As the school day gets longer, standards and curriculum become more rigorous and recess and P.E. become more infrequent, it is up to teachers to become more creative inside the classroom and use methods to keep students interested, motivated, and engaged. In the past few years, a professional focus for many educators has been to incorporate more movement into classroom activities, as well as taking physical activity breaks that are also productive to learning goals (Brown, 2007). One of these methods is referred to as ‘brain breaks.’ One popular brain break program is called Brain Gym. Despite the popularity among schools and districts worldwide, however, it is not well revered equally by educational researchers and scholars.
Brain breaks are short breaks that happen throughout the school day, involving some sort of physical activity with the intention of giving students the opportunity to move around. The purpose of brain break is invigorating children and preparing them to reengage and focus back into learning. Primary and elementary students, in particular, need more breaks throughout the school day. Brain breaks give them the breaks they need without any waste or misuse of time (Bjorkland & Brown, 1998). Due to the way children’s brains operate, they need a change in attention on average every ten minutes (Ostroff, 2014). Frequent and regular breaks help students learn better (Ostroff, 2014). The transfer of minutes in instructional time to break time maximizes the effectiveness of instructional time, which is worth any potential loss in instructional minutes (Ostroff, 2014).
While the purpose and understanding behind brain breaks remains consistent amongst educators, the execution can vary from teacher to teacher. Some teachers like to incorporate games into instruction (Brown, 2007). Other teachers use online resources, while others still implement brain break developed programs. One example program that incorporates physical activity breaks into the classrooms is Take 10! (Evaluation of the Take 10!, 2005). A study was completed using this program in an elementary school with teacher reporting that they had positive reactions to the use of physical activity breaks in the classroom (Evaluation of the Take 10!, 2005). This study and the use of this program demonstrates the forthcoming shift that is taking place to increase the amount of movement and physical activities that take place inside the classroom.
One well-known brain break program is Brain Gym, which has been in use by educators for over 30 years. This program consists of 26 different exercises, including physical movements such as crawling, drawing, tracing symbols in the air, and yawning (Hyatt, 2007). This program is used in more than 80 different countries and is recommended as an effective intervention and support for students by countless schools and districts (Spaulding, Mostert & Beam, 2010; Stephenson, 2009). Despite the acclaim and collegial recommendation that Brain Gym receives, however, most scholars and researchers highly advise against the use of Brain Gym in classrooms (Hyatt 2007; Spaulding, Mostert & Beam, 2010; Stephenson, 2009). According to researchers, the Brain Gym program has no credible studies to support the claims made by the company, and the studies that do exist for the program contain methodological errors, and are therefore invalidated (Hyatt, 2007; Kelso & Watson, 2014). The program claimed on its website in 2008 that students can “learn ANYTHING faster and more easily, perform better at sports, be more focused and organized, start and finish projects with ease, overcome learning challenges, and reach new levels of excellence,” (as cited in Spaulding, Mostert & Beam, 2010). In spite of the negative attention Brain Gym has received from scholarly educators, it continues to be well known, well used, and a recommended program among educators (Stephenson, 2009).
The literature reviewed in this study presented three main themes in relation to brain breaks. The first theme that was introduced was the purpose and use behind the concept of brain breaks. The second theme included different ways brain breaks can and have been used in classrooms by teachers. This theme also presents the variety of ways that brain breaks can be applied and used. The last theme presented two brain break programs that have been developed and used by educators, as well as their reception by both the academic and practical worlds of education.
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