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Why Is Break Time in School Important?

CCA student holding a whiteboard with a math problem

In a culture in which “nose to the grindstone” is a sign of strength, it’s no wonder that we expect kids to study and never come up for air. Just try harder, their schools tell them, and you’ll be a better student. 

Science knows otherwise. Why are breaks important in school? Because the human brain and body need their own little getaways. The mind needs time to absorb and process new information. The body needs activity that rejuvenates muscles and rest that refills depleted fuel tanks. 

Your child needs to take frequent breaks. Fortunately, online learning offers an escape from the grind of the traditional school and study routines.

Why Are Break Times Disappearing in Public Schools?

Twenty-five minutes. That’s the average amount of time that children have for recess in a typical school day. That’s considerably less than children in Finland, who get about 75 minutes of recess a day. In Japan, children get breaks of 10 or 15 minutes every hour — and that’s in addition to regular recess.

Some U.S. schools offer no recess at all, relying only on physical education classes for activity. In one survey, schools said they don’t offer recess because they need the time for academics, or because the school day is too short. Some schools and teachers dangle recess as a reward or cancel it as punishment for bad behavior. 

Why should students have breaks during the school day? There are consequences that affect health and academic performance.

  • Decreased physical activity increases the risk of childhood obesity. Overweight and obese children have a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and asthma.
  • Lack of recess increases childhood depression and anxiety. Children face daily pressures to score well on tests and earn better grades. Tackling one cognitive challenge after another without recess raises stress levels and increases the risk of developing anxiety. 
  • Children without recess have decreased academic performance. As one report puts it, “more class time does not lead to better scores.” Brain scans show improved neural activity in bodies that are moving, and consistent physical activity also improves memory function.  

What Are Examples of Learning Breaks?

Parents might be wondering, “Is taking breaks while studying good?” The answer is yes, but that raises another question. What kind of breaks really make a difference?

Children can get breaks for the mind and body in several ways.

  • Recess: In some states, schools can substitute physical education class for recess, but they are not the same thing. Physical education class teaches valuable lessons about sportsmanship and teamwork, but it is structured and controlled. Recess offers “unstructured time,” when kids get a break from adults giving directives. Instead, as the American Academy of Pediatrics notes, they get to “rest, play, imagine, think, move, and socialize.” 
  • Lunchtime: Just like recess, lunchtime is feeling the squeeze of time constraints in school. Lunch breaks that are as short as 15 minutes don’t give children enough time to unwind, eat a nutritious meal and prepare for the rest of the afternoon. 
  • Naps: When preschoolers nap, their young brains are processing everything they’re learning every day. Now, researchers say that some children still need naps in kindergarten and the early elementary years. Brains develop differently, and some children deprived of naps forget more of their lessons. Plus, at this age, children are going through phases during which they cycle in and out, sometimes needing naps and sometimes not.
  • Creative brain breaks: Ever get to work and realize that you don’t remember the drive there? The routine sent your brain into autopilot. The same thing happens with kids when information comes at them in the same, predictable ways. Their brains just tune it out. Creative brain breaks recharge the prefrontal cortex — the center of problem-solving and emotional regulation — and force it to look at problems from new perspectives. For a fun brain break, invite children to reimagine new uses for old items, play with clay or practice sign language for 30 seconds.

Why Brain Breaks Are Essential for Student Development

Kids were born to burn energy. It’s how their bodies grow and their young minds take the time to process new information. Recess and playtime build social, emotional and cognitive development in truly meaningful ways.

Maybe you’re wondering, “Is taking breaks while studying good?” It definitely is, and these benefits show why. Taking breaks helps children:

  • Develop social skills: All day long, kids hear adults telling them how to behave. Recess and playtime give children chances to practice and role play those essential social skills. They are learning to build such communication skills as negotiating, cooperating and sharing. They also learn perseverance and self-control, and they are managing stress, which helps their cognitive development when they return to the classroom. Physical activity also helps children manage behavioral disorders. For instance, one study showed that 30 minutes of unstructured play time improved impulsivity and aggression in children with ADHD. Games that promote inclusion include rounds of four square in which children rotate out after three serves. To resolve conflicts on their own, kids can play old-fashioned games of rock-paper-scissors.  
  • Get physical exercise: Children need 60 minutes of physical activity every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fortunately, it doesn’t all have to come at once. Children at recess can move in ways that blow off steam and just feel right for their bodies. Some children will naturally run around or swing from overhead ladders, but even those who do minor movement are offsetting sedentary time at school and at home. Physical activity promotes academic performance by improving concentration and attention. It increases oxygen flow to the brain, builds brain neurotransmitters, and increases the proteins that support the neurons in the brain responsible for learning, memory and higher-order thinking. 
  • Reduce stress: We like to think that childhood is an idyllic, carefree time, but in reality kids are confronted with stress every day. Pass the test. Get better grades. Learn this lesson. It’s a lot to deal with, especially on top of social demands, family disruptions and worries about changes at home and in school. Children need to release stress through creative brain breaks and unstructured playtime.   
  • Increase productivity and attentiveness: Young children who get recess and adolescents who take a break are more attentive and perform better cognitively when they return to the classroom. Simply switching from one lesson to another without pause doesn’t give the brain the break it needs. Children need time to process a lesson before they can move on to the next. In fact, the longer they’re held to a specific task, the less able they are to process information. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that any kind of break helps kids refocus cognitively. Other studies show that moderate to vigorous exercise is likeliest to improve cognitive performance. Even stand-sit desks give children the option to get on their feet, which generates physical activity that keeps young brains more active.

How Can Parents Encourage Breaks During Online Learning?

In the age of online learning, parents and students are asking, “How often should I take breaks from studying?” 

The answer depends on the student’s age and capabilities. For younger children, short breaks every 10 or 15 minutes encourage an academic reboot. Consider “interval breaks,” setting a timer for five or 10 minutes, and then taking a two-minute break. 

Adolescents need breaks every 20 or 30 minutes. They often benefit from “ratio breaks,” when breaks are tied to things like completing one homework assignment or a certain number of academic exercises. 

Still, kids who feel pressured to achieve might need encouragement to take breaks. Others find it hard to get enthusiastic about screen time for school, which is different from screen time for fun. 

Try these tips to balance online learning time with the breaks your child needs.

  • While it’s wise to limit screen time, it’s OK to use daily screen time as a mental getaway. Passive time watching videos, unwinding with video games or chatting with friends gives children a chance to have fun without the pressure to absorb new information. 
  • Kids are born to move. Even if there’s no time to run outside, let them walk around the room between lessons.
  • Let kids do what they love. If yoga or karate is a passion, turn it into a break. If they love to tell stories, give them a two-minute challenge to make up a tale about an item in the room. 

CCA Provides a Healthy Balance of Work and Free Time

Even with remote learning, traditional schools still say that school is in when the bell rings, but CCA families know that online schooling can flex to meet their schedules. CCA’s unique approach to personalized learning connects children and families with learning that suits their needs.

CCA’s flexible learning environment offers:

  • Freedom in daily school schedule: CCA’s online model allows kids to learn on their own time, so they can take the breaks they need to recharge their batteries or pursue their passions. 
  • Pause buttons: Traditional schools demand that students stay seated for long stretches, but some children need to move. Online learning lets parents and kids call for breaks whenever they’re needed. 
  • Lesson review: CCA’s classroom sessions are recorded, so learners can take the time to think about new concepts before moving on to the next. 
  • Personalized learning: Children are more enthusiastic about academics when they see the connections between school and the things they love. CCA customizes curricula and lesson plans to suit children’s interests, channeling them toward career planning that ensures success after graduation, whether the child chooses college, career training, the workforce or military service.

CCA Gives Kids Time to Learn and Play

Kids love to move, and they love to learn. Unfortunately, traditional schooling too often sacrifices the benefits of breaks to the drive for standardized test scores. It doesn’t have to be that way. Through CCA’s personalized, flexible education, your child can pursue a learning plan that balances a rich academic curriculum with the need to play. The result is a healthy mind and body. Find out more about how we can provide your child with the ideal learning balance by contacting us today.

Author

Commonwealth Charter Academy

Published

June 1st, 2021

Category

Learning Lab

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