Despite evidence that physical activity is associated with improved cognitive function, academic performance, and overall health in children, there remains an overwhelming decline in the amount of time dedicated to physical activity across the school day as competing demands take precedence. A simple way to address the increasing prevalence of overweight children as well as the pressure on schools to produce students who meet academic standards, is to incorporate brain breaks throughout the school day. Brain breaks are short, energized bursts of acute activity that boost blood flow, send oxygen to the brain, and help kids retain information. A brain break can be as simple as a 5 minute stretch or walk in the classroom; however, evidence supports that 15-20 minutes of activity result in, the biggest benefit of, improved cognitive function.
Brain breaks are evidence-based and their efficacy has been scientifically proven. In one study, findings indicate that a 20 minute walk resulted in significantly increased brain activity compared to the brain activity of a student who was sedentary (Hillman et al 2009). This resulted in improved performance on reading, spelling, and arithmetic tests. In another study, students who normally performed poorly on attention tasks improved their accuracy when tested shortly after 20 minutes of walking on a treadmill (Drollette et al 2014).
After completing a district wide wellness assessment, the William Penn School District wellness council identified the need to integrate more physical activities opportunities into the school day. Prepared with evidence of a link between physical activity and academic performance, the wellness council approached the board of directors, who prioritized this need and decided to mandate 15 minute brain breaks for all students in grades K-12.
In one 2nd grade class at Park Lane Elementary School, Carol Poplawski has found great success in integrating brain breaks in her classroom. After students return from 90 minutes in the library, she uses a brain break to help them transition into the math lesson for the day. She noticed that the brain breaks have really helped students to focus on difficult math lessons and she attributes outstanding test scores to the brain breaks. She also uses brain breaks as a reward for students after completion of a challenging test or lesson. Improved test scores, better focus, improved behavior, and improved gross motor skills are some of the benefits that Poplawski has noticed since integrating these guided activity breaks into her class.
Not only do these activities help student focus and get extra physical activity during the day, but the students love participating and are even using the activities at home. Poplawski introduced brain breaks and the activity tool to parents during back to school night and frequently receives positive feedback from both parents and students. Furthermore, she has shared her successes with her school faculty in the hopes that other educators will see the utility in brain breaks and continue implementing them in their classrooms. Poplawki recognizes that the support of the administration has been vital to the integration of brain breaks and is grateful for the extra time in her schedule to offer this tool to her students.