Research supports the use of classroom exercises during the school day. Regular exercise breaks for elementary students helps improve learning and classroom behavior. Physical movement breaks increase focus, attention, and memory so that kids retain information. Routine classroom exercise and physical activity breaks improve test scores and executive function in kids. Choosing specific types of exercise in elementary schools supports motor development and stimulates sensory pathways in the brain.
Throughout my years of working in the schools as an occupational therapist, I often collaborate with teachers in creating classroom exercise programs.
I make sure that the exercise programs I create address several areas of development. It’s important to make every movement break count in order to maximize the benefits for kids.
My classroom exercises incorporate activities that stimulate and strengthen sensory pathways for attention and learning in a child’s brain. They focus on using movement, balance and vestibular input as well as calming and organizing proprioceptive input for the muscles. Whole class exercises should also address posture, core strength, and fine motor skill development in the body.
Decades ago, I would share classroom exercises for special needs students that I worked with in elementary schools. But now, teachers and I are finding that the movement activities and OT strategies benefit ALL SCHOOL-AGED CHILDREN!
Why Do Kids Need Brain Breaks and Classroom Exercises?
There are so many changes in society right now that negatively impact development.
Changes in play and routines during infancy, toddlerhood and preschool interfere with typical sensory and physical development.
Additionally, the increased use of technology impacts motor skill development and attention.
Kids’ bodies aren’t developing the strong foundation they need for optimal school-age performance. So many teachers I know report difficulties with attention and basic motor skills from the entire class. They see this as the “new normal.”
Their students struggle to pay attention and to complete basic fine motor activities such as managing their belongings and opening lunch containers.
I find it absolutely shocking how quickly a whole class of elementary students fatigue with the simplest movement activity! During my whole class OT lessons, many kids struggle to hold their arms out to the sides. They can’t stand near their desk or in the hall without leaning against something for support!
Kids’ bodies need more routine physical activity. Classroom exercises can be easily added to learning routines.
Research Studies Show the Effectiveness of Classroom Exercise Programs
Show me the …data!
When working in elementary schools, there’s always that need for evidence-based practices. We can’t just do fun, cool activities that support cognitive function and academic achievement. We need proof!
The proof and evidence support what we do and it’s important for best practices.
Moreover, it shows state and federal programs the effectiveness and positive effect of physical activities.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Center for Disease Control and Prevention shares an in-depth study, The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance. Part of this study shows the effectiveness of classroom physical activity and its positive impact on academics.
Classroom physical exercises increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain. It enhances connections in the brain. Physical Activity, Brain and Cognition – Science Direct shares this supporting evidence. Many other studies show the positive effects of physical activity on the brain. Exercise enhances brain health and executive function.
Additionally, there’s an increase in childhood obesity in the United States due to a lack of physical activity and increased sedentary play. Adding routine movement breaks can help kids create better life habits.
Exercise improves mental health and reduces stress. It makes learning fun!
John J. Ratey, MD, is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, best selling author, and an internationally recognized expert in Neuropsychiatry. One of his publications, “Spark-The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain” discusses the transformative effects of exercise on the brain.
When referring to the types of physical exercises that should be chosen for the body, Dr. Ratey states: “The more you challenge your brain, the better the brain works.”
Hence why I created this exercise program for your students!
Challenge various parts of children’s bodies… to stimulate more parts of their brains!
School-Based Classroom Exercises and Activities for Kids
When I help teachers create exercise programs, I often create activity banks and lists. I make different categories of brain break exercises, daily physical exercises or helpful fine motor activities for a teacher to choose from.
On this site, there are already several blog posts with lists of activities and fun exercises for kids:
- 25 Heavy Work / Deep Pressure Activities (proprioceptive brain breaks – free printable)
- Brain Break Exercise Series (using components of Brain Gym – free printable)
- 48 Alerting Sensory Strategies for the classroom
- 40 Core Exercises for Kids – Fun in Occupational Therapy (free printable)
- 30 Fun Movement Activities and Ideas for Elementary Kids
- 17 Special Balance and Movement Activities to Improve Visual Skills
- Core Stability Activities Using a Vertical Surface and / or the floor (free printable)
- 18 Quick Crossing Midline Activities
- Bilateral Coordination Activities
- Infinity Loop Exercises for Visual Tracking
- Activities to Enhance Reading Skills (click for link to free printable; related posts with the printable: visual skills activities and auditory activities)
- 61 Fun Gross Motor Activities for Elementary Indoor Recess
- The Best and Quickest Handwriting Warm Up Exercises
- 107+ Easy OT Hand Strengthening Activities & Games for Kids
- 33 Sensory Kindergarten and Preschool Writing Activities
- Dexterity in the Hands: 43 In-Hand Manipulation Activities & Games to Improve Handwriting
- 42 Easy Visual Perceptual Activities That Enhance Learning
Many teachers, therapists and parents appreciate the lists of ideas. They serve as quick references of activities and exercises for kids.
Some teachers that I talk to end up not knowing when to use them, for how long, and how often.
So, I created a comprehensive classroom exercise program that addresses sensory-motor, core, and fine motor skill development.
An Easy Classroom Exercise Program
This occupational therapy classroom exercise program includes activities that support skills needed for the classroom. It consists of a schedule of activities and specifies how many of each exercise to perform.
I developed a specific sequence that benefits kids. The sequence addresses important foundational skills for the brain and body.
Additionally, I’ve found that repeating a series of exercises for a week is really helpful for the students. It helps each child improve their skill level with each task.
They practice each series every day for an entire week. This helps to improve motor memory. (And for some to gain personal bests.)
Repeating the sequence for a week helps kids focus on making sure they perform each movement activity and exercise correctly. It’s better than jumping around or rushing through new exercises and different exercises every day.
And the best part, each week of this exercise series can be completed in about 2 minutes. It’s so easy to add to your day!
What Are the Benefits of This 8-Week Classroom Exercise Brain Break Series?
Whenever I choose (or help teachers choose) brain breaks for kids, I make sure that they address the sensory systems and sensorimotor development. This classroom exercise series does just that!
Each of the exercises were carefully selected and grouped in specific combinations. This ensures that each week of the physical activities is addressing development.
This 8-week Brain Break Exercise Program only requires a few minutes of physical activity in your students’ day. The benefits and goals of this program:
1. Activates various parts of the brain to prepare it for learning
This classroom exercise program includes Brain Gym exercises. These simple physical movements stimulate the top, bottom, front, back, left, and right sides of the brain.
Activating all parts of the brain for learning is a great way to get your students ready for a lesson!
2. Increases focus & attention
Moving the head in specific directions increases alertness and wakes up the brain. It stimulates the semi-circular canals in the vestibular system.
Balancing activities give input to the muscles, the movement system, and the eyes.
Activating certain muscle groups during balancing or during specific exercises provides calming and organizing input for the brain. This in turn, helps kids focus and learn better!
3. Encourages crossing midline to enhance communication of both sides of the brain
Midline crossing activities are embedded into this classroom exercise program. It’s important for the right hand and the left hand to cross over the imaginary middle line of the body (as well as the feet and eyes.)
Specific movements that cross the center of the body help neurons in the brain cross from one side to the other. This strengthens neural pathways in the brain for learning.
Helping both sides of the brain communicate also helps decrease letter and number reversals.
Additionally, crossing midline helps both hands work together for writing, cutting and fine motor activities. And, it helps kids with hand dominance.
4. Stimulates the visual system for daily learning activities
The visual exercises included in this series help the eyes cross the midline of the body. They work on visual tracking.
This is extremely important for reading and writing. The eyes are busy moving around, tracking, and focusing.
Additionally, the balancing activities also support the visual system and the eye muscles.
5. Improves core strength and stability for sitting upright & attending
Many children are not developing the core strength they need before they start school.
This significantly impacts their ability to simply sit upright.
If they are constantly shifting around to use different muscle groups, they lose focus on work.
The exercises included increase core strength and stability.
6. Develops stability in the upper back and shoulders to help the hands complete fine motor tasks during learning
A child needs a strong core as well as upper body stability. Decreased tummy time in their earlier years causes weakness in the upper back, necks and shoulders.
Exercises in this program target upper back, neck and shoulder muscles.
7. Increases awareness in the body and hands for more success completing school tasks
The exercises for the hands stretch and activate the small muscles. They give motor feedback to the hands to increase strength and help with awareness and coordination.
8. Improves dexterity needed for school tasks (in the arms & hands)
As the weeks in the program continue, exercises are added to work on smaller movements in the fingers. Hand dexterity is extremely important for writing efficiently. And for completing fine motor tasks without fatigue.
9. Makes physical movement a fun part of a student’s day
The additional benefits of this program are that kids are learning to move their bodies to help with learning. The activities are fun and engaging.
10. Easy for you to add to the learning routine
The last benefit of this exercise program is that it’s an easy one to add to your current learning routines. It doesn’t take up that much time.
Classroom Exercise Program – An 8 Week Brain Break Series to Help Your Students Succeed!
This 8-Week Classroom Exercise Program is beneficial for elementary and middle school students. You will have lifetime access to this program with your purchase.
The program comes in a PDF format. Download it or save it to your drive and pull it up on your screen. Or, print it once for your use.
It can be used as often as you like throughout your school year. Start it at the beginning of the new school year or start it after a long holiday break.
If you choose to use it at the beginning of the year, you will have time to repeat it. You can re-start the series after a holiday break and then in the spring for the end of the school year.
These movement exercises will help your kids improve attention & focus using movement, balance & muscle input.
Developed by an Occupational Therapist – the exercises and movement activities target crossing midline, core stability, postural support for fine motor development, hand awareness, finger movements, & more… Help engage your kids in learning – stimulate the brain by using developmentally appropriate exercises and activities!
Practice each exercise sequence – in UNDER 2 MINUTES – for an entire week to develop fine motor and sensory based attention skills needed for the classroom! Repeating the sequence all week encourages students to improve what they can do by the end of each series. They can work for personal bests to help their bodies and brains.
Click the button to get your Brain Break Exercise Program:
In addition to using this exercise program, make sure that your kids are getting adequate vigorous physical activity at recess, at home and during physical education. Please don’t ever withhold recess or outdoor time from them!
Feedback from Teachers who Use My OT Brain Breaks and the Classroom Exercise Program
If you have been following Develop Learn Grow or have read a few other posts, you know how passionate I am about getting kids the right kind of input for their bodies and brains.
I love sharing practical strategies that make it easy for you to help more kids.
The academic expectations for kids has changed – BUT development has not changed. And it never will.
I’m here for you… to share my background and experience… in order to help you help your students!
I love what I do! I enjoy sharing activities in order to help more students thrive.
Some feedback that I’ve received:
“We wish we had this information and these exercises before our students had to take their state tests.” -Collaborating Learning Support Teachers
“Everything that you share for my young students is so important for their development. I can’t believe none of this was covered in my college courses!” -Third year teacher