Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Brain Breaks: Every age person needs them


I used to teach multiple-day workshops for adults and facilitate multiple-day negotiation sessions for small groups in conflict.  It’s hard to sit still that long.  It’s even harder for the brain to stay focused for that long.  Until I learned about brain breaks, I just knew that my adult participants would start behaving like children right around 3 pm.


There’s actually neuroscience theory to support the use of brain breaks.  First, our brain uses 20% of the body’s energy when resting, more when doing difficult mental tasks like reading and listening.  The brain works very hard, especially when we’re concentrating trying to learn something new.  It needs a reset sometimes (as often as every 10  minutes for small children and 30 minutes for adults, if you’re really trying to memorize something).  The idea is to switch neural activity to non-learning networks, so the setting-memory networks can rest a little. 


Some experts also suggest that we try to engage both hemispheres of the brain (generally, the right hemisphere controls the left side of our body, and vice versa) during brain breaks, and help them to work together.  I like to think of this as “windshield wiper-ing” the brain, helping it to clean out the detritus and start again with full focus.


So what does a brain break look like.  In my experience, the sillier, the better.  We’re trying to get the two sides of the brain to do opposite things, which is not so easy to do.  So, there’s a little bit of frustration at first and (hopefully) a lot of laughter.  These are a few of my favorite brain breaks:


·      Start with what most people know:  rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time.  After that feels doable (2-3 min?), switch what the hands are doing (i.e., tummy-rubbing hand now pats head, head-patting hand rubs tummy).


·      Wink and snap:  wink left eye and snap right finger; wink right eye and snap left finger; repeat, getting faster and faster (until you’re laughing so hard you can’t continue!).


·      Forward and backward circles:  Make circles, starting with both arms fully extended toward the ceiling; one arm makes forward circles, the other arm makes backward circles.  Once you’re pretty competent with this combination, switch directions for each arm.  (Hint: it’s easiest to get started one arm at a time).


·      My favorite brain break if you have adult foreign language speakers in the group:  Act out the children’s game of Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes, naming the body parts in another language.  This is another one that gets adults laughing hysterically.


There are many more brain breaks to be found here and here.  If you think these brain breaks are just for little kids, you’re wrong.  Every age person/student has the same neurological constraints in their brain.  Working with the brain, instead of against it, will maximize every student’s learning.  My adult workshop participants loved brain breaks. Really.


So, try one of these fun and silly activities next time you’re taking part in a long online learning session.  If you’re a teacher, incorporate regular breaks (as in, leave the screen kind of breaks) and brain breaks, and see if your students don’t stay focused a little better.


And, today on New Year’s Eve, try a brain break activity to help the long wait for 2021 pass by more quickly.  Let me know how it went, or send me some additional brain break activities that you like.  I’ll publish them in a future blog post. 


Happy New Year!


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