Grades 3-5: Brain Breaks
Four simple go-to activities to keep students calm,
focused, and motivated in your classroom.
- Grades: 3–5
Hand to Eye
Hand-eye coordination supports the fine motor skills necessary for drawing, writing, and handling manipulatives. To exercise hand-eye coordination and increase spatial awareness, ask students to focus on their hands using their peripheral, or side-to-side, vision. They can practice this by holding their eyes steady on their hands in the “focus ball” position, keeping them focused on that spot as their hands move apart.
• Can you see both hands all the time?
• How far to the side and back can you see?
• Do you notice when your vision changes from focusing front to focusing side to side?
Skateboard in Class
Standards Met: MCREL Life Skills–Self-Regulation Standard 4, Level IV, Benchmark 2 (Maintains a high level of energy over a prolonged period of time when engaged in tasks)
What to do: Help students keep energy levels up by taking a quick “ride.” Have kids stand with one hand on a wall or desk and plant one foot on an imaginary skateboard. Then, ask them to slowly brush the floor with their other foot, starting with small movements. Movements can become larger and faster as students look over their right and left shoulders.
Throughout the exercise, have students decide what kind of ride they’re taking (a leisurely ride home, a race against another skateboarder). Ask them to picture and describe what they see. (Are there curbs to jump or hills to climb? Do they crouch down as they pass the window of a cranky neighbor?) Adding this creative element will help students mentally refresh.
For a variation on the exercise, thrill-seeking students may enjoy experimenting with skateboarding tricks, which can improve balance and core strength. Try “shooting the curb” by adding a single-leg hop or “coasting” by putting weight on one leg while holding the other straight out.
Smart Feet Standing
Standards Met: MCREL Life Skills–Self-Regulation Standard 4, Level IV, Benchmark 5 (Knows strategies to focus attention [e.g., sitting up straight, maintaining eye contact])
What to do: Create smooth lesson-to-lesson transitions by directing students to pay close attention to their feet—an act that requires a shift in thinking and concentration. Have kids stand with their feet hip-width apart. Then, ask them to wiggle their toes by pressing them into the floor one by one, big toe to little toe. Repeat, this time lifting toes off the floor one by one, big toe to little toe. Next, have kids spread their toes apart, then squish them together before moving their big toes toward each other. Instruct students to roll to the outside edges of their feet, then to the inside edges. As you perform each step, have students count to 10 to maintain a calming pace. To finish, have kids stand on their tiptoes and then lower back down onto their heels. Repeat, going faster and faster, until the class is reenergized.
Standards Met: MCREL Life Skills–Self-Regulation Standard 1, Level IV, Benchmark 9 (Sets routine goals for improving daily life)
What to do: Begin the day or a new activity with a short goal-setting exercise. Have students stand with legs together and bring the tips of their fingers to touch in front of their chests. Then, ask students to bend their fingers to form a dome shape, pressing fingertips until they can feel the muscles in their arms working.
As they hold this position, have students visualize a ball filling up the space between their hands. Encourage kids to fill the imaginary ball with either a personal or group goal (doing their best on a test, using words before taking action). Prompt them with specific details about the chosen task. (For example, when preparing for a test, ask students to imagine a place where they feel relaxed and confident.) Then, have them press their hands together, like pressing a flower between the pages of a book, to save their goal for the day. These focused actions will help students settle down—a perfect opportunity for you to introduce new concepts, goals, and assignments.
Standards Met: MCREL Health Standard 4, Level II, Benchmark 2 (Knows common sources of stress for children and ways to manage stress)
What to do: Start by having students put both hands on their bellies. Have them close their eyes and think only about their breathing. Tell them to concentrate and feel their stomachs move toward their hands as they take a deep breath in. Then, encourage them to feel their stomachs move away from their hands as they breathe out. Repeat three times or until students feel relaxed and ready for class. To help them practice taking deep breaths, have them imagine a long straw with a balloon attached at the bottom. The straw begins at their nose and ends just below their belly button. Say: “Every time you breathe into your straw, the air travels down the straw to fill the balloon. Imagine you can feel the balloon getting full.”
Remember, not everyone breathes in the same way. Some kids are chest breathers. They may find that their bellies and hands move a little differently. Recognize students’ individual experiences, while exposing them to beneficial belly breaths.
Adapted from Brain Breaks for the Classroom. Michelle Gay is a certified movement analyst and founder of the Society for Martial Arts Instruction. She teaches anatomy and kinesiology at the Manhattan Center for the Alexander Technique.