What Are Brain Breaks? Why Is It Necessary For Students?


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According to UNICEF’s definition, Brain Break is a simple technique in which students are given a short mental break at regular intervals. 

They are usually performed in a classroom or academic environment, but can also be used in similar non-traditional learning environments for essentially the same effect.

Most brain breaks range from around 5 to 20 minutes as a general rule, although most people prefer to keep them short and on point.

These brain breaks may be incorporated in lessons using certain movements or be completely separate from anything academic.

They can take place in any amount of space, both indoors and outdoors. The benefits of brain breaks include, but are not limited to, increased productivity, attention, ability to learn new social skills and brain function when incorporated into studies (Terada, 2018).  

The neuroscience of brain break

Scientifically, when the amygdala (a collection of cells near the base of the brain) is at full capacity and has reached information overload, and the student cannot retain new information; brain breaks are necessary because they enable the restoration of neurotransmitters to facilitate the recovery of the brain. Since our brains have a finite amount of neurotransmitters, it is essential to allow one area of the brain to rest and recover while a second area is active and working. This ensures that all brain areas are not depleted, and thus, information is retained and stored.

We may also say brain breaks are intentional learning shifts that offer the brain the opportunity to revitalize itself; it is a chance to reestablish the flow of traffic or, in this case, information in order for it to reach its intended destination. Brain breaks allow students to switch between different brain networks, allowing the resting path to be revitalized and refocused, allowing the brain to achieve memory retention once rested. In other words, brain breaks are exercises designed to soothe the mind. These pauses have proven to enhance our thinking practices and nurture learning in all its forms.

Other researchers claim that ‘brain breaks’ provides a valuable amount of time to mentally rest and reboot, boosting students’ overall productivity and creativity. Little kids, older kids or an individual of any age, can benefit from brain breaks. This will help boost productivity. For example, taking cerebral breaks after learning helps to consolidate the information students learn. Meanwhile, the connections made in your brain solidify all the concepts learned and help retain the newly acquired knowledge in memory.

The “Brain Breaks” mechanism

We already know, each student learns differently and at a different pace. But a general theme of learning that connects all pupils at different levels is the dire need for cerebral pauses. For students to reach their full potential and acquire information appropriately, their brain must send sensory receptor signals to where the brain stores memories. These sensory receivers are specialized cells that react to physical and chemical stimuli such as what students see, hear, touch, smell and taste.

When students are overloaded with information, their brains fail to remember the information they receive. They get blocked, and the knowledge provided is not stored the way it is intended to. The new information cannot reach the prefrontal cortex because the amygdala has reached its maximum capacity and cannot adequately support memory or knowledge.

The short brain breaks refresh students’ thinking process and allow their brain to take rest and feel relaxed. During these pauses, the brain deviates from learning, memorization and problem-solving. Brain breaks enable students to regulate their feelings and prepare for the next wave of information.

Importance and benefits of brain breaks

The concept of brain breaks has been around for decades, but teachers worldwide have recently started to notice the benefits of incorporating brain breaks for long-term classroom use. These brain breaks provide another opportunity for schools to increase physical activity without extending the school day and help improve cognitive outcomes (Eggers et al., 2019). The primary purpose of a brain break is to help students transition from one learning activity or lesson to another.

While some teachers love them, others say they may have more time to refocus and may not want to use them (Weslake et al., 2015). Until other studies show the wide range of benefits of incorporating brain breaks into universities, there may still be apostate.

In the physical class, physical activity opportunities are limited, with the exception of a physical education course that constitutes one’s class during the school day. Physical activity must be more integrated with the school day because it refocuses students (Bedard et al., 2019).

  • Brain breaks can increase student engagement

Decades-old studies have shown positive outcomes, suggesting that brain teasers have various benefits for student learning. Several studies have shown that regular brain-breaks across the school day enhance students’ cognitive functioning and ability to sustain focus for academic work (Donnelly et al., 2009; Grieco, Jowers & Bartholomew, 2009; Ma, Mare & Gurd, 2014; Mahar et al., 2006; Mahar, 2011). While these brain breaks take only a little amount of time in the classroom, the benefits of increased engagement and cognitive functioning have been shown to increase school performance significantly. As per the research, students participating in regular brain breaks display improved academic performance in core subjects like Mathematics and English and academic standardized tests (Álvarez-Bueno et al., 2016; Ahamed et al., 2007). Furthermore, brain breaks have been shown to increase students’ perceived competence and level of motivation in class (Vazou et al., 2012). Cerebral pauses reduce the student’s sedentary time and increase their overall physical activity throughout the day. Additionally, studies have shown that brain breaks can positively influence students’ Body Mass Index (BMI) and support students in maintaining a healthy weight (Liu et al., 2008). Brain breaks also improve classroom behaviour and decrease student referrals for discipline issues (Sibley et al., 2008).


  • Brain breaks can reinforce teacher-student relationships

Offering students a short social and fun break during class can increase opportunities and create a new context to strengthen teacher-student relationships. A classroom is a dynamic environment where interactions between students and teachers have a lasting and powerful effect on learning, well-being and development. Such pauses alter the school environment by introducing a new group action. Such activities have been shown to increase positive emotions and enjoyment among students in the classroom (Howie and.al., 2014; Vazou, 2014).

While there is no known research investigating the direct link between brain-breaks and teacher-student relationships, mounting evidence suggests that they are positively correlated in a bi-directional fashion. Research has clearly shown that brain breaks can increase student engagement; when students are more engaged, teachers become more engaged, helping to foster positive relationships (Hamre & Pianta, 2005). Positive student outcomes related to regular brain breaks (such as enjoyment, positive effect, improved classroom climate, intrinsic motivation) all have the potential to contribute to a caring community of learners. As students progress through school, relations with their teachers tend to become more distant and less comfortable, especially for less motivated students (Harter, 1996). Research indicates that pupils have a more positive perception of their teachers when they are more involved in their social environment (Skinner & Belmont, 1993). Brain breaks, therefore, provide a possible way to protect students from decreased motivation and feelings of disconnect that some students may experience.

  • Breaks replenish attention

Karrie Godwin, a developmental psychologist at Kent State University, focusing on a task requires a certain mental effort says, “Maintaining attention informal learning environments is quite difficult for young kids.” Also referring to a 2016 study talks about the finding that children were less attentive as lessons increased from 10 to 30 minutes.

In the typical primary school classroom, the teacher’s voice, the buzzing of the HVAC system, a waving classmate, or brightly coloured posters adorning the walls all compete for student attention. While we process all this information, we want to focus and try to ignore distractions. “Our attentional resources are likely to run out in time,” says Godwin.

  • Brain imaging studies support it

In addition, researchers in a 2010 study monitored brain blood flow while participants tested for alertness and response time. They found that blood flow to brain areas involved in vigilance decreased during the 20-minute test period, which correlated with worsening reaction times.

It demonstrates, when we focus on a task, our brains devote more processing resources to areas that will boost our performance. Mental fatigue might signal that we are spending too much energy relative to the benefit we will get from staying on task, so the brain withdraws these resources. Breaks can mitigate this: numerous studies show interspersing brief bouts of physical activity can keep children on-task and focused. In 2013, Lim and colleagues from the National University of Singapore found brain waves indicative of mental fatigue — theta waves — increase during bouts of sustained attention but decrease during breaks. The research’s author states, “brain breaks help us improve our focus by reducing boredom and restoring energy and motivation to resume on-task activity.” 

  • Brain breaks improve learning

Breaking long lessons into several, short chunks of time are better than cramming learning into one block, known as the “spacing effect.”It is one of the most repeated phenomena in psychology and education, says Haley Vlach, an educational psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. According to a 2008 study, Vlach discovered that toddlers remember new object names better when they get a short 30-second break between each presentation of an object. Spacing is often effective because of the amount of time it takes to remember.

“Forgetting forces you to practice remembering information; that practice of retrieving information from the past helps you later when you need to retrieve that information for a final test,” he adds. Brain breaks work the same way. He says, “I think people are afraid to take breaks because they think learning stops”. But learning does not stop when you take a break. The brain continues to do things with the information that you gather.” 

  • Breaks stimulate creativity

Numerous studies show that breaks facilitate creative understanding and problem-solving. The researchers found that young adults were more than twice as likely to find the hidden shortcut to a math problem if given a 10-minute break between classes. In another, breaks consisting of a simple task helped participants think up novel uses for ordinary objects. Compared to people who rested or did not have a break at all, the people in this group reported that their minds wandered further and seemed to support creative insight.

Thus, developing the rest mode network and cultivating creative thought requires time and space children do not often get in the classroom.

Also, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a neuroscientist and developmental psychologist at the University of Southern California, says, “Traditional schooling often overtaxes and over-privileges the development of task-oriented productivity. It prioritizes the concrete, the here and now.” But this might backfire. Brain networks develop through lived experience. Keeping kids in a state of focused productivity may limit opportunities to develop their default mode mental capacities. We can inadvertently be “undermining their capacity to become an agency, curious lifelong learners,” Immordino-Yang said.

  • Rejuvenate and refocus students

As mentioned, students learn better when they have breaks because their brains get a chance to freshen up and reset. Some people say the oxygen flows through the brain when students move, but more than that. Many things happen, and too many tasks can lead to anxiety, stress or overload., By providing brain breaks, you end overload and help students become more receptive to new learning when using brain breaks.

Ideally, you can use brain breaks before children lose concentration, but you can implement them whenever you realize your classroom needs to refocus or re-energize.

  • Help students acquire social skills

When you give cerebral pauses, you involve the entire class. Many such pauses take the form of a game or get students to interact in one way or other or get them to perform fun activities together, forming groups of a specific size as per your instruction. These activities give children the opportunity to work together. This means that you help develop social skills and prepare children to learn more.  

  • Promotes student activity

The kids need to move, but they sit there all day. Most children (we are also adults) are not physically active enough during the day. The amount of activity you get during brain stimulations will not qualify as enough activity for the day, but it works more in motion. Sometimes it will be simple, like walking like a penguin to your next workstation. Other times it will be more vigorous, like playing freeze dance or fun yoga session. Often with the brain break, our body also gets some relaxing motion.





About the Author

Author: Saniya Khan

Saniya Khan I am Saniya Khan, Copy-Editor at EdTechReview – India’s leading edtech media. As a part of the group, my aim is to spread awareness on the growing edtech market by guiding all educational stakeholders on latest and quality news, information and resources. A voraciously curious writer with a dedication to excellence creates interesting yet informational pieces, playing with words since 2016.

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