Keeping children focused both inside and outside the classroom is a talent that often eludes even the most seasoned educators and parents. To avoid these children continuing to slip through the proverbial cracks, the Sandals Foundation has engaged noted Health Coach, Natalie Murray to execute the pilot of a student engagement program known as Brain Breaks in several local schools across the island.
“Brain Breaks is about equipping teachers and parents with methods to bring more focus into the classroom,” said Murray. “With Brain Breaks, teachers have the ability to either bring a child’s energy levels up or bring it down based on what is happening in the classroom.”
She further noted that Brain Breaks also incorporates movement that stimulates children’s bodies and their neural systems so that they are better able to focus. The program engages teachers, students, and parents, introducing them to various techniques and materials that will help with keeping children focused throughout the day.
Going through the Brain Breaks resource booklet, of which each participating school received copies following the training, Murray pulled on key exercises then discussed and demonstrated these for the teachers and parents.
She noted that scientists speak to the importance of introducing in class four primary elements of grounding, self-control, awareness of the environment and readiness to participate in the class.
She touched on simple tools such as incorporating good posture and good breathing exercises in the learning environment. In executing the programme, she also encouraged teachers to first conduct an assessment of their classes and journal their findings and continue to update their journals to measure the impact of the activities/skills learned.
Executive Director of the Sandals Foundation Heidi Clarke said the Foundation is always looking for ways to improve the education offerings of its supported schools.
“Over the past nine years, we have worked with over 100 schools across the Caribbean to help improve their infrastructure and resources to create a conducive learning environment for our students. But even with that support, we also must work to ensure that our students remain engaged and focused. With Brain Breaks and the resources and techniques that come along with the program, we hope to be able to give parents and teachers some valuable tools to enrich the children’s learning experience,” Clarke said.
Sessions for the parents also highlighted basics like the need for proper nutrition and exercising emotional awareness when dealing with their children.
Denver Moulton, who takes care of three grandchildren, said she particularly enjoyed the session as it provided useful tips for things as simple as getting children to eat their vegetables and more.
The pilot program started with parents, teachers, and students at the Whitehouse Basic School, Culloden Early Childhood Institution and Kings Primary in Whitehouse before moving on to the West End Infant School, West End Early Childhood Institution and the Mount Airy Primary and Junior High School in Negril. The program will continue to schools in Ocho Rios and Montego Bay in the coming weeks.
The program is endorsed by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information and the Early Childhood Commission and is being executed with funds raised from the Sandals Foundation and Island Routes Reading Road Trip. Each year, monies raised through the Reading Road Trip are put towards improved learning tools and training for local schools. This year, the Foundation was able to purchase workbooks, readers, educational games and other manipulatives as well as facilitate Brain Break training and teacher guides for participating schools.