I have written before about the link between inclusion and wellbeing. This goes for both staff and students of course, if we feel included in the school and class community then our wellbeing increases and we enjoy our time at school more.
This is exactly what the Learning Game for teachers, “The Community” conveys while teachers or PGCE/SCITT students learn about strategies for inclusion in a fictional school setting. You can read my previous blog here if you would like to know more.
Brain Breaks is a proven way of improving learning and wellbeing in classrooms, and is particularly enjoyed by Primary School Children, although having said that my year 7 and 8 class loved them too, and I trialled them with GCSE classes who although they thought it was ‘lame’ couldn’t help enjoying themselves. A friend of mine who teaches technology and innovation at college in Denmark even uses them daily because her students demand it!
There has been a great deal of research into the effectiveness of brain breaks when they are used in lessons. It has been found, that learning and concentration is much more effective, when the class have the opportunity to have 3-5 minutes of physical activity half way through a lesson, and the lost time is more than made up for in terms of concentration and learning during the second half of the lesson. You can read about the science behind the learning later in this piece, what I want to talk about is the impact on wellbeing, social skills and friendships within the class, from my own experience.
The characters have been changed to reflect the diversity of English schools.
How to use Brain Break Cards:
We all know that point in the lesson, when as a teacher you become aware that you have ‘lost’ a proportion of the class. They have gone fidgety, chatty in corners, day dreaming, maybe even getting disruptive. ADHD students are out of their seats, autistic students are deep in their shells, and everything in between. They’ve been in their seats 20-30 minutes and their concentration has dropped.
This is the point of the lesson where it is easy to start getting irritated, shouting, telling them off etc.
Many excellent teachers plan for this by including smaller chunks, different activities and even something kinaesthetic where the students naturally have to get up and move on.
With a brain break, you stop the class and do something different, fun, energetic for a few minutes, which gets them out of their seat, doing something different, interacting with the person next to them, or someone they don’t usually speak to, and most importantly: giggling about something silly. With a Vamosbox of 100 brain break cards you always have a fresh activity at hand which requires no planning.
It can be something as daft as a quick “Head-shoulders-knees-and-toes”
The change of pace creates magic in the classroom. For a start as a teacher it is difficult to be angry when you are having fun. The students see a softer more fun side of you. The students get to have a real giggle in the middle of what might otherwise be a very serious lesson, and they get to interact in a fun way with the others. Even the introverts get drawn in and the ADHD students get to move and burn off some much needed steam.
Each card has clear instructions on the back in English of course
Having used Vamos Cards in my own classroom when I was at the decision stage of whether or not to bring them to the UK there was no doubt in my mind after I tried them. Brain breaks were the talking point of the playground!
My students would greet me in the corridors with one of the silly poses we had invented during an activity, other teachers would be quizzing me in the staff room because their classes had asked them to do it too. My own classes came to lesson asking if we could do an activity that lesson if they worked well the first half of the lesson.
My wellbeing was improved because I was greeted by smiley happy children – even the ones who were self-proclaimed “Maths-haters” were coming to class with a smile on their faces, and the students wellbeing was improved to.
Vamosbox is a classroom resource of 100 cards, each with a brain break activity, which are organised into four categories: Motor Skills, Strength, Pulse and Energise! The vast majority need no preparation and no equipment, although a few call for a ball (or a rolled up pair of gloves) or some dice.
The activities and the concept were developed in Denmark by colleagues of mine, one of whom is a Physiomotor therapist while the other has a degree in Physical Exercise. The Danish schools love them!
At the moment we are at the early production stage, and we are offering early order of the boxes on Indiegogo at a reduced price (from 40% off) to help us get them made. You can pre-order a box for yourself or as a gift to a favourite teacher, you can order a set for your school, and you can even order a set for your school as well as a heavily reduced training session of how to make the most of them in your classrooms. You’re also welcome to donate of course.
I’d love to have your support with this!
The Science Bit:
The picture on the left shows activity in a brain after 20 minutes of exercise, the one on the right shows how the same brain looks after 30 minutes of sedentary work. The lack of oxygen in the brain, makes it much harder for the student to concentrate and learn.
A study in North Carolina showed that providing elementary school students with daily physical activity breaks increased on-task behaviour significantly, while a break without physical activity decreased on-task behaviour.**
A study from the University of Illinois found that students performed better on reading comprehension, mathematics and spelling when they had a period of physical activity immediately preceding the test.**
After exercise, brain-wave readings showed that children with ADHD were better able to regulate their behaviour and focus. All the children showed Scholastic improvement after brief periods of exercise.***
*Trost, S.G. Active Education: Physical Education, Physical Activity and Academic Performance: Research Brief. San Diego, CA: Active Living Research, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Summer, 2009.
**Mahar, M., Murphy, S., Rowe, D., et al. “Effects of a classroom-based program on physical activity and on-task behaviour,” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 2006, 38(12): 2086-2094.
***Pontifex, Matthew et al, Exercise Improves Behavioural, Neurocognitive and Scholastic Performance in Children with ADHD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, published in Journal of Paediatrics 2013.*
Please visit our fundraising page on Indiegogo where you can place your orders, and support my venture too.