I’ve found that in my fifth grade classroom, providing movement breaks throughout the school day is an excellent way to help kids maintain focus and optimum energy levels. My own anecdotal evidence shows me that students attend better and avoid lethargy when they get to move. My students do get one half hour recess for the day, and I’m thankful for that. I’m convinced students need that time to exercise and move in order to do their best academically!
Many of today’s students are required to do more rigorous school work with fewer opportunities for recess or exercise. Some school districts, concerned with time on task, have even cancelled recess and/or physical education altogether. That way, they figure kids will spend more time preparing academically, and will do better on high stakes standardized tests. Yikes! Talk about intense!
My colleagues who teach physical education have told me that it is best to have kids do some sort of movement at least once for a few minutes every half hour. They also say that research has shown that if someone does cross lateral movement, where arms and legs from one side of the body move across to the other side, it actually gets the mind ready to learn better.
Here are a few of the things we do in our class as movement breaks. Kids break into big, bright-eyed grins, and morale stays high, in part because of these fun activities. Kids respond well to these as breaks or transitions. Make sure to teach and practice how to do these with adequate personal space and appropriate self-control for each student:
1. Bag o’ Tricks
Write movement directions on slips of paper. For instance,” Do 5 jumping jacks.” Another might say, “Flap your wings like a chicken and cluck 10 times.” Put 10 or 20 of these into a paper bag. Have students choose one at a time whenever the class needs a break. Kids should move behind their chairs, and make sure they have enough personal space so they don’t bump into others.
2. Class Cha-Cha Line
Students form a circle around the room. They face either clockwise or counterclockwise, and gently place their hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them. The teacher starts the chant of, “Cha,cha,cha,cha,cha,CHA!” Kids start moving, and at each accented syllable, students kick a leg out to the side. The line moves all the way around the room once.
3. The Wave
With a practiced sequence, students do the wave by standing, then sitting in immediate succession around the room. It’s just like you see at the sports stadiums. It builds teamwork and takes practice to get really smooth with the wave.
4. Follow the Leader
A student leader leads basic calisthenics and/or more imaginative movements at the front of the room. The rest of the class follows. When the teacher rings the bell, the leader chooses a new leader to take over, or chooses a name stick from a bucket for a random choice.
5. Buzzing Refocusing Circles
When the energy level gets beyond manic, which will occasionally happen, bring it down and refocus with this activity. Students stand behind their chairs. Tell them you are all going to refocus their energy, and when you finish this activity, everyone will be ready to focus. Tell them to do exactly as you do, and make the same noises you make. Circle your hands way above your head, while making a fast, high, buzzing noise with your voice. Lower your hands down, and make bigger, slower circles, while lowering the pitch and speed of the buzzing noise. When you stop, say that everyone is ready to focus now. Get to work right away on something engaging.
Hopefully, your students will enjoy and benefit from these movement activities. If you have more ideas, please add them in the comments section.