It is commonly agreed that taking a break increases efficiency and productivity in all tasks. Revision is one such task where we generally understand that taking breaks can be helpful, but what should those breaks look like, how often and for how long should we take them and which activities are most restorative?
How long should we expect children to concentrate for?
It is generally understood that an adult’s optimal concentration decreases after 90 minutes, but for children especially those with executive function challenges this can be much shorter. Teachers are trained to never have any classroom activity last for more than 20 minutes. As a rule of thumb, most parents are taught that children should only be expected to concentrate for as many minutes as they are years old and this can be a helpful tool to manage expectations. I personally do not expect my students under 13 to concentrate on one task for more than 10 minutes, with some older students or those on medication sometimes being able to concentrate for a maximum of 20 minutes on one task.
So should I give my child a break every 10 minutes?
Not at all, shifting to another task allows a child to shift focus and start a new concentration period. For children under 13, I suggest 4 x 10 minute activities followed by a break. For older children, 4 x 20 minutes is plenty in one sitting. Back in 1953, Nathaniel Kleitman – physiologist the university of Chicago discovered that the body worked in Ultradian rhythms of 90 minutes, in my view this understanding still stands and is an excellent reason for adults and older children to keep revision sessions to around 90 minutes before having a break. All this said, each child is different so talk to your child, be prepared to try out different strategies and work out with them what rhythm of revision works best for them.
How long should I allow for a break?
This depends on how long it takes for them to feel restored. Most schools recommend 10 – 15 minute breaks, with a longer break for lunch. Nathaniel Kleitman recommended 20 minute breaks. Experiment with different lengths of breaks until you find a time at when your child is refreshed and able return to work ready to start again.
What are the most restorative activities to do during a break?
These days most of us gravitate towards social media during our breaks. Whilst connecting with our peer group and family can be restorative, it is often better done face to face if possible. Exercise is often heralded an excellent restorative activity; in a recent study at Princeton University they found that exercise releases the neurotransmitter GABA, which has a calming effect on the brain. Being with nature can also be important, indeed a recent paper in the Journal for Attention Disorders offered proof that a walk in the park was more restorative for children with attention deficits than a walk in any other environment. Other restorative activities include short naps, or short periods of meditation – I find the OMM app for one minute meditation an excellent resource.
We advise you to break revision down into small chunks, liaise with your child to help them workout their own concentration/productivity rhythm, and encourage them to take regular breaks of about 20 minutes: a walk in the park or the countryside has been proved to be the most effective activity to do on a break.
Mrs Victoria Bagnall, MA (Cantab), PGCE.