November 14, 2014

How (and why) to take study breaks

When you have kids, it feels like you are always on the go. You take your daughter to soccer practice, your son to his piano lesson, and your eldest to SAT prep courses. You sit with your child as she slaves over hours of homework, encouraging her to keep up the good work. And you remember a time when your kids weren’t so busy. They played outside after school, took snack breaks between homework assignments, and they had some room to breath. Sometimes, you wish those days would make a comeback.

In recent years, tatake-a-break-from-workking breaks has gone out of style. In lieu of rest, students pile on one responsibility after the next, all to produce competitive resumes for college and “the real world.” While a variety of extracurriculars can enhance your child’s learning, the benefits of breaks cannot be overlooked. Taking study breaks minimizes stress, replenishes the brain’s resources, and improves working memory. So—it’s about time we bring back breaks, to let our brains rest, perform their best, and prepare for our busy lives.  

The Benefits of Break Time

For your brain: Your child spends his whole day at school, fielding and processing new information. Then he comes home, sits down at a desk, and does more of the same. After hours of perceiving, processing, and using data, his brain experiences a phenomenon called “mental congestion,” or “an overcrowded or clogged mind.” But- research shows that taking a break, even a “micro-break” lasting 20-30 seconds, can both unclog the mind and increase mental speed, accuracy, and performance.  

For your body:  Almost all students spend significant amounts of time on the computer to complete their schoolwork. And, sitting still for long periods of time to use the computer can lead to any number of physical ailments and distractions. When taking a break, students relieve musculoskeletal discomfort, eyestrain, and physical tension almost immediately, especially if they incorporate movement into their break times.

For your emotional and mental stamina: When your child doesn’t make time for breaks, she forces her body to work through mental congestion and physical discomforts. Her mental performance drops, and her frustration rises. You both feel stressed and defeated. But research shows that taking a break to clear your mind, take deep breaths, and let the mind wander both reduces stress and increases creativity.

Getting the Best Break for Your Buck

  1. Schedule your breaks: Planning breaks ensures that your child will actually take them. Model for your child how to build breaks into his study schedule and nightly agenda. Consistently taking breaks develops a habit of relieving stress and recharging the brain throughout the day.
  2. Have a time limit and stick to it: It’s easy to get carried away with break time. Setting a time limit will make your child more accountable for returning to work. Use a timer to help monitor break and work time. Breaks support her work, but are not an excuse to avoid work all together!
  3. Minimize distractions: When taking a break, it’s easy to get side-tracked by other projects, responsibilities, or desires. Your child can beat procrastination by avoiding distractions (like Netflix or Facebook) that might take his attention away from the task at hand. Some students may need help monitoring screentime. Explore applications like (for Macs) and (for PCs).
  4. Reflect on your goal: When your child returns from break time, encourage her to reacquaint herself with her original goal. After working for a long period of time, it’s easy to lose sight of assignment requirements. Taking a break provides room for a process known as “goal reactivation,” which helps students refocus their attentions.
  5. Eat a healthy snack: Brains needs fuel, and eating during break time is a great idea. But be careful — certain foods can cause your child to crash or feel sluggish. Make it a healthy snack to maximize energy and brain power!
  6. Get your body moving: During break time, it’s important to make a change; going on Facebook, watching TV, or playing video games increases “screen time” and mental congestion. Your child will refresh his brain more effectively by getting off the computer, going for a walk outside, and taking deep breaths.

If your children are used to soldiering through hours of schoolwork (or procrastinating for hours before getting started!), taking breaks may seem counterproductive, or a waste of precious time. But the proof is in the pudding: by taking breaks, your child will feel more confident, energized, and capable of tackling homework challenges. His brain will have time to recover after hard work, which will free up mental resources to work on future assignments.

At Engaging Minds, we help students set goals for both studying and breaking, which students love!  When we keep our students’ mental and physical happiness in mind, their schoolwork benefits enormously. So let’s bring back breaks, and let’s help our students’ brains perform their best!