Body Breaks – They Work!

Nothing like purpose to put a smile on this face. I’ve been invited to present on self-regulation at a school in my former school district. A perk of this life stage known as retirement is having the freedom to plan without interruption. I am not missing the tyranny of the urgent. Not even a little bit!  Well, maybe a little. Being a procrastinator by nature, the space between my ‘doings’ means I’m now looking for things to interrupt my planning. Cleaning, reading, visiting, shopping, BLOGGING, and when all else has been exhausted, a call to my mother is in order. Surprising to all but me, this system works much to the rolling eyes of my beloved who is NOT a procrastinator.

It is rewarding to reflect on what has been accomplished at the school I’ll be visiting. I know first hand because it’s the school I retired from. Change takes time and often occurs in small increments. About five years ago it became evident that an internal shift needed to happen if we were going to meet the needs of all of our students. Under the leadership of a gutsy, wise Principal, who has since retired, we slowly moved away from a punishment/reward system. During this time my role shifted from school counsellor to Vice Principal. The work was meaningful. The goal was to equip our school community (parent workshops were also offered) with the tools to self-regulate. We resisted the calls for punitive consequences to ‘deal with’ challenging behaviours and followed the mantra that “one size does NOT fit all”.

In August of 2012 the entire teaching staff was trained in the MindUp program. In addition to the training we were fortunate to have had the support of a district facilitator who worked with us for 2+ years, ensuring that the MindUp program was integrated well into our classrooms. This process brought mixed results. Throughout the following three years we had several staff changes. There is never a guarantee that new staff will have experience within the area of a school goal. Specific training, in this case with the MindUp program is not a given. In addition some existing staff found it difficult to regularly implement the MindUp program. It is natural to default to what we know. Sometimes the old tried and true, (even when it’s more tried than true) becomes our go-to when faced with consistently, challenging circumstances. Stuck in my mind is an observation from one of our more experienced teachers, “I know I should be teaching MindUP, I know it works, but I just can’t get to it”. As admin we continued to encourage and support teachers in finding ways to practice self-regulation as well as using common language surrounding the ‘how-to’ of our brains. Most students became familiar with the role of the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, and the hippocampus. Some would articulate when their guard dog was up and they needed their wise old owl to calm them. There was a slow but meaningful shift.

In September 2013, with the encouragement of our new Principal, I was thrilled to work along-side a now full-time Youth Care Worker in setting up a room we called the “Eagle’s Nest”. To better support the goal of self-regulation we developed a routine we named “Body Break” and housed it in the Eagle’s Nest.

The Nuts and Bolts of the Shortreed Body Break 

Each classroom received two laminated Body Break cards. We strongly encouraged teachers to allow students to self-assess when they needed a break. This was more difficult for some staff than others. My strong belief is that if we are teaching students to be aware of their body, both physically and emotionally, we need to allow them to choose when their body needs a break. We also need to be deliberate in teaching them how to pay attention – be mindful – of their body. The Incredible 5 Point Scale and Zones of Regulation are two helpful tools.

Our Youth Care Worker invited each classroom to visit the Eagle’s Nest. Once there, she demonstrated how each of the Body Break stations worked.

The routine:

1. Students put their Body Break cards into the drop-in container.


Body Break cards are placed into the drop-in container when students enter the room.

2. Students then worked through the stations in order spending about 1 – 2 minutes per station.


#1 – The Rebounder


#2 Lift the free weights


#3 Balance Board. Stand on the board and move the green ball around the maze. (Easier said than done)

Catch and Throw

#4 Throw and Catch


#5 Spin BIke

When students were finished all five stations (about 6 – 10 minutes) they took their card out of the drop-in container and went back to class. We were fortunate to have our YCW in the room much of the time allowing for Body Breaks to be available for most of the day.

Two years later two more spin bikes were added to the school’s self-regulation inventory. Shortreed is moving into its third year of using the Body Break station approach.

I am excited to hear about how the two self-regulation demonstration classes (new this year) are progressing as well as other ways staff are integrating self-regulation practices in their classroom. Up next: moving from self-regulation to self-regulated learning. I know they’re ready!

Even in retirement I’m leaning into better as possible.


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2 Responses to Body Breaks – They Work!

  1. Pingback: The BIrth of an Idea | Better is Possible

  2. patwdoyle11 says:

    Interesting concept. Never heard of this…but i am not in the education field nor hzve kids, so that is not too surprising. Made me think about my own need for a physical body break at times! Something to contemplate setting up…versus going to the fridge.


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