When a child is in emotional overload, there is no amount of reasoning with him that will help until he has calmed down. During upset, the amygdala has “hijacked” the other parts of the brain. The prefrontal cortex is not available to solve the problem. The hippocampus cannot offer help with memories of what might have helped in the past. The amygdala will stay in charge until the child feels safe, and is comforted.

Calming Lesson

FocusedKids for SchoolsExercises:


  • Laptop for video
  • Chime
  • Toy monkey or monkey puppet
  • Bag of popped popcorn
  • Large jar filled with water and four colors of food coloring
  • Paper to make brain journals for each child

FocusedKids – Child Development ResearchIntroduction:

Being able to calm oneself in the face of big emotions is foundational to getting along with others, as well as being able to follow directions, and concentrating on a task. When children learn that they can be in charge of calming down, their confidence increases. Practicing the skills of calming down trains the brain to notice when a big feeling is coming on, and evaluate and respond rather than react. In early childhood, children can begin to learn these skills, and get better at them as they practice, and as they continue developing.

Goals of this Lesson:

  1. Children will continue to learn about the three parts of the brain and their functions.
  2. Children will experience their breath and learn how to control it.
  3. Using calming exercises, children will learn they can begin to control their impulses and feelings using their breathing, senses, and body.
  4. Students will learn that choices have consequences, both good and bad.
  5. Teachers and parents will continue their own calming and focusing practice, and be able to model these practices in the classroom and at home.

Starting the Lesson:

Gather kids to sit in a circle, or in front of you if you are at home. Talk about times during the day that they might feel scared, or tired, or hungry, or grumpy. Use the dog puppet to demonstrate each feeling. Give examples of when a child might have big feelings, like arriving at school, when a parent leaves, when it is time to change the activity we are doing, when we have to share a toy. Have Owl explain that these are times we need to calm our body so our brains can think what to do so we can feel better. Today we are going to practice different ways to breathe and move to see how it calms our brains and bodies.

What We Learned Today:

We learned that we always have our breath to help us calm down. We also learned we can use our whole body to calm ourselves, and that we can hug the monkey when we feel upset. Finally, we learned that when we focus on our senses, we are training our brain to pay attention, and that gives our brain a rest.

Fact: Impulsive behavior often occurs when a child is not fully engaged. The human brain is wired in such a way that it will not allow itself to be bored! When not engaged the brain will do something to put itself to work. Attention may be drawn to anything novel in the environment or will simply create something novel. (source: Momentous Institute)

Integrating the Lesson:

  1. Brainstorm with your children times during the day when they know they will need to be in charge of themselves. Use the Wise Owl puppet to help them figure out those times (waiting in line, being quiet when someone else is talking, waiting your turn to play with a toy.) Have the children draw pictures of one of these times in their brain journals. Have the child describe the picture with two sentences. Write those sentences under the picture.
  2. Something to do while waiting: Finger Plays! Finger plays are simple rhymes paired with actions, and are a simple way to engage the brain while children are waiting and have nothing constructive to do. Teach children 3-4 finger plays and practice them several times a week in class, or at other times of transition like in the car, at the grocery store, etc. Use the Wise Owl to lead the Finger Play if desired. Kids love it!
    • Example: Way up high in the apple tree (point up high)
      Five red apples looked at me (hold up 5 fingers)
      I shook that tree as hard as I could (Pretend to shake the tree as hard as I could)
      Down came an apple (Wiggle fingers from the air)
      Mmmm, it was good (Rub tummy)
      Repeat with 4, 3, 2, 1 apple “smile at me.” (source:

Additional Resources

Ready To Get Started?

Head to the Curriculum for Parents and Teachers Next.