60 Brain Break Activities for Kids: Effective Ideas to Focus & Recharge!
Brain Break Activities for Kids: learn how to implement brain break activities in the classroom and explore the best brain breaks for young children and older students.
Anybody who has read productivity advice knows that after prolonged periods of intense focus on our work, we start feeling restless, tired, fatigued, and less productive.
We know we have to go away from our computer, stretch our muscles, walk up and down the stairs, drink water, or engage in a short bout of intense physical activity that will help us go back to our work refreshed, and almost as good as new.
Children are no different from us. A prolonged period of academic instruction can lead to fatigue and restlessness. Brain breaks can help kids reset and refresh.
Table of Contents
- What Are Brain Breaks?
- Benefits of Brain Breaks in the Classroom
- Types of Brain Breaks
- Fun Brain Break Activities for Kids
- How to Effectively Implement Brain Breaks in the Classroom
- 60 Brain Brake Ideas
- Research & Recommended Reading
What Are Brain Breaks?
Brain breaks are physical or mental exercises between periods of educational work designed to provide mental rest and help the brain refocus and recharge.
In simple words, brain breaks are short breaks that help the brain rest and help improve focus and productivity.
Benefits of Brain Breaks in the Classroom (or at Home)
There is a growing body of research that suggests that using brain breaks in an educational setting may bring many benefits (research and recommended reading available at the end of the post):
- Helps the brain refocus
- Improves learning
- Improves attention
- Improves information retention
- Restores energy levels
- Impacts motivation and achievement
- Improves classroom behavior
- Improves academic performance
- Increases time-on-task
- It benefits children with special needs or attention deficit disorder, as they may feel more drained by the academic instructional demands.
Some educators are still skeptical about brain breaks and would like to see more research, backing the benefits of brain breaks in the academic setting.
Types of Brain Breaks
Brain breaks can be classified in three main categories (plus any combinations of those):
- Breathing Breaks / Relaxation Breaks
Breathing or relaxation activities that aim to relieve stress, calm and focus
- Physical brain breaks
Physical activity or movement breaks (running, jumping, dancing) can lead to cognitive improvements through an increase in blood flow and neurochemical responses (Bernard at al.,2019)
- Mental Brain Breaks
Activities that aim to take the mind off the current task and focus on something different.
Judy Willis describes them as “planned learning activity shifts that mobilize different networks of the brain… Brain breaks, by switching activity to different brain networks, allow the resting pathways to restore their calm focus and foster optimal mood, attention, and memory.”
These brain breaks may even take the form of a learning game.
Many activities are combinations of some of the above-mentioned brain breaks
Although not included in the classification above, I will add a specific section for sensory breaks. As many kids need to meet their sensory needs to help them focus, I thought it would help to have examples of sensory break activities grouped together.
The type of brain break we choose may result in different outcomes:
- student’s level of engagement and enjoyment
- time the student takes to refocus on the next instructional activity
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Fun Brain Break Activities for Kids
Brain breaks can be a beneficial practice to include in classroom settings. Depending on the student and how much time can be allocated for the brain break, you will have a host of activities to choose from on our list.
But, before we go into our long list of fun brain break ideas for kids of all ages, let’s reflect on how to implement these activities effectively.
How to Effectively Implement Brain Breaks in the Classroom
As a classroom teacher or parent, you may find that regular intervals and/or frequent brain breaks can have a positive impact on the entire class.
If you are committed to doing quick brain breaks throughout the day or school day, you may see that your students and children are in a better head space to learn.
- When to implement brain breaks?
It may be a good idea to try this at the beginning of the school day, and about an hour before the school day ends. By doing a quick fun game towards the end of the school day, you may find that your students don’t go through their end-of-the-day slump, where their brains are no longer paying any attention.
But, the best option for you may be testing what works for your students.
Tip: Keep track of your brain break activities and gather performance data.
- Brain Break & Age Group
Assess if the activities you choose are right for the age group.
For younger children, a classic game of Simon Says, in which you make them do physical activities can be enough to get them refocused.
For older kids or high schoolers, a change of scene may help individual students.
Tip: You may consider assigning them a task in which they have to go to the office and pick something up, or drop something off to another teacher. A bit of fresh air may be all it takes to reset.
The great thing about brain breaks is that there are no limits or “right” ways to them.
If it works for your child, helps them refocus, and gets them in a better headspace, then the goal has been achieved.
- How long should it take?
As a general “rule”, brain breaks are meant to be “little breaks” of no more than 5-10 minutes.
One important thing to note is that all of these “brain break” suggestions are dependent on your environment, accessibility, and permissibility.
Best Brain Break Activities for Kids
The following activities are great ways to provide your student’s brain with a short break to refocus and increase productivity.
Some of the activities will work for all the class, and you may choose some others for specific students who need rest periods more often.
Let’s separate each brain break activity into the three categories that were previously mentioned.
Breathing Brain Breaks / Relaxation Brain Breaks
Deep breathing improves sustained attention. And relaxation can also improve working memory.
These are some examples of breathing or relaxation ideas that might provide your students with their much-needed break:
- Compress various body parts – Arms, legs, head, and shoulders.
Compression is essentially squeezing these body parts in sections, for example, five squeezes per leg, then arms, then rolling your shoulders and finally squeezing your head and neck. This does not have to be hard, or forceful, to be effective.
- Smell the flowers and blow out the candle. All you have to do is pretend to be smelling flowers and blowing out candles. It’s meant to be a breathing exercise in a fun way.
- Use peppermint essential oil. Some companies make rubbing essential oil that you can put on your body. Rub a little on your temples and wrist and breathe it in. It also helps with migraines and headaches. ( I do this personally)
- Blowing pom-poms with a straw. If you’d like to do this as a class event. Whoever blows their pom-pom off their desk first wins!
- Breathing into a latex glove or paper bag. Blow it up, then release the air and do it again.
- Look into a mirror breathing deeply and exhaling completely and use positive affirmations. For example, “I am capable”, or “I can do hard things”
- Drink water. It may seem simple, but a refreshing cup of water can do wonders. If possible, drink the water and sit down if you’re standing. If you’re already sitting, drink the water, and lay down.
- Wash your face off with water. This doesn’t have to be anything extravagant or time-consuming.
- Teach some fun animal yoga poses for the classroom (these yoga cards have various animal yoga poses and they are super fun! Or you can watch a beginners yoga video on YouTube – there are lots of short clips on the internet)
- Tapping various body parts. Start with your chest, and lightly tap. Then your head, then cross your arms and tap your shoulders. This simple technique shouldn’t take longer than 5 minutes.
Physical Breaks to Help Focus and Recharge
Physical exercise can be a great way to get a quick brain break.
Physical activity has shown to improve memory, attention, and academic achievement.
- Play Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes or any other movement song that the class enjoys. (Baby Shark is another popular one).
- Jump on a large ball for a few minutes.
- Play hopscotch.
- Cross the midline. It may be used in an occupational therapy session to refocus patients. Use your left hand to touch your right knee, then use your right hand to touch your left knee. Do this for a designated number of repetitions, for example, 5, 10, or 15.
- Have a freeze dance party. This can be done with the whole class. Play music and when the music stops, you freeze. When the music is on, you dance.
- Keep the beach ball up game. Throw a beach ball into the air, everyone has to work together to keep the ball up. Set a timer and see how many times the class can hit it/keep it up by counting together.
- Ribbon dance. Put on an instrumental song and use the ribbons to dance.
- Parachute popping. This is best for younger students. Get an inexpensive parachute and small plastic balls. Sing a song and make the parachute go up and down until all the balls are gone.
- Tap sticks. Sing the song One, Two, Buckle My Shoe.
- Do timed jumping jacks. Set a timer for 1 minute and see how many you can do in that time.
- Jump rope. See how many times you can jump consecutively.
- Use resistance bands in regular intervals. For example, 3 sets of 10.
- Use a weighted hula-hoop for older students.
- Shake out the wiggles. Stand up and stretch out your body.
- Do wall pushups. The pressure will help you release some extra energy.
- Listen to the Cha-Cha Slide and try to do all the steps correctly.
- Skip down the hallway. If possible, designate a remote hallway in your school to do things like skipping up and down.
- Play a game of Simon Says. Rotate the “Simons” if you have time.
- Go out for a short walk if you’re at home.
Mental Brain Breaks
Sometimes your child’s brain can benefit from a much-needed mental break.
Brain breaks can even be learning games that are not too demanding so that the brain can actually rest!
- Write down your thoughts, worries or frustrations. You can choose to read them to yourself after you’re done, or completely forget about them once they’ve been written down.
- Scribble. Sometimes all you need is an easy brain break activity like scribbling on a paper to refocus and out frustrations/anxieties.
- Play Tic Tac Toe with a student next to you.
- Do a small puzzle
- Solve a simple Sudoku
- Recite riddles
- Play five rounds of rock-scissors-paper
- Play a game of Alphabet. Each person must start their sentence with the letter that they’re on. For example, child 1: Alicia went to the store. Child 2: But she didn’t take me. Child 3: Could it be that she forgot? Etc.
- Play a game of “I Spy”. “I spy with my little eye…something blue.
- Play Hang Man
- “Words that start with..” game.
Choose a word and ask your students to write as many words as they can (it can be any words, or a category, e.g. foods starting with…)
- Dice game. Use a couple of dice to create a short math brain break (for example, the highest number wins, the one that gets doubles first, first one reaching a certain number)
- I went to the market and bought… Each kid says one item and repeats all the previous ones.
- Quick Bingo. Stops with the first line!
- Answer trivia questions
Sensory Brain Breaks
These sensory activities are designed to be short mental breaks that keep your mind off of the task that you’re currently doing, but eventually, help individuals refocus on schoolwork.
For some kids, they might be essential activities to meet their sensory needs.
- Buy a mini sandbox toy. Sometimes all it takes is a 5-minute sand break. Pushing sand with a little stick can help refocus quickly.
- Get a swinging pendulum toy. It can be a sensory break for people of all ages.
- Play with a magnetic sculpture-building toy. This is best for older kids, who don’t swallow things.
- As a teacher/parent you can create simple scavenger hunt packs that contain small riddles to get to an ultimate answer – such as a funny joke.
- Play with a Rubik’s cube. This is primarily for middle-schoolers and high- schoolers. This does not have to be played to win. But rather to refocus and get your hands moving.
- Color with “Mindful Meditation” coloring books. There are many coloring pages for different ages available on-line.
- Play with an Etch-a-Sketch for a few minutes.
- Do some scratch paper art. If you’re able to buy small sheets of scratch paper art, it will help with limiting the time it takes to color it in or draw a picture.
- Use a sand timer. Watch the time lapse as the sand slowly keeps the time.
- Use a liquid timer. Similar to the sand timer but may attract a different child.
- Make paper airplanes. See how many you can fly into a small trash can.
- Finish a hexagon puzzle. It is designed to be a brain teaser, not something incredibly difficult. Either way, it can help refocus by taking your mind off schoolwork.
- Use a fidget spinner. This can be limited to a few times a day, and for 5-minute stretches.
- Use a magnetic drawing pad. Sometimes the sound alone gets people excited.
- Play with shaving cream or whipped cream, depending on the availability. A small shallow bucket with shaving cream for a few minutes can really calm and refocus a child. If the child/children are prone to eating things, whipped cream works just as well. Set a 5-minute timer and let them enjoy themselves. More than likely this will attract elementary school students.
- Make confetti. Get various colored papers and use scissors to cut it into little tiny pieces. It keeps your hands busy and your mind clear.
- Play with water beads.
More sensory activities for kids ⏩ Sensory Menu for Kids
Related Reading ⏩ Break Cards and How to Use Them in the Classroom
Brain Break Ideas (PDF Download)
Download the list of 60+ brain break ideas by filling in the details below:
Brain Breaks for Kids: Research and Further Reading
- Is Brain Gym® an Effective Educational Intervention? (Spaulding, Mostert, & Beam, 2010)
- The Role of Recess in Children’s Cognitive Performance and School Adjustment (Pellegrini, A. D., & Bohn, C. M., 2005)
- Movement in the Classroom: Boosting Brain Power, Fighting Obesity (Reilly, E., Buskist, C., & Gross, M. K., 2012.)
- Brain Breaks: Help or Hindrance? (Weslake, A., & Christian, B. J., 2015).
- The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults (Ma X, Yue ZQ, Gong ZQ, Zhang H, Duan NY, Shi YT, Wei GX, Li YF., 2017)
- Implementing classroom physical activity breaks: Associations with student physical activity and classroom behavior (Carlson JA, Engelberg JK, Cain KL, Conway TL, Mignano AM, Bonilla EA, Geremia C, Sallis JF.)