I need a break! Teacher helps kindergartners own their energy.

“I saw a need to give kids a place to release energy, stress, and anxiety from bodies that was getting in the way of their learning and taking away the learning time from others,” says Ann Ferrari, a Two Harbors kindergarten teacher in an interview with Healthy Northland, posing with one of her students. Her simple Take a Break initiative was a success and made her classroom a better learning environment for everyone.

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Healthy Northland: What is Take a Break?
Ann Ferrari:
Essentially, Take a Break allows kindergarten students a chance to manage their own energy and/or stress by requesting a break when they feel they need one. They are allowed to cross the hallway to a poster that features several exercises they know how to do safely. They do which ever exercise they like and within two to three minutes return to the classroom refreshed and calmer.

What gave you the idea to create Take a Break?
AF: I wanted to create something that was different from the normal “time out,” where kids who were disrupting the class went to sit quietly until they were invited back to the class.

HN: How did you go about creating this?
AF: I learned about a program for middle school kids called Developmental Designs. I wanted to create something similar but for much younger students so I contacted Kim Pierson, one of our Physical Education teachers to talk about my idea.

Kim teaches kids basic exercises in her class to keep their bodies healthy. She and I talked about how and where I could create a space for kids to go to exercise to release some of their energy when they felt “squirrelly.”

Kim introduced several exercises and the proper way to safely do them during her Phy Ed class and gave us pictures of each exercise. An area was taped off on the floor in the hallway just outside our classroom. Pictures on the wall reminded the students which exercises they could choose from. They all had fun names like Superman, Karate Kicks, Popcorn, Spider, ABC Touch, and Agatups which was named after our school team, the Agates.

Then, I introduced the idea to my kindergarten class as a “Take a Break” space.

HN: How did that go?
AF: It took some very careful introducing. In the beginning, we talked about how everyone feels squirrely or restless sometimes and needs a break. After that, everyone participated and practiced “Taking a Break” and choosing an exercise. Kindergarteners realized it was not scary, and it was not a punishment, or a consequence. It’s something we all need from time to time.

HN: How have the students responded?

AF: Really well! Throughout the year, kindergarteners would either take a break when they felt they needed it, or I would instruct them to take a break if I felt they needed it. They would return to the class when they were ready to learn. They felt better.

By the end of the year, there were 10 different exercises kids could choose from to move their bodies and release some energy.

HN: When students returned from their break, did you see a difference in them?
AF: Yes! They would return calmer, and more in control of their restlessness.

HN: How long would they be doing the exercises?
AF: Two to three minutes tops.

HN: Has anything surprised you?
AF: Yes. I was surprised how such a simple tweak to the “time out” model produced such positive results.

HN: What advice do you have for other teachers or adults who want to do something similar?
AF: I would suggest adults consider the developmental stage of the child. Think about their social, emotional, physical and academic developmental level. Consider which expectations make sense in your classrooms or at home. The groundwork for Take a Break was important, too. Again, this isn’t discipline. It’s so much more productive to help kids “reset” instead of punishing them. When they can redirect themselves it’s really great! Finally, let other adults in your school know what’s going on. Adults in the building can be supportive and the kids know others are around and understand what they’re doing.

IF you have questions for Ann Ferrari, you can contact her at aferrari@isd381.org