If you're Canadian, chances are you remember Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod from BodyBreak. Their iconic lifestyle TV segments were full of flashy wind suits and cheesy tag lines. Today, we refer to a body break as a short movement-based break to help the body and brain re-focus. Body breaks should be used throughout the day to reduce stress and frustration, and increase attention and productivity (understood.org). Short brain breaks have real benefits, but are more complicated than Hal and Joanne let on.
HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU NEED A BREAK?
As the adult in the room, you have a pretty good idea that a movement break is needed. The trick is to make the kids more aware that they are in need of a break. Mindfulness, also known as body awareness, is the beginning of emotional regulation.
What are the things that you are noticing that tell you that there's no more learning going on, and that a break is needed? Was is the thunderous level of noise in the room? Or, was it perhaps the lack of children sitting in their chairs? Or, for my home-based learning friends, was it the chorus of hollering that came from the kitchen? The most common cues of dysregulation are voice, hands, feet, and muscles.
Start with a group (or family) check-in by providing multiple choice options:
Voice: Is your voice quiet, loud, or yelling? Is it fast, slow, or just right?
Hands + Feet: Are your feet moving or still? Are they they fast and fidgeting or steady
Muscles: Are your muscles tight or loose? Do they feel wiggly or slow?
If your kiddos are younger or having trouble identifying how their body is feeling, point out a few concrete cues. Remember to be gentle with your words, and to put a name to things that are easy to see. "I'm noticing that your hands are in tight fists, and that your feet are pacing. I wonder if it's time we took a break."
Now that you've brought attention to the fact that their bodies are in need of a pause, it's time to build the best body break ever! The most effective body breaks have three components, which is why 20 jumping jacks is never enough to get the class to calm down.
Energizing Activity - This gets the heart pumping and the blood flowing. Think of skipping around the room, hopping on one foot, or cross crawls. You can also run on the
spot, jump around like a frog, or dance to music. All of these activities bring energy into the body.
Heavy Work - Once the energizing tasks are done, we need to have heavy work to organize the body. In general, heavy work is any push, pull, or carry. It can also involve holding our body weight in a steady position, such as in a squat or a plank. Yoga poses are great for heavy work, but some kiddos prefer pushing the wall (to make the room bigger) or tricep dips on their chair.
Calming or Cognitive Task - Hold tight, one more step before we are ready to learn. Breathing is one of the best ways to prepare our brain and body for learning and being social (aka sitting at the dinner table). Maybe your family takes 3 big dragon breaths before each meal. Cognitive tasks such as patting your head while rubbing your tummy, reading, or doodling are great choices for the end of your break.
If you need more ideas for taking a breath, check out last month's blog post.
ARE WE DONE?
After your break, invite the kiddos to check in with their bodies again. Offer them the same multiple choice cues, or identify the different things that you are noticing about their bodies. Hopefully you are taking note of relaxed muscles, quiet voices, and focused eyes. However, if some of the bodies are still showing you that they aren't quite ready to engage in learning, try more heavy work.
Body breaks can be even more effective if they're tailored to the specific needs of the child. Do they need their energy level to be lowered, or raised? Does your kiddo need lots of heavy work, or extra calming at the end? Try out your new formula for body breaks and let me know what works best.
And remember, "Keep fit and have fun!"