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.)
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!
Start out in Star. From here, lead windmills by bending down, touching one hand to the opposite foot.
Start out in Upward Mountain. From here, do cross-body knee taps touching a hand or elbow to the opposite knee.
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!
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.