easy/difficult the material is based on his or her skill set.
Much of the online literature I’ve read suggests brain breaks for kids should occur every 15 minutes for younger kids, and every 30 minutes for older children. Keep in mind these breaks don’t need to be lengthy – 5 minutes is often enough! – and that you can find creative ways to offer breaks to individual kids without disrupting the entire class. For example, you can setup movement stations in your classroom where kids can go if they are having trouble concentrating. This may require a little prompting from teachers at first, but over time kids can learn to recognize when their attention is fading so they can proactively take a break to boost their energy.
7 Brain Breaks for Kids in Preschool and Kindergarten
If you’re looking for brain breaks for kids in preschool and kindergarten, you’ll want a mix of ideas you can implement quickly when you notice your students becoming frustrated, as well as some stand-alone activities you can enjoy as a class to help break up the day. Try to remember that kids in this age group can’t focus for long stretches of time, and it may be unrealistic to expect them to return to a task after a brain break. You’ll have much more success using these activities to help kids get their wiggles out in between lessons and activities!
1) Dance party!
A great impromptu way to help your students burn off energy is to play some music and have a spontaneous dance party. This is a great way to help children get their wiggles out to help promote focus, and it also helps reset everyone’s mood.
2) Jumping jacks / jogging in place
Set a timer and see who can do the most jumping jacks and/or jog in place the longest without stopping.
3) Simon Says
Kids love this game and it’s one of my favorite brain breaks for younger kids. You can make it extra motivating by choosing different students to be ‘Simon’ each day as a reward for good behavior, helping around the classroom, etc.
4) Tightrope Walking
All you need is a bit of masking tape and a little imagination, and you can make all kinds of tightrope obstacle courses around your classroom. Leave the tape in place for spur-of-the-moment brain breaks for kids when you need a quick option to calm frustrated children.
5) Egg races
If you have a little extra room for kids to move around, like a hallway or the school gym, consider setting up some fun party games, like egg races (we love this egg race play set)! Start with a simple race across a room or hallway, and then make the game more difficult by asking your students to switch between their right and left hands, walk sideways, walk backwards, etc.
6) Fun with balloons
Blow up a few balloons and let your students hit them across the room. Another idea is to divide your class into groups of 2 or 3, set a timer, and see which team can keep their balloon off the ground the longest.
If you need calming brain breaks for kids in preschool and kindergarten, yoga is a great option to consider. We love this YOGI FUN Kids Yoga Cards Kit as it has illustrated cards to teach kids how to perform each pose.
9 Brain Breaks for Kids in Elementary School
If you’re looking for brain breaks for kids in elementary school, there are tons of fun ideas you can try! Children in this age group have the capacity to focus for longer periods of time, and a 3-5 minute break can make a huge difference not only in their ability to see a lesson through to completion without getting frustrated, but also to retain the material they are learning. When transitioning from one lesson to the next, it can be really helpful to engage your class in longer, more involving brain breaks for kids to help them switch gears.
While boring as a stand alone activity, get the whole class involved to see who can hold a plank the longest. You can do this periodically throughout the day and hold a running weekly tab to make this more interesting and motivating!
2) Wall squats
Have each student stand with their backs against the wall with their feet a foot or so in front of them, and have them slowly slide down the wall so they’re ‘sitting’ without a chair beneath their bums. See who can hold the position the longest!
3) Leg lifts
Have each child stand sideways behind a chair and, using the chair for support, have them lift their legs up with their knees at a 90-degree angle. Try varying the length of time it takes your students to raise and lower their legs (5 counts up, 5 counts down), and then see if they can balance for a count of 10 without holding onto the chair.
4) Animal walks
Animal walks are another one of my favorite brain breaks for kids as you can make it as serious or silly as you want. Write a bunch of different animals on different pieces of paper, throw them into a hat, have each student choose one, and then have him or her walk across the classroom while pretending to walk like the chosen animal and see how long it takes the rest of the students to figure out what the animal is. If you’re looking for quick brain break for kids, have one student pick an animal per break and organize it such that every student gets a turn over the course of a few days.
5) Hula hooping competition
If you’re looking for cooperative brain breaks for kids you can implement with smaller groups without disrupting the entire class, a fun idea to try is to grab a bunch of kids hula hoops and then pick 4-5 kids to go out into the hallway for a 5-minute hula hooping competition!
Choose 5 actions (sit-ups, push-ups, jumping jacks, etc.), write them on the board in the order you’d like them completed (5 sit-ups, 4 push-ups, 3 jumping jacks, etc.), and have your class get out of their seats and get moving!
7) Four Corners
If you’re looking for longer, more involved brain breaks for kids to help them transition from one lesson to the next, the next 3 ideas are great options. To play Four Corners, number each corner of the classroom with a 1, 2, 3, or 4 and choose a student to be ‘IT’. This person must stand in the middle of the room, close their eyes, and count to 10 while everyone else in the room chooses one corner of the room to run to. The person who is ‘IT’ calls out a number (1, 2, 3, or 4) and everyone who is in that numbered corner is out. The game continues until only one person is left, and then that person becomes ‘IT’ for the next round (or the next brain break).
8) Heads Up, 7-Up.
Choose 7 students to come to the front of the room, and have the rest of the students sit at their desks with their heads down and one thumb raised in the air. Next, ask each of the 7 students to tap one student on the back (or thumb) before returning to the front of the room and then say, ‘HEADS UP, 7-UP!’. Each student who was tapped must stand up and has one chance to guess who tapped them. If they guess correctly, they swap places. If they don’t, they sit down.
9) Spontaneous recess!
Sometimes one of the best brain breaks for kids is to get outside. If your classroom is extra rowdy, surprise them with an extra recess, walk around the neighborhood, or other outdoor activity to get them away from their desks.
9 Brain Breaks for Kids in Middle School
Finding brain breaks for kids in middle school can be a bit challenging. Middle schoolers can focus for much longer periods of time, but they can still benefit from breaks to help avoid frustration and improve motivation and retention. Of course, kids in this age group are unlikely to be interested in engaging in egg races, animal walks, and a game of Simon Says (lol), but there are still tons of options to consider. Here are some of our favorites!
1) Beach ball fun
Blow up a few beach balls, toss them into the air, and see how long your students can keep them airborne.
2) Plank and/or push-up challenge
Divide your class into groups of 4-5 students and see who can hold a plank the longest and/or who can do the most push-ups in a row.
3) Choreographed dances
Create a special class dance, or spend the time learning a fad dance like The Floss, and make it a rule that each time you play a certain song from your smartphone, your students are to get up from their desks and complete the dance until you turn the music off.
4) Hula hoop pass
This is one of my favorite break brains for kids in middle school as it doubles as a great team building activity. Have your students stand side-by-side in a line and ask them to hold hands. Place a hula hoop on the arm of the first person on one end of the line, and then challenge your students to move the hula hoop to the other end of the line while continuing to hold hands. It’s fun and silly and a great way to relieve frustration!
5) Fingertip hula hoop
Before you put your hula hoops away, here’s another brain break to try. Split your class into teams of about 6-8 students, have them stand together in a circle with their arms raised above their heads, and then place a hula hoop on their finger tips. Using nothing but their fingertips, each team must work together to lower the hula hoop to the ground without dropping it.
6) Human knot
If you’re looking for brain breaks for kids in middle school that don’t require any setup time or props, this is a great one to consider. Divide your class into groups of about 5-6 students, have each team stand in a circle, and ask everyone to raise their right arm before reaching forward to grab hands with someone opposite from them. Next, ask everyone to raise their left arms and do the same thing. Be sure no one is holding hands with someone standing directly next to him or her. The object of this activity is for the group to find a way to detangle themselves without letting go of anyone’s hands.
7) Pass the exercise ball
I can’t remember where I first saw this idea, but it’s another one of my favorite brain breaks for kids in middle school. Have your students stand shoulder to shoulder in a line, and then ask them to lie on the ground with their feet propped up against a wall while holding hands. The object of the game is for the class to move an exercise ball from one end of the line to the other using only their feet.
8) Would you rather?
Present your class with a series of ‘would you rather’ questions, and indicate which side of the room they are to run to as an indication of their response. You can make this serious (would you rather it be summer or winter?) or as silly (would you rather eat a cockroach or drink sour milk?) as you want!
9) Birthday line up
My final idea for those who are specifically looking for brain breaks for kids in middle school is a class activity called ‘birthday line up’. The idea behind this activity is to get your students to line up in order of their birthdate from January to December. To make this extra difficult, and to promote additional teamwork, tell them they cannot, under any circumstances, talk during the activity! Consider setting a timer, and then working together as a class to make corrections before challenging your students to do this a second (and third) time!
I hope this collection of brain breaks for kids inspires you to find new and engaging ways to improve attention, focus, retention, and self-regulation in your classroom!