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 and 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 http://blog.brainhq.com/2015/05/26/to-improve-math-skills-take-a-walk/
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 by 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).
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.