“I am clever at my letters. I practice at home. But my head gets tired so we do fun stuff. Mummy tells me the letter and I run fast – like this – and JUMP and point to it! Then we clap and Daddy says, “Oh, no! Sam beat me again!” I’m SuperSam and Daddy is SuperDad but I always win ‘cos Daddy’s too old and slow.” Sam, age 4
Regular brain breaks are a major feature of the ALPS approach. Sam's teacher uses regular brain breaks at school and has shown parents how to use these activities to make learning at home more effective - and more fun! As a crude rule, add one to the average age of the children in your class. This is about the length of time that those children can maintain sustained concentration on a task. So if you teach five-year-olds, expect about six minutes before sustained concentration starts to decline. That is not to say that you need to take a break every six minutes, but it does mean that you need to make frequent opportunities for movement and refocusing activities.
Teachers naturally sense when children are going off task, and attempt to refocus attention. In ‘The ALPS Approach’ we give suggestions of how to do this in ways that strengthen neural pathways and reinforce learning. So in other words, rather than waste time on reminding children to refocus, you spend that time increasing brain-power and learning at the same time!
Brain breaks fall into several categories. Firstly, there is Brain Gym®, which has received a lot of media attention in recent months. We recommend regular Brain Gym® sessions for younger children, as these cross-lateral movements can improve motor control, hand-eye co-ordination and excite the neural pathways that connect the left and right hemisphere of the brain. If you combine these movements with academic content, for example drawing letters or numbers in the air, you are giving maximum input at all levels. Pole-bridging, saying what you are doing as you do it, can make your brain breaks even more productive. Physical movement also increases oxygen supply to the brain. Regular brain breaks give a moment for diffusion before returning to focus on the original task.
With older children, brain breaks can be used to teach new vocabulary, spellings or number facts. They can be simple reinforcement activities from previous lessons, such as an action rhyme to demonstrate the meaning of the word ‘dissolve’ for science, or turning your body through 90 degrees to show a right angle. Alternatively, they can be used to extend learning or make a connection to a previous lesson. They can also be activities that give a ‘feel’ and an emotional response, for example, scrubbing the floor like a Victorian child servant as a brain break in a history lesson.
Some teachers use simple, fun brain breaks to alter the mood in their classrooms and create a positive, enthusiastic atmosphere at times when concentration may be slumping, for example on a wet Friday morning when the after-school softball game looks like being cancelled! In ‘The ALPS Approach’ we give many suggestions for brain break activities. If you’d like to see three more suggestions, click here.
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Copyright © 2013 Nicola J. Call