Brain breaks are a concept familiar to elementary school teachers, but not exactly something in the toolbox of high school and junior high teachers. With so many tests and so little time we seem to get it into our heads that we don’t have enough time to teach our content, let alone take breaks. But what if there was a way to teach content and have breaks?
Breathing instruction can take on this task. In classrooms with younger students brain breaks are used to refresh the brain, allow students time to move, and can make transitioning from one subject to another easier. Brain breaks are scientific and research proven to be good for students and improve learning.
Did you know that the average attention span for a child can be determined by using their age? Science has found a formula to determine an average attention span for learning activities. This formula is the students’ age+1. So a kid in kindergarten that is 6-years-old has an attention span of 7 minutes. Or, for middle school and high school purposes The attention span ranges from about 12 minutes to roughly 20 minutes.
That means that, during an average class time of 60 minutes even the oldest student in your classroom will lose their attention up to three times! It can take up to 5 minutes to gain back that attention once its gone. You know you’ve seen it happen, you rehearse a piece, stopping several times to correct issues, replay, fix more issues, and after about ten minutes the talking and fidgeting seem to increase exponentially and you hit a brick wall with the piece. So what do you do? You switch pieces, you give up.
I submit that there is a way to combat the brick wall and get more done on a single piece (or multiple pieces) in one class period, breathing brain breaks!
So how can we combat this with breathing? Simple, take brain breaks with breathing exercises. I know it sounds crazy, and maybe even counter productive, but stick with me. Proper breathing and movement help refresh the brain. So for these brain breaks it is best to use exercises that allow the students a chance to get up out of their chairs. Some great exercises for this are the Ragdoll, Measured Breathing, and dynamic breathing, but any exercise can be incredibly effective while standing.
Time it, rehearse for 15 minutes, then take a 3 minute brain break with some breathing. Have students place their instruments somewhere safe, on or under their chair is usually good, then stand and spread a little. Do a quick breathing exercise, get some wiggles out, then sit them back down and go back to what you were doing before. You will be amazed at the difference in productivity. This is also great for between pieces, one of the best ways to use brain breaks as a transition is to instruct students before the break on what will be coming next, this way they can sit down and retrieve anything necessary for the next song or subject.
This teaching strategy can be used in general ed classrooms as well. Good breathing clears the mind and supports clearer and more productive thinking. Imagine if you taught your 7th-grade algebra class to breathe properly and took short breathing breaks between subjects of instruction and work. It would increase understanding, engagement, and productivity, not to mention wake up the sleepers. In an elementary classroom this would help release some of the notorious wiggles and wake up those cute little kiddos to engage their minds more fully.
Try it, it works. Get those kids up and breathing every 15 minutes and teach them so much more. Teach them proper breathing and teach them more music. Use their average attention spans to your advantage and get more done! It can’t hurt to try it, but you can’t try it just once and expect results, you have to try it for at least two weeks to really see the difference. It can’t hurt to give it a try.