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Neuroscience in Care Class, Why it Matters!

November 23, 2017

Ask any student at SSES why it is important to know about brain functioning and they will all tell you how regulating EMOTIONS is key to their LEARNING! 


I began my lessons with a specific focus on the frontal lobe (executive functioning/decision making) and on the limbic system (emotions, memories and stimulation). Knowing how the two are connected allows us to understand how successfully regulating  emotions assist us in performing better at school and in relationships! 



I used several resources to put these lessons together so as to adapt for the various age groups. 


The first resource I used to help teach parts of the brain was borrowed from Dan Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson's work in The Whole Brain Child.<click here>  They use language that is easy to understand in that the "upstairs" brain is where we do all of our logical thought and our decision making.  The "downstairs" brain is akin to the lower more primitive/emotional parts of our brain.  The problem for most of us is when the lower parts of our brain get triggered through stress or heightened emotion, the result is a fight, flight or freeze response.  Our downstairs brain literally cuts off access to our thinking upstairs brain!  Another great resource for neuroscience lessons and mindfulness is a curriculum called MindUp published by Scholastic. 


Here is a link <click here> to the MindUp curriculum. A picture of the posters they include in the curriculum can be seen during my lesson below: 







I adapted a hand model of the brain lesson I found on YouTube <click here> by Jeannette Yoffe.  What I loved about her lesson is that she places an animal finger puppet on her thumb to teach how our Amygdala (the animal part of our brain) often reacts when faced with high levels of stress resulting in a fight, flight or a freeze response.  What do you know?  It's quite similar for humans!  We, however, have the fortune to have our upstairs/thinking brain to assist in calming our amygdala so that we can use logic and practice strategies for calming ourselves. 


Flipping your Lid:


The original work that inspired the hand model of the brain is from the work of Dan Siegel, MD. His videos and trainings are a great resources for parents and professionals to understand in simplified language how our thoughts, feelings and emotions interact in a scientific way.  Here is the link to one of his 2:32 original videos <click here>.


I taught the children that when your "downstairs" brain (amaygdala) gets triggered, it can take over and your "upstairs" brain (frontal cortex) disengages and you literally do something coined by Dr. Seigel as FLIPPING YOUR LID!


Once we learned all about the connections between our frontal cortex and the key players in our limbic system, we read a book called When Sophie Gets Angry, Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang.


As we read this book, I asked the children to use their hand models that we just learned about to describe Sophie's experience.  They enjoyed flipping their fingers up to indicate the moment Sophie's upstairs brain disconnected and her amygdala took over.  Sophie "roars a terrible roar...she wants to smash the world to smithereens." However, the beauty of the lesson came as we learned how Sophie put her lid back on.  The conversations following the read aloud of the book included an awareness that Sophie used her 5 senses to calm her amygdala down and bring her brain back online.  We then had some great fun practicing mindfulness activities to assist our 5 senses in relaxing our brains so that learning and fun can be maximized!  




Finally, the student's favorite activity was our mindful listening activity that used the singing bowl I bought while traveling with my family in Singapore a few years ago.  As we listened to the bowl sing, students attempted to keep their eyes closed until the last possible moment when they could not feel or hear the bowl's vibrations.  When they thought it stopped, they opened their eyes to see the other students awaiting the end.  In nearly every class, the students clapped or cheered with the fun we had with this little guy.  I heard a lot of students asking if they could find them on Amazon.  I had to laugh, I bet you can...

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