Brainwaves, Issue 32, How to think about Classroom Movement Breaks: AAB…Assess, Adjust, and Breathe!

By | November 14, 2016

In the last issue, I wrote about how to prepare for kindergarten!  This issue will be directed toward anyone who teaches children and wants to learn more about using movement breaks.

Brainwaves is a monthly newsletter designed to create some “brainwaves” within my community of colleagues, friends and clients.

Why do children (and adults) need movement breaks? It has become consensus that we all need movement breaks to pay attention.  Our vestibular (movement) system sends important messages to our muscles and eyes which help us to engage our body to be upright anddoodling focus our eyes.  Some children have under-developed vestibular systems.  They either; 1) need to move a lot to pay attention or 2) feel uncomfortable when they move and resist moving (unless they become frightened!).  Adults use movement to keep “awake” during times of prolonged sitting.  Most adults use small movements such as crossing or uncrossing their legs, tapping their fingers, doodling, chewing, or shifting their position.

 When do children need movement breaks? There is no simple answer to this question.  Of course, younger children will need more frequent movement breaks.  In the elementary years, research states that a 10-minute movement break every 30 minutes is important and imbedding movement into lessons seems to increase retention of information.  Check out this research on math memory and movement

ASSESS!  If you carefully watch your students…their body language will tell you when they need a break.  You might see; fidgety or standing to work, talking or making sounds, easily distracted leaning-head-on-handsby others, deciding to lie down on the carpet to work, putting their head down or leaning it into their hands, approaching you with questions, and asking to use the bathroom or get a drink of water.   I also notice that when students approach the teacher’s desk, they seem to need to lean or push their arms on the desk while talking.

How to use movements breaks? Well that depends on which student we are talking about and the quality of the movement break.  OT’s “tweak” movement breaks by considering the intensity (how hard), duration (how long) or the frequency (how often).

IT IS ALWAYS RECOMMENDED to structure movement breaks and limit random “running around”.happy-emoji

1)    “Need to move” students are the ones that need movement to stay alert and you are likely to see one of two things; 1) they either move more as they actively seek to up-regulate or 2) they become passive and begin to look like they are falling asleep. These children need movement to regulate!… and they likely need more than a walk down the hall to music!  They may need more intense movement breaks or for a longer duration.   Intensity can mean adding bigger head/body movements or heavy muscle work (see my Brainwaves Issue 25).


2)     “Feel uncomfortable when they move” students have a sensitive vestibular system and may have a fight/flight response when they move too much or in a certain way ie) lowering their head down toward the ground or looking up toward the ceiling.  They need to practice moving their head but need to do it at their own pace.

ADJUST movement breaks

Activity               Need to move                          Uncomfortable when moving

Jumping Jacks          Big movement; squatting                 Just moving arms (not leg jumps)

Touch your toes       Squat; touch toes and jump up         Bring one foot up and touch toes

Dancing                    Fast pace actions                             Chair dancing! more arms; slower

Animal walks          They love it!                                     Need to keep head up; duck walk

Walking to Library   Big knee bends while walking        Bring knees up at each step

Waiting in line          Deep wall sits                                 Higher wall sits; hand push isometrics

Yoga moves             May need more movement              Options to keep head more upright

Squat, jump up         They love it!                                    Small knee bend then arms up

BREATHE; to help children transition, end a movement break with a period of heavy muscle work and deep breathing.