The bathroom. I couldn’t believe we were talking about the bathroom during my teacher evaluation last year. I thought I had a great plan for using the bathroom. My kindergarten students could use it one at a time. Early in the year I had discouraged them from leaving to use the bathroom when we were together at the carpet. We had a minilesson on how to figure out if the bathroom was free to use. The best time to use the bathroom was anytime away from the carpet during independent, partner, or small-group work. I didn’t want my students missing minilessons or read-alouds, which we typically do as a whole group to launch a workshop.
As I reflected on my teacher evaluation post-conference, I had an unsettling feeling and needed to figure out why my students were frequently using the bathroom. They were missing instruction and weren’t engaged in their learning. I found myself taking the easy way out and telling myself, “Well, they’re young and need to use the bathroom.”
When I reflected a little bit longer, I realized my minilessons and the discussions that would blossom from our learning were taking too long. My students needed to get up and move. I considered the organization of the day and was reminded that a minilesson should be just that: a small amount of time with a clear purpose to propel student learning and thinking. Gail Boushey and Joan Moser in The Daily 5 remind teachers, “The average number of years our children are in age parallels the average number of minutes they can maintain attention during direct instruction.” When I read this quote, it really put in perspective how long my students should be asked to focus. I needed to teach in smaller chunks, six to seven minutes at most, and include more brain breaks.
I also looked at brain research. Several articles I found suggested doing an activity to recapture the students’ attention, exercising, and aligning the activity to learning. When I use a book for a brain break, students are reading for craft and structure first. To begin moving, students need to interpret words and phrases as they are used. They are also quick to pick out text patterns. Brain-break books foster student conversations and collaboration as students change their movements to be similar to or different from each other.
My students have always enjoyed books in which movement is encouraged. I’ll never forget the first time I read From Head to Toe by Eric Carle. Without any prompting, 24 kindergartners were raising their shoulders, waving their arms, and wriggling their hips just like a crocodile. Over this past year, I began collecting and expanding my list of brain-break books. These books will help our students refocus, continue learning, and enjoy literacy.
How Do You Wokka–Wokka? by Elizabeth Bluemle
A little boy begins his day by asking friends he passes, “How do you wokka-wokka?” Each time a friend shares in words and action how they wokka-wokka, the group grows larger, until the neighborhood has gathered to wokka.
Bounce by Doreen Cronin
Readers are encouraged to try lots of different ways to bounce, and their imaginations will need to be active.
Wiggle by Doreen Cronin
Readers are encouraged to wiggle lots of different things on their bodies as other creatures would.
Stretch by Doreen Cronin
Readers begin stretching their own bodies based on various suggestions from the text and then think about various settings in which they might need to stretch.
If You’re a Monster and You Know It by Rebecca Emberley and Ed Emberley
This book is a fun spin on the familiar tune “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” Students love doing the various monster moves throughout this song.
Frank Was a Monster Who Wanted to Dance by Keith Graves
Frank wants to dance, and shares his journey with various moves to make his dream come true on stage.
The Wheels on the Bus: An Adaptation of the Traditional Song by Maryann Kovalski
Most students know the traditional version of the song “The Wheels on the Bus” and enjoy the variations provided in this book.
Can You Make a Scary Face? by Jan Thomas
This is a perfect book for movement if you don’t have a lot of space. A charming ladybug leads the reader through various facial expressions, and the ending has a surprise to make everyone laugh.
You Are a Lion! and Other Fun Yoga Poses by Taeeun Yoo
A sweet and gentle introduction to various yoga poses with explanations for the name of each pose based on the animal it is named after.