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How brain breaks can help kids with homework frustration

By Amanda Morin

Most kids struggle with homework from time to time. But kids who learn and think differently may struggle more often — even every day. They may find homework to be extra frustrating and harder to get through.

Brain breaks during homework or lengthy chores can help relieve that frustration. A brain break is just what it sounds like: a break from whatever kids are focusing on. 

Short brain breaks during work time have been shown to have real benefits. They reduce stress, anxiety, and frustration. And they can help kids focus and be more productive. 

Brain breaks can also help kids learn to self-regulate and be more aware of when they’re getting fed up or losing track of what they’re doing. That’s especially helpful for kids who struggle with .

Being able to return to a task and get it done builds self-confidence and self-esteem, too. It shows kids they can work through homework challenges. This can motivate them to keep trying.

Dive deeper

Examples of movement brain breaks

The goal of brain breaks for kids is to help the brain shift focus. Sometimes that means getting up and moving, especially if kids have been sitting for a while. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which helps with focus and staying alert. It also reduces stress and anxiety, making it easier to focus on important tasks.

Research has also shown that kids learn more quickly after they’ve exercised. In one study, kids were 20 percent faster at learning vocabulary words after they’d exercised than when they hadn’t. 

Here are some examples of movement brain breaks:

  • Stretching breaks that include yoga poses (dog, cat, cow, bug, rock) and animal walks (walk like a bear, hop like a frog, stand like a flamingo, fly like a bird)

  • Wall push-ups

  • Regular push-ups

  • Yoga ball activities

  • Sit-ups

  • Jumping jacks

  • Running in place as fast as possible

  • Cross crawls (touch hand to opposite knee)

  • Rocket ship jumps (bending down, touching toes, and bouncing while counting down from 10, then blastoff)

  • Snow angels on the floor

Kids may also benefit from activities often used as part of a sensory diet . These might be oral-motor activities like chewing on a crunchy snack. Or it could be tactile activities, like using Silly Putty. 

See a sample sensory diet with over 50 activity suggestions.

Examples of quiet brain breaks

Brain breaks don’t always have to be active. Relaxing, quiet activities can have similar benefits. They may also be a better option for kids who can get overstimulated by a physical brain break. Active breaks may make it tougher for these kids to settle back down to do homework.

For kids who need quiet and relaxation, a brain break can be as simple as actively sitting still. While they do that, kids can also take a minute to feel their heartbeat.

Asking kids to do a short, guided meditation exercise , directed drawing, or doodling can work, too. Just a few minutes can be enough time to give the overworked area of the brain time to recharge.

Learn more about calming activities that kids can do on their own .

When to take brain breaks

For some kids, a brain break needs to happen when they’re getting frustrated or distracted. For others, it may be a reward for staying on task for a certain amount of time. Or it may be a step on the way to accomplishing a larger goal. (For example, taking a break after 10 minutes of silent reading may help kids finish 30 minutes of reading.)

There are two ways to schedule breaks: by intervals of time or by ratio of behaviors (number of tasks completed).

Interval breaks: Younger kids often benefit from taking breaks at timed intervals. For instance, work for five minutes and then take a two-minute break. 

You can use a timer to help kids understand how much time is passing. A timer also helps kids learn what they can do in a set amount of time. 

Give specific instructions about how long the break will last, and explain the activity. Then start the timer. The timer provides a built-in warning that the break is winding down. You can also use verbal reminders like, “Wasn’t that fun? Now it’s time to get back to your homework!”

Ratio breaks: Older kids tend to benefit from taking breaks that are tied to a certain number of behaviors. For instance, once kids complete their math homework they might take a five- or 10-minute brain break before moving on to English homework. Or after completing five out of 10 math problems, they take a break. 

Try using a homework contract to plan for when to take brain breaks. 

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