Brain and Body Breaks


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Every teacher knows that satisfying feeling you get when a lesson is going well. Then slowly, without warning, a slight feeling of unrest stirs in the classroom, signaling that students are beginning to reach their limits. A handful of stalwarts hold on, but a few start fidgeting, and several more have stopped listening entirely. A solemn procession of "thirsty" children walk back and forth from the water fountain while someone else pleads to use the washroom. If/then scenarios bombard your mind: If I stop now, then I might not finish the lesson. If I give the students a breather, then I might not get their attention back. If I give students a break this very minute, then they might find it harder to settle down when it is over. If I call a group back too soon, then readers will never build stamina, and so on. 

As you might surmise, I can recite all of these if/then scenarios easily because I have struggled with them myself on many occasions. Luckily, students have taught me (sometimes the hard way) that the only if/then scenario that really counts is this one: if learners need a brain and body break, then teachers must give them one! With its brief, focused chunks of instruction, Daily 5 takes into account learners' needs for this essential break. Without a doubt, all learners from kindergarten all the way up to graduate students require brief breaks in order to give their best. 

To help students give their best, the fundamentals of Daily 5 emphasize responsiveness to learners' developmental levels. Focus lessons are designed to be short, based on the critical match between children's chronological ages and the number of minutes that they can be expected to attend to direct instruction. Through their own classroom inquiry and the brain research work of Ken Wesson, The Sisters have helped educators recognize lesson-length parameters based on age (Boushey & Moser, 2014). 

Age-appropriate lesson lengths allow students to maintain focus. Effective transitions between Daily 5 rounds recharge students before they reengage their concentration. In developing the structure of Daily 5, The Sisters purposefully built in these seamless transitions that allow students the chance for a physical diversion, some much-needed kinesthetic movement, and a brain break that enables them to refocus. These transitions, which provide a brief and welcomed respite, equip students mentally and physically for the next learning activity.

In a busy school day, teachers welcome a change of scenery and a chance to stretch their legs, grab a new read-aloud from the school library, or briefly chat with a colleague. Students are no different. They need an occasional energy boost, too. When restlessness sets it, they are telling teachers that it's time for a change of pace. Brain and body breaks can save the day. Doing some planned movement, dancing in place, stretching after sitting for a long time, acting out a well-loved verse or fingerplay, playing a clapping game, celebrating with a song, talking to a partner, or just crossing over from one area of the room to another can provide just the right kinesthetic break. 

After a brain and body break, children can return to the important work centered on their learning. Once they have released their pent-up energy, they are reinvigorated and can focus better. They are calmer, more relaxed, and ready to begin instruction again. So are their teachers!


Boushey, G., & Moser, J. (2014). The daily 5. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

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