Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Movement Breaks for Better Learning

From 2005 to 2007, I taught second grade.  Those years were full of loose teeth, bloody knees, cocoon observations, lots of laughter, lots of tears, and lots of fun!  In addition, I saw many breakthroughs for my young readers and mathematicians.  Some cracked the code to move beyond pictures assisting them with reading text while others learned strategies to stop relying on their fingers to add and subtract.  Second grade is an extremely important academic year in the development of a child.  That being said, second graders have a tough time sitting still!  In fact, I don't even know if most can.  During those two years,  I knew I had a ton of curriculum to teach my little guys, but was finding it difficult when many were not able to focus for a sustained period of time.  It was during those two years as a second grade teacher that I started instituting movement breaks.  These movement breaks changed my life as an educator!   In fact, I still use them today as a fifth grade teacher.

What are movement breaks?
Movement breaks are quick 30-second to four-minute breaks during instructional time.

Why give these breaks when class time is so impacted as it is?
Three minutes of extra
playground time can
add to more minutes of
quality work time! 
I started noticing my second graders would become off-task after just a few minutes of independent work time.  They simply had a tough time staying in one place and focusing for more than 5-10 minutes at a time.  After a movement break, my second graders would turn from wiggly worms into focused worker bees.  My fifth graders would go from bored/tired to refocused.  At times as a teacher, I would even turn from a frustrated broken record into a patient clarifier (I participate in the movement breaks with my students). Poor choice behavior and distractions from students greatly decreased.  Student work output and quality of work greatly increased.  Also, many special needs students, such as students with ADHD, focus issues, autism spectrum disorders, and just any form of hyperactivity have greatly benefitted.  Giving these breaks often gave them exactly what they needed in order to even do the given assignment in class.  Plus, if the entire class was participating in the break, no one was singled out!

When and how often should these breaks be given?
It varies with each different class of kids.  I prefer to give movement breaks 2-4 times each day with my fifth graders.  When I taught second grade, I gave them more frequently.  Movement breaks can be given at anytime.  I most frequently implement them at the following times:
  • Before a direct instruction time that will last more than 10-15 minutes.
  • During the middle of an intense work period where students need to remain at their desks.
  • Right before transitioning to the next activity.
  • Right after transitioning from the last activity.
  • Right before any guest speaker or presenter comes in.
  • Anytime right before I present a brand new concept, especially in math.
  • Right before read aloud.
  • Right before our 20-40 minute reading workshop independent reading time.
  • Whenever my class has that restless, bored, unfocused look.  All teachers know this look!
What are examples of movement breaks?
  • Jog in place
  • Jog around the room
  • Walk out to the field, take a lap!
  • Walk out to the field, skip a lap!
  • Walk out to the field, pick up 1-3 pieces of trash then wash hands
  • Crab walk
  • Bear walk
  • Stretching
  • Yoga
  • Jumping jacks
  • High-knees
  • Butt-kickers (repeated alternating heel to bottom)
  • Burpees
  • Side steps
  • 3-5 minutes of free play on the play structure outside
  • Chair step-ups (if you feel it's safe in your classroom)
  • Floor crawl to see who finds the most on the ground to throw or put away
  • Free choice stretch
  • Free choice Just Move!
  • Simon Says (I call it Miss Nosek Says)
  • Hokey Pokey for younger kids
  • Freeze Dance (music plays = dance, music stops = freeze)
  • Giant Steps around the room
  • Baby steps around the room
  • Hop around the room
  • Walk like a kangaroo, elephant, etc...
  • Fly like an eagle, humming bird, etc...
  • Arm Windmills
  • Toe Touches
  • Elbow to Opposite Knee
  • And, the list can go on.  Be creative!  Students can also give movement ideas.
How are these breaks managed?  Won't students become out of control?
In fact, the opposite will happen.  As long as movement breaks are prefaced with a time limit and clear expectations and instructions, students will follow.  If the management bar is set high for behavior expectations, students will meet it.  Saying something along these lines works well, "It's time for a movement break.  For 2 minutes we will do_____________ to give our brains a quick break before we get right back to work.  When I say go, you will begin. When I give the 15 second warning, you need to slow down.  When I count down, 3, 2, 1, you need to stop and immediately get back to work.  Do we all agree to follow these guidelines?"  Of course they will agree!  They always do.

Once I started regularly using movement breaks in my classroom, I saw a dramatic change in my students.  My students became more focused, smiled more, and seemed to enjoy just being in school more than before!  Most importantly,  the quality of their work and work output increased.  I'll always give movement breaks to ensure better student learning!

Oh, and there's science behind why this works too!
Why Do I Think Better After I Exercise? 
Exercise May Lead to Better School Performance for Kids with ADHD
Can Exercise Make Kids Smarter?