Written by Lila Perkins
Too many things out of our control.
Did I raise your blood pressure yet? Or make you pop a blood vessel? If so, my apologies. But seriously, how do we protect our brains from the onslaught of news and information they absorb every day, on top of trying to keep our lives going? And how do we encourage our students to keep striving academically through it all?
“Sometimes you need to give yourself a break when you’ve had a lot of life change.”
— Barbara Freethy
According to Psychology Today’s Nick Morgan Ph.D., “Our brains still work. They’re just stressed out.”
“…attention spans,” he says, “once lost, don’t go to Mars, never to return, unless you get really, really lucky and the International Space Force commissions a rocket to rescue you. Rather, they need 30 seconds or less to refresh themselves and they are back, strong as ever, ready to raise your consciousness still further hour after hour.”
Dr. Morgan illuminates the importance of taking small breaks when completing day-to-day tasks. It is easier to tackle the challenge of brain-fatigue when working at a micro level.
Starting with something as simple as closing your eyes…
For 30 seconds, I invite you to enjoy the gifts of silence and stillness here with me. See what you notice in your body after you read this sentence.
Is your neck stiff from craning to look at your screen? Are your eyes sore and strained? Do your hands ache from endlessly typing and scrolling? How is your spine? Are you hunched over, lungs unable to fully expand on inhalation? Are you fidgeting, trying to stay focused?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you could use a Brain Break.
“Wisdom is knowing when to have rest, when to have activity, and how much of each to have.”
— Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
In my own lessons, I’ve witnessed how just 30 seconds of strengthening that precious mind-body connection makes a difference in the way our students process information. Committing to one or two Brain Breaks in a lesson that lasts about an hour can increase the overall amount of information they retain. Brain Breaks can also make the lesson more enjoyable to participate in!
So what does a BGL Brain Break look like? During a live virtual class, students need a traditional brain break as well as a break from watching a screen! We use many strategies to keep students engaged, focused and brain-ready. For instance, our puppet friend Olive from our Digital Citizenship programs has a marvelous routine that keeps her on track when studying and using technology!
We use Olive’s tools in many of our lessons. When we notice our students exhibiting signs of brain fatigue, our instructors work to ease them out of it with some gentle stretching, neck rolling, eye blinking, and good ol’ fashioned wiggling around. Reducing tension in the body makes one more receptive to taking in new information.
If someone asks me, “What are you stressed about?” I can usually name twenty things off the top of my head. But what about the classroom of students in front of me? I put myself in their shoes. A third-grader may have nothing ‘real’ to worry about in your eyes, until you consider things they may be hiding for the sake of doing well in school.
This pandemic is affecting kids in ways we as a society will not be able to grapple with until years from now, when they’re old enough to put more words to their feelings. On top of the stress of being too young to understand many things in the world around them, today’s youth must constantly worry about this unprecedented pandemic. And climate change. And gun violence in schools. And… well, anything you’re worrying about, trust and believe the kids are worrying about it, too.
Many if not most children these days have 24/7 access to the same news and media outlets that adults do. They see what we see. They hear what we hear. They feel the same stress we feel. And many of these children are told that their stress is nothing compared to what adults deal with. This cannot be further from the truth.
“There’s room for all of you, and for everything you experience—the grim and the glorious, the wounded, wounding, healing and healed.”
— Hiro Boga
It is the responsibility of those in positions of power and influence to provide the empathy and support that children need in this moment. The very least I as an educator can do for them is carve out 30 seconds of my lessons to make sure their brains can cool down and reset. When they watch me wiggle around and make a fool of myself, and they smile and join in- I know this is worth it. No matter how small, these Brain Breaks are worth it. When time allows, I do more than 30 seconds, inviting them to suggest a relaxing movement or activity. I encourage them to connect with their own bodies and see what they need in these moments of brain fatigue.
I see the disruption that this pandemic has caused as an opportunity for educators to restructure the way we all teach and learn. We need to be more connected with our brains and bodies now than ever before. We must validate the stress we all feel, and do our best to support each other. Give your own brain a break. Teach these kids to give their brains a break. Prioritize reducing stress. We all deserve that much.