FREE SHIPPING on ALL Fōmcore orders in 2024!


Quick and Easy Ways to Get Your Students Moving!

Jennifer Duffy

The attention span of a typical child is two - three minutes for each year of age. You read that correctly.  This means that a typical kindergartener can focus on a task for only 10-15 minutes.  A 10 year-old can attend to an activity for 20 -30 minutes and a fifteen year old can pay attention for 30-45 minutes at a time.  This can be problematic as many class periods, especially for core content areas like Reading and Math, are commonly 60 - 90 minutes long. 


Additionally, many of our students aren’t typical and aren’t able to focus their cognitive energy for even the low end of the typical range.  This information begs the question, what do we do when our class is 60 minutes long, but the kids can only focus for 30 minutes?  The answer can be as simple as a 2-3 minute movement break halfway through class.

People of all ages can use movement to reset their attention span clock.  Younger students need adults to read their cues and suggest movement activities that will be most beneficial.  Older students can learn how to make choices to regulate their own body.  

The first step is to determine which kind of movement is needed.  If students seem lethargic and disengaged, alerting movements are your best choice. On the other hand, students might be antsy, distracted, and escalated.  When this is the case, look for a calming movement to settle and focus their energy.

Alerting movements

Movement breaks that are fast and less predictable can energize the brain.  These types of activities are called “alerting” as they wake up the system and send needed oxygen to the brain.  Alerting activities are great for when students seem drained and unmotivated.  Picture your classic “Bueller” moment…..the teacher is asking questions, but no one is actively paying attention enough to respond.  These are the times when it is best to pause the lesson and get moving!

At its most basic level, alerting movements get the heart pumping to boost the brain with oxygen.  Keep the tempo fast and throw in some unpredictable changes to really wake up the brain.  

Try some of these activities to get your kids up and energized!

    • GoNoodle - GoNoodle is a movement break jackpot.  Definitely check out Guacamole, Pop See Ko, and any of the Guided Dance videos from Blazer Fresh.
    • Cardio Desk Drumming - This. Is. Genius.  Kent Hamilton is a PE Teacher from Ohio and he has thought of yet another innovative way to use pool noodles - as drumsticks for Cardio Desk Drumming.  His YouTube Channel is full of fun routines and the kids LOVE IT!  If you love a teacher, buy them a bunch of pool noodles, cut them up and send them this link.  They will thank you.
    • Would You Rather games - Find yourself a list of Would You Rather questions, like this one.  Once you have the questions, you can decide how you want students to move.  Students can move to opposite sides of the room, based on their answer.  For an extra twist, have students move in different ways (slow like a snake, hop like a rabbit, quietly like a ninja) to their location.  Another option would be to have students move in certain ways depending on their answer.    Here are two examples: 
      •  Would you rather be covered in scales or in fur?  If your answer is scales, tiptoe to the right side of the room.  If your answer is fur, march to the left side.
      • Would you rather give up your phone or give up sugar?  If your answer is phone, do 20 squats. If your answer is sugar, do 10 jumping jacks.
  • Go old school with some basic exercises - 
    • Jumping jacks - try changing the arm positions around a bit
    • Squats with ¼ turn jumps - try changing the directions
    • Seated bicycles - sit in a chair and pick your feet up off the ground.  Move your legs like you're riding a bicycle, first forwards then backwards
    • Seated crunches - sit in a chair and try to crunch your knees to your forehead.  Change it up by doing some cross body crunches, too.

Calming Movements

Movement breaks that are slow, controlled, and require strength are typically found to calm the brain. Heavy work, or actions that involve deep proprioceptive input like pushing or pulling, can support a student in becoming regulated and available for learning.  With the right calming movements, the learner’s brain can become more focused and organized.  

  • Yoga Movements - Students can be seated or standing when using gentle yoga movements.  
    • Students can be cued to take a deep breath and arch their spine, looking in an upwards direction. After holding for a beat, they can be cued to exhale and round their back. Repeating this seated/standing cat/cow movement helps students collect their thoughts and prepare themselves for learning.
    • Cosmic Kids Yoga - This YouTube channel is perfect for the younger ages.  Maintaining balance and holding poses require focus and concentration.  These videos help your students calm their mind and regulate their body to help them make the most of their time in the classroom.  
    • If your students feel like Cosmic Yoga is too juvenile for them, check out this yoga video playlist for middle school students.

You might notice individual students that seem to need specific types of movements or even sensory type activities.  Consider reaching out to your school’s Occupational Therapist to share your observations.  For some students, movement breaks aren’t enough to support their needs.  An Occupational Therapist can help you brainstorm ideas for prescriptive sensory breaks that will help the student get the sensory input they need in order to regulate their body for learning.

Movement breaks should really be a part of any classroom culture.  The benefit of a short break to calm or wake up the body will have a tremendous impact on the ability of students to stay engaged and learn during instructional times.  Some classrooms might benefit from an energizing activity and then a short breathing activity to regain focus, especially younger grades.  You might even find that a quick and fun movement break helps your spirit, focus, and productivity as well!

  • Muscle Work - Put those heavy textbooks or backpacks to good use by using them in bicep curls and tricep kickbacks.  Students can be seated with their feet flat on the ground or standing during these exercises. Other simple to implement ideas can be seen in this video.
  • Mindful Breathing - Focusing on one’s breath can help calm the body while reducing stress.  In the classroom, teachers can take a moment for a few deep calming breaths or even guide the class through a longer meditation. 
    • This Namaste in School blog post includes one of the best breathing exercise video playlists for younger students.  My favorite is the puffer fish - so adorable!  
    • For older students, Khan Academy has a great guided meditation playlist available here.
    • This article  is also a helpful resource as it describes several different breathing routines to use in the classroom.



Heavy Work Activities School - Intensive Care For You. (n.d.). 

National Council for Special Education. (2020). Movement breaks in the classroom - NCSE. Movement Breaks in Post-Primary Classrooms. 

Ward, C. M. (2020, July 28). What are normal attention spans for children?. The Kid’s Directory Family Resource Guide. 

YouTube. (2021, November 11). NCSE movement in the classroom video with subtitles. YouTube.