young girl of asian descent takes a brain break by sliding down slide on playground smiling

Why Brain Breaks are Even More Important at the End of the School Year

Did you know that taking short outdoor brain breaks during the school day can help you learn better? When the school year is almost over and the sun starts shining more, it's easy to dream about summer vacation. So, let's talk about what brain breaks are and why they matter so much at the end of the year.

Brain breaks are a short time when you stop doing schoolwork and do something different, like taking a walk, playing a quick game, or just sitting quietly and thinking about something else. Brain breaks are especially helpful towards the end of the school year when everyone's excited about the nice weather, ready for summer break, or stressed about final exams.

According to research, our brains can't focus for prolonged periods of time. This is especially true the younger a student is. After about 20 minutes of focusing, our brains start to get tired and we can't learn as well (Scientific American). When we're close to the end of the school year, this can be an even bigger problem. But brain breaks can help our brains get ready to focus again.

The nice weather can help with brain breaks, too! Research shows that spending time outside in nature can make you feel happier and think better (Harvard Health Publishing). So, outdoor brain breaks like a short walk or game can give your mind some rest and help it work better at the same time. You can even incorporate curriculum in fun ways.

Here are a few more great examples for both younger and older students (and some for both!):

Elementary Brain Breaks

  • Extra recess!
  • Tag games
  • Nature scavenger hunt
  • Jump rope challenges
  • Sidewalk chalk art
  • Yoga
  • Outdoor story time/quiet reading

Middle School/High School Brain Breaks

  • Walking meditation
  • Frisbee/ball games
  • Gardening
  • Outdoor sketching/journaling
  • Bird/plant identification
  • Yoga
  • Mindfulness exercises

Remember, the goal of brain breaks is to give students a mental rest and help them refocus, so choose activities that are enjoyable and stress-free! 

Brain breaks are also great for helping us deal with stress. At the end of the year, we might feel nervous about exams or sad about saying goodbye to friends for the summer. Group games during brain breaks can help us feel closer to our friends, and quiet thinking time can help us feel calmer (Edutopia). 

As we finish up the school year and the weather turns warmer, remember how important brain breaks are. They can help us learn better, feel less stressed, and even enjoy school more, even when summer vacation is just around the corner. So, let's make the most of brain breaks. Remember, it isn't just relaxing—it's actually helping us learn! 


5 Reasons for Teachers to Co-Regulate Emotions

5 Reasons for Teachers to Co-Regulate Emotions (and How to Start from Day One)

We cannot expect children who are already stressed and activated to be able to regulate on their own. They need our help. When you help a child regulate, rather than expecting them to regulate on their own, it is called co-regulation. Adults underestimate how much children and adolescents require adult support and guidance to manage their feelings when they are worried, angry, hurt or scared. When adults provide the correct strategies for regulating emotion, the results can mean the world to a child’s success.

  • Improved attitudes towards self, school, and others
  • Enhanced positive pro-social behavior
  • Reduced misbehavior and aggression
  • Reduced emotional distress
  • Improved academic performance

How can I help my students co-regulate emotions?

Be with a child when they are feeling out of control emotionally and/or behaviorally. Your demeanor is important. The less words you use at this time, the better. Simply let the child know you understand they are feeling overwhelmed and you are there to help them until they feel more in control of their emotions and behavior.

Start by teaching breathwork and movement activities to children and then practice them on a regular basis. Encourage them to practice the activities on their own or with the help of their parent/caregiver. The goal is for them to easily engage in breathing or movement changes when they need help regulating their emotions or behaviors. The more they practice, the easier it will become for them to call upon these resources during uncomfortable or overwhelming situations.

The calmer you remain, the more the child will begin to calm down.  Model how to regulate by taking a deep breath, walking slowly, or distracting the child with play or drawing. Practice this often. It takes many co-regulation experiences for some children to learn how to do so on their own.


Start teaching breathwork and movement activities to children and then practice them on a regular basis. The goal is for them to easily engage in breathing or movement changes when they need help regulating their emotions or behaviors. The more they practice, the easier it will become for them to call upon these resources during uncomfortable or overwhelming situations. Learn more and download our free co-regulation activity below.

More related resources from Starr Commonwealth

The Power of Mindfulness in the Classroom

Notice your body. Lengthen your spine by sitting tall and straight. Feel your feet planted on the floor. Focus on your belly and imagine a balloon in that space. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nostrils, imagining the balloon inflating, getting bigger, larger. Hold. Then slowly exhale through your mouth, imagining the balloon deflating. Practice this a few more times. Notice how you are feeling in the present moment. 

You have just controlled your heart rate, decreased your blood pressure, reduced stress chemicals in your brain, improved your emotional regulation and executive functioning, developed your physical awareness, increased your ability to focus and given yourself an experience of calm. You have just practiced mindfulness. It took less than a minute, and cost nothing.

Imagine if every teacher across the country started tests this way. Consider what could happen if we practiced breathing with kids in moments of conflict instead of sending them to detention. What impact could this have on a child’s ability to focus, regulate emotion and build resilience? What impact could mindfulness practice have on a teacher’s stress level, job satisfaction and ability to connect with students? We tell kids to focus. Why don’t we teach kids how to focus? Why don’t we teach mindfulness to kids?

“She can’t sit still.”
“He’s so emotional, he can’t cope.”
“He’s impulsive, and can’t control himself.”

I have heard these phrases time and again as teachers seek intervention support for their kids. While brain breaks help discharge activation, 1:1 interventions build connection. While behavior plans and screening for ADD and trauma may give us insight, we still need to teach kids the self-regulation techniques they need to be successful.

So, what is mindfulness and how can it help schools? Mindfulness is paying attention to what is happening in the present moment, without judgement. When we practice mindfulness, we rest our awareness on body sensations, emotions, thoughts, senses and environment.It does not always look like sitting still and quiet. We can practice mindfulness with movement, listening, eating, walking – the possibilities for present moment awareness are endless.

When people practice mindfulness in calm times, they are building neuropathways for coping when things get difficult. In the same way we train our muscles to get stronger, mindfulness trains our brains to manage impulses, emotions and sensations. Instead of punishing behavior, mindfulness teaches a strategy for finding focus.

The goal of mindfulness is not to stop emotion or thought: it is to notice and name emotions. When feelings are labeled, we are not at their mercy. Pretty powerful, considering that research shows when we identify emotion, thought and sensation it decreases responses in the amygdala, the area of the brain that detects fear and sets off a series of biological actions (Lieberman, 2007). When we have trained our brains in this way, we automatically reintegrate the cognitive brain to respond in situations rather than default to the fight, flight or freeze functions of the primitive, sensory brain.

Research shows that mindfulness changes the human brain. After eight weeks of regular mindfulness practice, brain volume increases in two areas: the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning, storage of memories, spatial orientation and regulation of emotions, and the Tempo parietal junction, which is responsible for empathy and compassion. One area where brain volume decreased was the amygdala, the structure responsible for triggering the fight-or-flight responses.

I have seen the impact of consistent practice on kids and teachers first hand. Lucy (pseudonym), a first grader, was struggling to stay in her seat and complete any tasks. Academically, Lucy was impacted by her inability to pay attention. Her teacher was considering having her go back to Kindergarten. We decided to implement a morning mindfulness break. Soon Lucy was able to identify when her body felt wiggly, and then she would choose a practice to, “help the wiggles calm down.” A few months later, Lucy’s teacher reported that Lucy was consistently demonstrating she was at grade level academically, and was having more success with completing tasks. The teacher also noticed that when Lucy was losing focus, she closed her eyes at her seat and put her hand on her belly to feel her breath. The teacher asked Lucy to teach the whole class how to practice mindfulness. Before they took a test that week, some of the kids had requested to practice again. The teacher noticed her own stress level had reduced as they added mindfulness to their school day. This is the power of mindfulness practice.

So, what do we have to lose by adding a moment of awareness to each day?

Zapeleta, Kristyna. June 26, 2017

Neuroscience of Mindfulness: What Happens to Your Brain When you Meditate

Observer.Retrieved from:

Lieberman MD, Eisenberger NI, Crockette MJ, Tom SM, Pfiefer JH, Way BM. May 18, 2007

Putting feelings into words: affect labeling disrupts amygdala activity in response to affective stimuli 

Psychological Science 421-8.Retrieved from: