24 screen-free ways for kids to take a ‘brain break’ from virtual school

Whether your kids need movement, comfort or help with skills, brain breaks are essential on remote learning days.

brain breaks for kids

As a mom and a pediatrician, I have been worried about the impact of virtual school on our young kids. Virtual school has some unavoidable developmental downsides for children, including less in-person interaction with teachers, a smaller range of visual focus (a side effect of increased screen time) and less physical movement throughout the day.

Virtual learning is the reality for many families right now, as we all do our best to responsibly curb the spread of coronavirus. How can we help our children thrive during virtual school?

We know children need to move and play as part of their learning. Children can't concentrate for hours on end in one position. That's why screen breaks can be an important way to fill the gaps both in children's daily school schedule and in their developmental needs.

Here are 24 brain break activity ideas for making the most of screen time breaks during remote learning.

As part of planning brain breaks during remote learning days, identify your goals. You know your child best—what do they need?

Is your child bouncing off the wall and needing to get energy out?

Is your child upset and struggling with their mental and emotional health?

Is your child not progressing academically as you'd hoped?

Is your child out of sorts from all the screen time?

Knowing what your kids need most can help you pick the right break time activities. Remember that kids, like adults, have good days and bad days, tired days and energetic days… and the weather affects everything. So needs will change.

Movement brain breaks

To facilitate movement, you can plan an obstacle course using whatever you have in your home. Mark out the course with painters tape. Encourage kids to jump, crawl, spin, hop, run and roll. Jumping jacks, bear crawls and crab walks can help further challenge your child's strength. You can time your child or offer a surprise after the third completion of the course. Hide and seek, tag, races or dance parties are also awesome ways to get children moving.

Mindfulness brain breaks

To help a child who has been struggling emotionally consider activities that help build them up. You can do mindfulness exercises where you encourage your child to be present in the moment, focus on their surroundings and feel some mental clarity. Sometimes chores for kids, like folding laundry or preparing snacks, can be restorative breaks and simultaneously facilitate fine motor skill development, provide sensory play and knock out some of a parent's work.

Yoga can bring attention to our breath and foster emotional resilience. Some children like playing with a breathing buddy: lying on the ground with a stuffed animal on their stomach and focusing on using their breath to give their friend a ride. Box breathing is a similar activity for older children where you breathe in for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of four, breath out for a count of four and hold for a count of four.

Other more everyday activities like a snuggle on the sofa while reading a favorite book, listening to music or making some artwork may fill your child's cup. Consider that changing positions for break time is important and encourage children to move away from their desk—if they want to draw, doing so at an easel, paper on the floor or taped to the wall will activate different muscles.

Brain breaks that teach skills

If your child is struggling academically to grasp key concepts, it's important to still allow academic breaks. Children need time off to learn, just like adults do. But you can find ways to reinforce literacy or math skills in your play. Choose board games with number concepts like Battleship, Monopoly or Blackjack. Send your child on a flashlight guided hunt to find letters or words in the house. You can hide 10 post-its each with a word to make a secret message for your child to read—something fun or silly. Your child's teachers are great resources, too—ask their advice on concepts to reinforce at home.

Screen free brain breaks

If children are negatively reacting to all the screen time of virtual school, they may be under- or overstimulated. Being bored or overwhelmed undermines learning. Some children may experience eye strain and complain of headaches, excessive blinking or rub their eyes. For all of these screen-associated problems, getting unplugged and outdoors is really critical. Going for a walk or bike ride, gardening, outdoor chores like raking leaves or picking up trash can all be cures for too much screen time. If you're stuck indoors, a sensory experience like working with playdough, kinetic sand or water play can help children recalibrate their level of stimulation.

Let's not forget that kids should be encouraged to have ideas and opinions about how they spend their off time, too. If you can, find a compromise where some of the breaks are used towards goals you think are important and some allow your children to choose. For example, if you want your child to get energy out, write down four active ideas and let them pick. When children get to decide, the activity will be more engaging and fun for everybody involved.

Finally, remember that your needs as a parent matter too. If your child needs to just fend for themselves while you work, that's okay. Free time is valuable for children's well-being too. But on days when you have the bandwidth and energy to offer brain break activities, or you are just trying to even out a lopsided day, these ideas can help you and your child get the most out of your precious break time.

Brain break activities for virtual school days

Creative play dough

Created by a preschool teacher and mama of four, Dough Parlour is more than just play dough. The squishy, soft, impossible-to-put-down dough combines nostalgic, 100% food-based scents with gorgeous hues and unmatched texture to create an epic sensory play experience that's safe, non-toxic and totally natural.


Fraction blocks

This super simple set consists of 15 blocks designed to introduce geometry, shapes and fractions while your child matches and builds.


Adjustable easel

Janod splash adjustable easel is the perfect 2-sided creation station for the budding young artist. Featuring a paint splashed design, one side is an 18.5 in. square black chalkboard and the other is an 18.5 in. square magnetic dry erase board—both sides include art supply trays.


Wooden construction set

This Wooden Construction Set has lovely, calming colors and water-safe paint. Brightly colored and smoothly sanded pieces that help children build early shape, color, and size-differentiation skills.


14 Toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.


Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!


Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.


Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.


Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.


Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.


Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.


Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.


Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.


Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.


Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.


Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.


Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.


Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.


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