Building Brain Science

When we learn about the brain, we move out of shame.

A great place to begin instruction around mindfulness and movement is by explaining the brain. We like to use the handy model of the brain to describe the amygdala, hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. The amygdala is referenced by Dr. Dan Siegel as the  “downstairs brain” which influences fight, flight or freeze behaviors. As educators, we need to offer “downstairs interventions” for “downstairs behaviors”. While we promote breathing and movement as interventions, music and art can also be effective. This playdough activity not only teaches brain science, but also offers kinesthetic input.

The Power of the Brain

Start by posing the question: “What do your brain and Play-Doh have in common?” Lots of interesting answers will follow, but be sure to highlight and explain: Our brains are shaped by our thoughts. The more good, calm, positive thoughts you have, the better your brain works and your body feels. Worried, stressful, negative thoughts have the opposite effect. The good news is, we have some control over this. (Note: The door is now wide open for discussion of growth mindset and positive self-talk.)

Making Models

Next, pass out the Play-Doh and show a few scientific drawings or images of the brain for inspiration. Plastic utensils, toothpicks or dull, old pencils come in handy while sculpting models of the brain.

Then, have students create models of the amygdala, hippocampus and prefrontal cortex using different colors. Make it a tech lesson by taking a photo and labeling the diagram! Extend the learning by making a video or writing an informational text on the topic. Check out this video of a student explaining brain function.


Finally, bring in movement and brain exercises that cross the body’s midline. Use the cards from the Move Mindfully® Card Deck for great visuals!

Star Pose

Start out in Star. From here, lead windmills by bending down, touching one hand to the opposite foot.

Upward Mountain

Start out in Upward Mountain. From here, do cross-body knee taps touching a hand or elbow to the opposite knee.

Figure 8’s 

Draw 8’s in the air with different body parts (finger, elbow, knee…) or pair up for Yoga Calm®’s Back Drawing activity. Try tracing figure 8’s on a partner’s back using each of your hands.

Back-To-Back Partner Pass 

Sit or stand back to back. Choose a not-so-small object (book, ball, lunchbox). Pass it to one another as pictured.









Build class community with this one. Have students form a circle and pass a ball around. Start simply, using hands. Then, challenge them to use only pinky fingers or elbows, to close their eyes, or to sit down and use their feet.

Have you taught brain science? What “downstairs interventions” work for you? Leave a comment!

Written By,

Jenny Wood

Jenny Wood has been an elementary school teacher near Athens, Georgia for the past 18 years. She is passionate about promoting mindful life strategies and practices with children and gets plenty of practice with her own two boys.

Block Creek

Are you looking for a fun, team building activity to take outside?

Block Creek  from the Yoga Calm® Curriculum is the perfect game for an informal setting (after-school class, club, family) or an intentional team building exercise (morning meeting, ice breakers etc.) It is an activity all ages and abilities can enjoy. In the classroom or studio, we recommend using yoga blocks on top of yoga mats. The blocks are staged about about 1 foot apart to create the “creek”, while the mat serves as a visual for the “water”. The object of the game is to stay on the blocks and not fall into the “water”.

To start, Block Creek is an activity that taps into physical balance. Using core strength and proprioception, this activity helps create a present moment awareness and appreciation. Besides the benefits for the body, this activity also fosters mental strength, concentration and focus.

students play block creek

There are different variations or challenges that increase focus. For example, have students look straight ahead and not at the blocks. Is it harder to focus without the visual input? What does this mean for your learning? Then, you could try to have students walk on the blocks with various distractors, such as loud music, noises or other visual input. Looking for more of a challenge? Try using the Move Mindfully® Card Deck and cuing Tree on the block!

Partner and Team Work

Girl lead in block creek

Once students are comfortable with the game, to bring in the social/emotional aspect, we offer the opportunity for partners. Students take turns as the leader and lead a blindfolded (or eyes shut) partner across the blocks. What did it feel like to be the follower? Did you enjoy being the leader? What skills were necessary for the leader and follower? This is a safe and fun way to explore the various roles needed for cooperative learning in social groups.

To bring the game outside, simply let nature be your guide! Look for rocks, tree stumps or other obstacles that could serve as a tool to practice balance, focus and trust.


block creek outside

Have you tried Block Creek? Leave a comment!

Be Well,

Stephanie Kennelly

Trust Walk

Are you thinking of fun ways to build community in your classroom?

Trust Walk is a game found in the Yoga Calm® curriculum. Students begin by choosing a partner. One partner will be the leader and the other, the follower. The follower closes his eyes and presents an index finger. The leader then leads the follower, with eyes closed and voices off, around the classroom. That’s it! That’s the game!

However, there are many social emotional layers involved that make this game a student and teacher favorite.

We begin the activity with a discussion about the importance of body connection and communication. Students must rely on sense of touch and body language. I found it helpful to make sure the class was grounded before starting the activity. Try Belly Breathing from our Move Mindfully® Card Deck or follow along with the video from the Move Mindfully® Teachers Pay Teachers store before you start.

After the activity, the followers were able to give compliments and specific feedback about what made a good leader. The follower extends an index finger, but the leader is able to choose how they will connect. Most students agreed that another hand supporting the wrist made the follower feel safe. Also, the speed of movement and careful turns made the follower feel comfortable.


Then, the leaders share the factors that influenced their decisions. For example, watching the followers facial expressions gave clues about their comfort level. Was your partner smiling, maybe even giggling? Did your partner have furrowed eye brows? These discussions, of course, are also a metaphor for the social emotional connections happening in your classroom. Feeling safe, comfortable, and watching body cues are all important building blocks for a solid community.

Next, the partners switch. The leader becomes the follower and the follower becomes the leader. Who liked being the leader? Who liked being the follower? What did you like most about this game? What did you like least? How these questions are answered will tell you a lot about your classroom dynamics.


Here is another twist. I had the students form two lines, facing one another. One line closed their eyes and extended a finger. They were the followers. Then, the other line became the leaders and chose a follower! The followers did not know who was leading them. I once even said, “Choose someone who will be totally surprised that you chose them”, meaning, do not chose your best friend. It was fun to see the different partner combinations that emerged. When the round was over, before the follower opened their eyes, they had to guess. Once you have a community established, this is a fun way to see how in tune with each other your students have become.

Finally, for one more layer, add in a sensory adventure. The leaders presented the followers with various classroom objects. With only an index finger touch, the follower would have to guess the object. An eraser, a pencil, a chair! You could try this with items from your sensory/science table. It could be an anticipatory set for introducing artifacts or building vocabulary and background.

Would you play Trust Walk with your students? Leave a Comment!

Be Well,

Stephanie Kennelly

Compliment Game

“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

As the year comes to a close and I look around my classroom, I see the artifacts of academics. The Mayan Temple, the diagram of the solar system, the poster of geometric shapes. I reflect on the hours of planning and preparation that went into my instruction. At the end of year, I also always find my self reflecting on the students.

I think about a student who was incredibly shy. English is her second language and she was self-conscious about possible mistakes. At the beginning of the school year, her answers were only one word. At lunch, she would sit and listen, never directly responding to conversations.

Around mid-year, I gave her a journal. By the end of the month, she had filled every single page. One day, she asked me if she could share some of her writing. With a clear and confident voice, she read a poem she’d written. It was beautiful. I showered her with praise and through a smile she said, “Writing makes me feel brave.”

Reflecting on this student, I felt the need to give her a compliment and share with her what she had taught me. My thoughts began to multiply as I realized every student had somehow made an impact on me. We had all made contributions to each other. They needed to be recognized.

Starting with the Compliment Game

A great place to start is with The Compliment Game from the Yoga Calm® Curriculum. It teaches students how to give and receive compliments. We played this game many times throughout the year. I was ready to take the compliments to a deeper level. I launched a class-wide compliment challenge: write a high-quality compliment for each student in class. This got me thinking… what makes a good compliment?

Writing High Quality Compliments

I began by bringing the class to a place of stillness. Start with ringing the chime, and placing Hands on Heart and Belly with cuing language found in our Move Mindfully® Card Deck. We envisioned our community. The healthy relationships we had built over the year rested on communication, teamwork, and social engagement.
students support one another in tree circle

Working through the CASEL standards for social emotional learning, students were able to demonstrate their understanding of community. My students had background from our ELA standards on character traits. This was the perfect place for a practical application!

Compliments Using ACT

A is for ACTION

Think of a specific positive action you observed.
“I observed Nora return her library books.”


Think of a character trait that would describe someone acting that way.
“Nora is responsible.”

T is for TEACH Me

Think about what that action can teach you.
“This taught me the importance of staying organized.”

“Nora, I noticed that you always return your library books. I appreciate your responsibility and it has taught me the importance of staying organized.”

My students crafted compliments for each other using this technique. I encourage you to give it a try as a way to honor students. Take the time and make space to give and receive meaningful compliments. Life as a teacher begins the day you realize you are a learner along with your students.

My Compliment

I see before me a girl with a story to share. You are always listening. I notice. You are always thinking and aware of the world around you. When you shared your writing in front of the class, I connected with your bravery. You taught me the importance of sharing my story. I have rediscovered my love of writing. You taught me to be brave.
Love, Mrs. Kennelly

As I watch the bus pull out of the parking lot, I see my students’ smiling faces through the window. I am thankful for how much I have learned this year. The teacher in me, honors the teacher in you.

school bus leaving

Have you used compliments? How did you close the year? Leave a Comment!

Be Well,
Stephanie Kennelly

Back Drawing

Countless scientific studies have proven that touch helps regulate stress responses.

Human contact is vital for the facilitation of growth and development. Our cultural space bubble seems to be growing exponentially as people become increasingly disconnected. Teachers are on high alert with touch protocol and are even coached to turn to the side and extend an arm, Heisman Trophy style, if a child were to approach wanting a (gasp) hug!

Back Drawing is a Yoga Calm® activity that offers a safe and easy way to integrate touch into your instruction.

It is important to begin this exercise with the disclaimer, “If you chose not to be touched today, you can sit outside the circle and draw on your own arm or hand”. This allows for students to still participate and obtain kinesthetic input, while operating in their comfort zone. For the first introduction, I had three students opt out. By the end of the week, all were voluntarily participating.

To start, get the students familiar and comfortable with touch by using one finger to explore appropriate pressure. From there, move the finger around the back to spell words and draw pictures. For an extra social-emotional component, try writing compliments at the end of your Move Mindfully® Meeting. I found that it was pin drop quiet. Everyone was fully engaged. Giving and receiving healing touch.

class sitting in back drawing

Once students are comfortable with this activity, you can add in an academic standard. This Polygon Sort helps students identify the characteristics of a polygon.

polygon sort

Polygon Activity

Start with students sitting in a circle, as they are for the back drawing activity. Hand out a card to each student and instruct them to draw the shape on their partner’s back. Their partner guesses- “polygon or not a polygon” and explains why. “It is a closed figure with straight lines” or “It is an open figure with curved lines…” etc.

Students need opportunities and instruction around appropriate touch. If we frame the conversation from the beginning, students will have their physical needs met with socially appropriate input.

students draw polygons on each others back

Have you used back drawing? How did the students respond? Have you tried to teach geometry with partner touch? Leave a comment!

Be Well,

Stephanie Kennelly

Mindful Snack

A fun and effective way to introduce mindfulness is with mindful eating.

Do you have a snack time? Perhaps your students eat snack during read aloud, or simply shovel it in before recess. The Mindful Snack activity from the Yoga Calm® Curriculum is the perfect resource to create a meaningful mindful experience.

At the core of mindful eating is staying grounded and present with our senses. How are we connected to our food? What food creates healthy energy? The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack program is a grant that provides weekly fruits and vegetables. The vegetables offer the perfect opportunity for a Mindful Snack lesson!

Preparing the Snack

ingredients for mindful snackUsing carrots and some additional items from my own pantry (raisins, crackers, cheese, honey, pineapple, chocolate) we had all the ingredients we needed to create. To make the moment special, I used special plates from the Goodwill sale rack!

The twist in this assignment was that they were not creating their own spread, but their partner’s. The big question that drove the lesson was, “How can beautifully displayed food contribute to mindfulness?”

They had a fantastic time arranging the food and finished the display with a placemat, fancy napkin and cup of juice. Since the excitement in the room was about to bubble over, I made sure to take time and get re-grounded with Belly Breathing from our Move Mindfully® Card Deck.

Next, it was time to present the food. Sitting down at the plate that was painstakingly created by their partner, there were audible gasps. I had them sit in silence for one minute and just notice the display.

mindful snack display 1  mindful snack display 3

Eating the Snack

The students had to eat for two minutes in silence. Just noticing all of the different flavors. Chewing slowly and deliberately. Then, the students spent a minute or two journaling about what they observed with their five sense. Finally, they were allowed to quietly talk to the students at their table. The conversation was all centered around the food taste, texture and presentation.

Enjoying mindful snack

Comments like, “I don’t like raisins, but they looked so beautiful on my plate, I had to eat them!” “I never would have thought honey would be good on pineapple, but I really enjoyed it!”

We didn’t use any sharp knives or any heated kitchen appliance. The students could go home, pull items out of their pantry and create something for their family. This makes a great holiday gift that essentially costs nothing. Knowing the value of beautiful food is a life skill.

To finish with another life skill, students wrote a thank you note to their partner. We talked about what a thank you note should entail and the importance of hand written acknowledgment. It was a highly motivating, real world writing assignment!

thank you letter from student

Mindful eating is a core component to wellness. Slow down. Facilitate a space where your students can experience food. It was amazing how grounded, present and calm the energy was in the room during the entire experience.

This year, giving a few minutes to mindfully eating the snack has made a huge impact, not only in their appreciation of food, but also in the development of sensory language. We are miles past, “It tastes good” to “It tastes crunchy and smells floral”.

Have you brought mindful eating into your work with students? Leave a comment!

Be Well,
Stephanie Kennelly


Mindful Movement does not always need to be calm, slow and serious.

We often talk about, “meeting the body where it is at”. This time of year can present challenges for adults trying to wrangle in the excess energy. Instead of trying to resist the silliness, we recommend offering opportunities for play within the mindful framework.

Trickster and Archetype Game from the Yoga Calm® curriculum helps students identify the trickster in themselves and develop this aspect of the personality in ways that are useful or otherwise positive.

Are you looking for a way to spice up your literacy lesson? Here is how you can integrate this game into the Text Connections ELA standard.

Start With Stories

Start by building background with a variety of trickster tales. From Kipling’s Just So Stories to Robin Hood and his Merry Men, skip across time and space to analyze the similarities between all of these tricksters.

Play the Game

Start by spreading the students out around the room. Use the Move Mindfully® Card Deck to cue bodies into Mountain. Call out the name of a trickster, like “Anansi” and watch as everyone transforms into cunning spiders, scurrying along the floor. I like to use my drum as a cue to start and stop movement. When the drum starts playing, movement starts. When the drum stops playing, movement stops. The slow, steady beat also helps from things getting out of control. 

trickster game

When the drum stops, students show a freeze of the trickster. It is important that after an exciting game like this one, that students are brought back with regulating breathing and movement. Try the video on the Move Mindfully® Teachers Pay Teachers store.

theater games in school

Extend to Writing

To extend into Writer’s Workshop, you can use photos from the Trickster Game as inspiration for a Trickster Tale. You’ll be amazed how weaving their own image into the illustration can encourage even reluctant writers to produce creative writing!

student art work        student art work

Build Self Awareness and Self Esteem

I love that this activity allows students to tap into a side of their personality that is normally seen as taboo. I even had a student come back the next day and say, “Now, Mrs. Kennelly… I normally wouldn’t do this, but I figured you would be okay with it… studying tricksters and all…” After much beating around the bush he presented his prized collection of practical joke items. He was so proud showing off his fake cockroach.

practical joke items

In this world we need architects, advocates and executives… but we also need jokesters. We need the class clown. We need to laugh. And what is funnier than a fake cockroach on your breakfast?

Have you tried the trickster activity? Leave a comment!

Be Well,
Stephanie Kennelly

Tree Circle

Strong community is the foundation for social emotional learning.

We are not islands. As human beings, we need each other to achieve our greater purpose. Creating an environment of community in and outside of school, is one of the most important things adults can give to children.

Community Circle and Tree Circle from the Yoga Calm® Curriculum are two activities to support community building initiates.

Community Circle

I like to begin the topic of community with a guided visualization. Students are prompted to imagine a party and all of the important people that they would see in the room. I encourage students to think of people they see on a daily basis (bus driver, teacher, classmates, siblings, parents) and also people they only see one in awhile (extended family, family friends).

Then, students write their name in the center and fill in the rings with all of the community members they imagined in the visualization. Usually, students will write immediate family in the inner circle and work outwards to place acquaintances in the outer circle. However, I try to keep these directions open ended to allow for various family structures.

For an added element, I had the students watercolor on their circles. We have talked a lot about color and how different colors represent different emotions. I encouraged them to find colors that made them feel safe and supported.

Community Circle Worksheets

After that, I hung these works of art in their lockers. The intent is that everyday they are reminded that they are surrounded by many people that provide love and support.

Tree Circle

Finally, we went outside, in our Peace Garden, and did silent Tree Circle. Students begin by each finding tree pose. Using cuing language found in our Move Mindfully® Card Deck. Then, they reach out with an open, flat hand and press into their neighbors palm. Sometimes students will want to interlace, or hold hands, but I prompt pressure with an open, flat hand. This pose embodies the idea of support. Push too hard, and you both tumble. Push too light, and your neighbors do not feel grounded. However, if both partners can provide the same amount of pressure, it creates an incredibly stable base. As a circle, if just one partnership is not supported, it impacts everyones balance. We are all connected.

You can extend the Tree Poetry lesson from our Teachers Pay Teachers store to include descriptions of all the trees together. The forrest. How is the class like a forest?

Looking around the circle at the different faces, these children represent different races, different languages, different cultures… yet we are all part of the same community. A community that holds each other up.

tree circle
How have you discussed community with your students? Please leave a comment.

Be Well,
Stephanie Kennelly