Children today are now more likely to be consuming and digesting slices of aerobic exercises with a healthy pinch of brain gym workouts sandwiched between lessons

Here’s some food for thought to explain why these child-friendly activities are on the increase – high-fat, high sugar diets have turned British children into a population of heavy weights. Obesity has risen, from 5% in the late 1980s to as much as 17% in the 15-year-old age group in the late 1990s with one in five nine year olds thought to be overweight.

As childhood obesity continues to rise so do the risks for these children developing an array of is-eases in later life, including diabetes, heart and blood vessel disease, several cancers, and hyper-tension (high blood pressure). Obesity has also been associated with difficulties in breathing during sleep, asthma and serious liver and kidney conditions. By helping children understand the importance of a exercise combined with healthy snacks and meals, children will develop healthy habits that will have a positive impact on them for life.

Separate to the issue of healthy eating is concentration. Children and adults learn more effectively when the information they receive is chunked and given little and often. Expecting anyone to learn for hours at a time without a break is unreasonable which is why brain breaks are the talk of the town. A desk gym approach to learning is now to be taken seriously to take off the pounds and to keep the brain active and alert. Brain Breaks are simple transitional physical and mental exercises designed to:

  • equip the teacher with tools to manage the physiology and attention of the class;
  • keep children in the most receptive state for learning.

Enhanced learning through movement (educational kinesiology) increases the oxygen in the blood stream and leads to improved concentration and can enhance children’s readiness for learning. Structured movements consciously activate the whole mind body system, stimulating nervous-system activity equally in all parts of the brain.

Brain breaks are moments to step outside of curriculum subject lessons and divert the mind into a new context allowing it to:

  • breathe;
  • relax;
  • recharge;
  • refocus.

Breaks energise, enthuse and re-ignite tired or busy minds. Regular brain breaks are a major feature of accelerated learning allowing children to experience stress-free enjoyable activities.

Use brain breaks to:

  • alleviate anxiety;
  • improve physical fitness;
  • improve fine and large motor movement;
  • develop co-ordination and laterality;
  • to locate inappropriate behaviours;
  • to connect to learning.

Brain breaks can be used to begin morning and afternoon sessions, in between lessons or as a reward for working hard.

25 brain breaks to try in class

1 Practise rolling your head in circles, slowly one way, then slowly the other way. Then practise deep breathing – count in and out slowly for ten breaths.

2 Choose a piece of energetic music and perform actions for children to mime and copy.

3 Write the key vocabulary from the lesson in the air with one hand. Now try doing the same with your nose. Write the keywords on your partner’s back and see if they can work out what you wrote.

4 Trace the number 8 in the air with two hands held together keeping your head still.

5 Practise finger aerobics – sit opposite a partner and both place your hands flat on the desk. Take turns to lift different fingers then try it together and in sequence. Try simple lifts, taps and then stretches.

6 Stand on one leg whilst writing the alphabet in the air.

7 Mime an everyday task around the home or in school and ask your partner to guess what it is. For example, washing the dishes or changing a nappy!

8 Practise making three faces – extremely happy, very sad or really confused. Children stand up whilst you face away from them. Children have to guess which face you will pull by pulling a face themselves. When you turn round, if they pull the same face as you then they score a point.

9 Choose a piece of dramatic classical music then organise the class into small groups telling them which instrument they are going to mime playing. Allow children to ‘warm-up’ then play the music and conduct the silent orchestra as they play.

10 Blow up some balloons and put inside a silly message. Divide the children into small groups and give each team a balloon. One member of the group is elected to burst the balloon but must do what the message asks!

11 Tape two large pieces of paper to the wall and split the class into two teams. Give each team a coloured pen and challenge the children to draw a picture, e.g. a dog driving a bus, a camel surfing. Children take turns to draw for ten seconds at a time. Use a bell to signal when to swap over. Each team tries to guess what the other team has drawn.

12 Ask children to imagine that their hands are their feet then get them to show you how they would eat their lunch, wash their hair, write in their books. Adapt this activity and ask children to imagine their eyes on their knees or their noses on their elbows.

13 Give children a piece of funny text and assign particular words and punctuation marks with a silly sound. For example, a full stop could be a drum, a comma could be a bell, an exclamation mark could be a collective sigh, a question mark might involve everyone standing up and scratching their heads and speech marks could be two claps.

14 With a partner children can tell the class one-line jokes. Children take it in turns to come out to the front of the class with one child asking a question (e.g.’ What do you get if you cross a field with a cow?) and the other child repeating the question by saying ‘I don’t know, what do you get if…’ with the rest of the class saying ‘Boom, Boom! when the punch line is told (a lawn-mower). Repeat this quickly at a pace so that the momentum is not lost.

15 With one hand pat your head, and with the other circle your tummy. Swap actions or hands, change direction.

16 Put your arms straight down and point your index fingers to the floor. Now close eyes and draw the biggest circle you can with both fingers. Get children to join exactly at the top.

17 Move your right hand to hold your left ear then your left hand to hold your nose. Now swap and repeat again and again.

18 Lift your left knee and touch with your right hand, then right knee to left hand. Progress to elbows and knee, then hands around back to opposite heels.

19 Hold your ears and slowly roll your ear lobes between finger and thumb. Do it nice and slowly and all the way around your ear. How does it feel?

20 With your elbows at shoulder height, practise making big circles, then small circles, forwards and backwards.

21 Use finger sums by showing your partner a number sum with your fingers and then seeing if your partner can get the correct answer.

22 Stand opposite a partner and place your palms against your partner’s palms, then make the numbers 1-20 together in the air.

23 Face a friend and draw their outline in the air with two hands together following your hand movements with your eyes only.

24 Practise yawning stretching your mouth as wide as possible and sticking your chin out from side to side.

25 Sitting down on your hands, extend your feet forwards and rotate your feet in opposite directions.

And finally…

Drinking water in lessons has become more commonplace as a way of keeping the brain in tiptop condition. However, it is still the case that certain fluid intakes, such as fizzy drinks and those containing colourings or additives, are causing havoc in the classrooms.


There is emerging evidence that a three-pronged approach to class life is having a significant impact on children’s learning. Physical exercises and brain gym mixed with regular sips of water make children brighter, happier and more motivated. A clear strategy to incorporate these simple practices in school can have profound implications for children’s learning.

This article first appeared in Teaching Expertise, April 2004.