March 18, 2020

Take Time for Wellness – Even in Remote Learning

Mariane Gfroerer, New Hampshire Learning Initiative

Many classrooms around New Hampshire have, in recent years, incorporated wellness activities into their daily routine for both elementary students and for teens. Teachers have seen the benefits of starting the class with a minute or two of relaxation or breaking up an intense lesson with a physical stretch or short yoga break. In fact, wellness breaks throughout the day are invaluable for a growing, elastic brain and actually increase learning capacity.

When the brain is relaxed, it’s open to new information and is able to have healthy circulation and nerve stimulation in the prefrontal cortex – the area that is responsible for behavioral planning, decision making, emotional control, self-awareness, and independence. These are exactly the tools your students are going to need to get them through the next few weeks of remote learning. Self-soothing and self-regulation, which stems from the amygdala, begins to mature in the teenage years. But even there, scientific studies have shown that teens need a helping hand to calm down for their best thinking and best behavior. Scientists studying the brain have recently discovered that moments of creativity take place when the mind is at rest rather than working on something. And since creative approaches are so crucial to success, this means that the insights that you hope your students are gaining from your carefully constructed creative lessons are more likely to occur during their breaks from learning.

Here’s how Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, characterizes this phenomenon:

Neuroscience is finding that when we are idle, in leisure, our brains are most active. The Default Mode Network lights up, which, like airport hubs, connects parts of our brain that don’t typically communicate. So, a stray thought, a random memory, an image can combine in novel ways to produce novel ideas.”

The website understood.org (What Successful Brain Breaks Look Like) describes that some wellness breaks are more effective than others. Kids need to actually move away from their school work and engage in something that feels completely different, not a break that feels like more “work.” For students who learn and think differently, a “dance break” that combines movement, fun, and laughter with a favorite song can work well as a transition to the next lesson. Even simple but quiet breaks such as asking kids to close their eyes and feel their heartbeat are effective in resetting the learning brain and creative thinking.

One of my favorite examples of how to effectively include wellness into remote learning is this at-home learning schedule that Andy Malone, a K-12 educator, deeper learning enthusiast, and a very creative teacher, has shared. (he also shares some creative and timely learning tasks on his blog Deep Thinking Today). Notice that every hour – every lesson – is broken up with a wellness break. These breaks are designed for specific responses: relaxing and opening the mind, getting some physical activity, playing, and fostering closeness with others – an important aspect of staying healthy during this period of social distancing.

Along with the numerous links supplied by Mr. Malone, here are several great sites that offer ideas on wellness breaks to weave into your remote learning schedule. Stay mindful and relaxed, even in the midst of change. It’s healthy for you and your students.