Brain breaks are an essential way to get kids focusing and joyful as they learn.


In second grade I vividly remember when my teacher turned on music for a freeze dance break to help us get through a challenging punctuation lesson.  As a teenager, I would play handball against the garage and then come back in to work on algebra.  In Graduate Acting school at NYU, we would stop a grueling and technical speech lesson for a little juggling to clear the mind!


I have long appreciated the value of a burst of physical and playful energy in the midst of concentrated activity. Only recently did I learn the term brain breaks, and now I can’t get enough!  


With increased testing and shorter and shorter recesses, it is natural that kids will need to “shake their sillies out”.  Rather than reprimanding kids for fidgeting or a lack of focus, ideally we can encourage them to release the pent-up energy so that they are rejuvenated and have even more aptitude to learn.  


Neuroscientists and mindfulness experts agree that the brain functions better when the body is relaxed.  


Research shows that when we exercise, blood pressure and blood flow increase everywhere in the body, including the brain.  More blood means more energy and oxygen, which makes our brain perform better.                                                                                                                            – Dr. Justin Rhodes, Scientific American 2013


Brain breaks invigorate our kids and help them stay productive in the classroom and at home.  


Parents who are looking to help make homework time more manageable (yes, that’s me!), as well as teachers hoping to focus their classroom, can benefit from learning a few new techniques for focused, calm and joyful kids.



Shake Those Sillies Out

I adore Raffi for his songs which encourage imagination, wordplay and, most importantly, moving.  His song, Shake My Sillies Out is no exception.  


This is an awesome game for kids because it…

  • lets them be wacky with their words and their bodies.
  • is similar to other word-play games that I love, this plays with alliteration and rhyme – essential fluid-reading skills.
  • gets kids using their bodies.
  • allows them to be in charge of the gross-motor challenge that they propose.
  • simultaneously bonds groups together in a choral movement even while allowing individuals to shine as they initiate new activities.
  • allows for imaginative new moves with the hybrids that I propose in this video.
  • gets kids collaborating to make new words together.
  • can be as short as you need or take as much time as you have


Like Down By The Bay, this song is a blueprint for play, so use it as a springboard for your kids or your classroom in a way that works for you.


Call and Response Games


Boom chic a boom – This song encourages goofy characters and wild moves.


Che Che Koolay – this African chant is a favorite of mine!


When I say – get calm kids with this simple chant.



Little Sally Walker – great classroom game that lifts the energy and uses mirroring to boost courage.  


Physical Brain Breaks

These games allow kids to free associate and use their imagination as they do their brain breaks.  While they may not be as contained – both in terms of physical space or repeatable action – as a call and response game, they are wildly fun and allow for flights of fancy and general creativity.  


Freeze dance – find your kids favorite songs and stop and start the music.  This gets blood pumping but keeps the movement somewhat focused so the transition back to work is less abrupt.


Red-light-green-light – a classic.  Let kids switch in and out of calling and moving since both have their benefits.


Follow the Leader


Magic Elevator – a dramatic play game that is a staple of our work at Child’s Play NY.



Balloon Toss – I love to turn on relaxing music and also see how long we can keep the balloon up in the air.


Brain Break Songs


Down by the bay


Hi my name is Joe


Head shoulders knees and toes (This is great exercise in a contained space. Variations are great where you do the activity but don’t name the body part.)


My bonny lies over the ocean (every time you say a word starting with “B” you either sit or stand.


Mindful brain breaks


Animal Yoga: Yoga with a playful twist.  Kids can make up their own poses based on the animals they love.


Breathing: lion’s breath, breath of fire, alternate nostril breath, deep belly breaths are just some of my favs. “Play” this breath game of “Follow the Leader” to start a breathing practice with your child.


Mediation: Check out this list of Meditation Apps for Kids from Common Sense Media and find one that works for your child or class.


Feather Balance – this works well with relaxing music and you can use a balloon if you don’t have a feather handy.


What to Look For in Your Brain Breaks

The following are some of the features I look for in my brain breaks. It isn’t necessary to get all these ideals into one game, however this is a good starting point for what works well.


  • The activity doesn’t require a lot of space.

Kids should be able to do it in the same space in which they had just been working.  You don’t want to have to move around a lot of furniture and you certainly shouldn’t have to leave the room.   By staying in the same spot, you can cut down on those dreaded “transitions” thereby making the brain breaks practical, efficient and repeatable.


  • It requires no props, gadgets or gizmos.


  • No screens necessary.

While I appreciate dancing to a song on YouTube (and my son loves it), my preference is that the brain break is screen free.  Ideally kids, teachers and parents don’t have to plug in. Primarily because turning off the screen at the end of the game can add an unnecessary challenge to getting back to work.


  • Kids can stimulate one or more sense while on their break.


  • Blood flows and their heart rate goes up.


  • They exercise coordination, balance, gross motor muscle groups.


  • Children can use their voice (a great release of energy is to talk or sing).


  • Kids can take turns at leading the activity.

If it is a call-and-response style game, they can get a little empowered as a leader/teacher so they can go back to being a great student afterward!


Let me know how you “Shake your Sillies Out” and what your favorite brain breaks for kids are.

Thanks for watching and reading!



Learn More Games to Inspire Purposeful Play