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Breath: The role breathing plays in our child’s learning capacity

Before we continue reading, lets take a moment to practice controlled breath. This exercise called square breathing is one of my favorites as an Occupational Therapist who strives to teach children how to use the power of breath to support learning and engagement.

Inhale 2, 3, 4

Hold 2, 3, 4

Exhale 2, 3, 4

Hold 2, 3, 4


Notice the impact taking a moment to engage in controlled, mindfulness breath brings to your brain and body. Breath is something we all take for granted – an automatic system our brains engage in without much thought, however the positive impact breath exercises have on our neurological, social-emotional and cognitive growth is extensive. So lets teach our kiddos how to connect to breath and use this as a tool for success !

The Benefits of practicing breath exercises with our children and students

Breath-focused exercises have numerous known cognitive benefits, including increased ability to focus, decreased mind wandering, improved alertness levels, more positive emotions and decreased emotional reactivity. Research has shown that breathing directly affects the levels of a natural chemical messenger in the brain called noradrenaline. This chemical messenger is released when we are challenged, curious, exercised, focused or emotionally aroused, and, if produced at the right levels, helps the brain grow new connections, like a brain fertilizer. The way we breathe, in other words, directly affects the chemistry of our brains in a way that can enhance our attention and improve our brain health.

A study, carried out by researchers at Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience and the Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity, found that participants who focused well while undertaking a task that demanded a lot of attention had greater synchronization between their breathing patterns and their attention, than those who had poor focus. The authors believe that it may be possible to use breath-control practices to stabilize attention and boost brain health.

Put simply this means that our attention and readiness to learn is influenced by our breath and that it rises and falls with the cycle of respiration. It is possible that by focusing on and regulating your breathing you can optimize your attention level and likewise, by focusing on your attention level, your breathing becomes more synchronized.

What I find so fantastic about teaching breath exercises is that all we need is our bodies, no equipment. We can practice anytime of the day in any location. All it takes is a few minuets and the benefits for both ourselves and our children is deep rooted. Co-regulating together with our children creates a bonding experience between you and your child. Synchronizing your breaths together, modelling calm and regulated brain and body makes the experience much more powerful.

When we think about learning readiness we tend to forget about ensuring our children’s brains and bodies are set up for success. We often jump right into verbalizing our expectations, do we have the correct materials, quick quick we want to get this finished before we need to move onto the next task. What I have found, since bringing breath exercises into my every session and before every activity I encourage my kiddos to attempt and explore, completing one minuet of breath exercise – my kids are calmer, regulated, comprehend the instructions with more fluidity and connect their brain and bodies smoothly for activity engagement. Kids love to explore their breath and with practice I observe kids accessing breath tools independently and intuitively.

As a Pediatric Occupational Therapist I support many children with attention and focus barriers. Their nervous systems are dis-regulated impacting overall performance and functioning. What I observe in such children is the inconsistencies and rigidity within their breathing – often shallow breathing; quick inhales/exhales, which alerts the fight-flight-freeze response. Introducing, teaching and practicing controlled mindfulness breath work impacts children is a meaningful way, resulting in not only improving self-awareness and regulation but supporting the levels of our natural chemical messenger in the brain; noradrenaline which helps to strengthen and build brain pathways.

Teaching Tools: Calm Breathing Techniques

Here are two great youtube video’s teaching kids; square breathing (as you practiced at the beginning of this article😊) and five finger breathing.

You can also discover more breathing games on the link provided.

These calming breathing techniques for kids are great strategies for supporting self-regulation and calm behavior at home, in the classroom, and beyond !

Lets finish by taking a deep breath

Inhale 2, 3, 4 and exhale 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

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