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HOS Blog: Gimme a Break!

Matt Green
“Gimme a break, gimme a break, break me off a piece of that…” So goes the jingle so iconic that I bet you instinctively finished the tune with the name of that certain chocolate-covered wafer candy.

Well, thanks to the intentional design of our temporary academic schedule, which allocates 15-30 minute outdoor breaks between every one-hour academic class, we at Falmouth Academy are doing just that, and who knows? Perhaps this particular feature won’t be so temporary after all.  

The research is certainly on our side.  In her essay entitled, “Research-tested Benefits of Breaks,” Edutopia columnist Youki Terada, citing several recent research studies, states, “Regular breaks throughout the school day—from short brain breaks in the classroom to the longer break between classes—are not simply downtime for students. Such breaks increase their productivity and provide them with opportunities to develop creativity and social skills....And there are more benefits to downtime than increased attention: It decreases stress, increases productivity, boosts brain function, and provides opportunities for children to learn social skills.”

At Falmouth Academy this year, at 9:15, 10:45, 12:00, and 1:30, every student proceeds to outdoor spaces designated by grade and just relaxes and powers down from the recently concluded hour-long class.  Benches are marked with stickers, some lawns are lined with dots, and chairs are pre-arranged so that there is no shortage of visual cues indicating what six feet of social distance really looks like.  

But what’s really happening, in addition to some much-needed socialization, is that the brain is reflecting on and processing the recent learning experience and readying itself for the one to come.  Some research argues that it takes the average adolescent six and a half minutes to mentally exit one class and mentally enter the next.  Longer breaks and longer classes may have the effect of optimizing the “stickiness” of what’s taking place between the bells (and between the ears!)

A compelling argument comes from Timothy Walker, author of the book, Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies For Joyful Classrooms.” In an excerpt from the book entitled, How Kids Learn Better By Taking Frequent Breaks Throughout The Day, Walker recounts his experiences as a young teacher in Finland and his slow embrace of the Finnish model of taking breaks.

“Once I incorporated these short recesses into our timetable,” recounts Walker, “I no longer saw feet-dragging, zombie-like kids in my classroom. Throughout the school year, my Finnish students would, without fail, enter the classroom with a bounce in their steps after a fifteen-minute break. And most important, they were more focused during lessons.”
He cites the research of educational psychologist Anthony Pellegrini who “ran a series of experiments at a U.S. public elementary school to explore the relationship between recess timing and attentiveness in the classroom. In every one of the experiments, students were more attentive after a break than before a break.”
Walker learned to love the Finnish practice of sending kids out several times a day- rain or shine- for fifteen-minute brain breaks.  Rain or shine… given our intention to take advantage of our outdoor spaces and enjoy the fresh, sometimes rather cool air that has been circulating through the building this year, school is bound to feel a little like Finland this year, hopefully in more ways than one!
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