For the past few weeks we’ve been delving deeper into understanding the brain and its different regions.
Let’s review! There are 6 main regions and many other smaller regions in our brains:
We studied how to protect our brains, how neurons work, and how we have dominant hands, eyes, ears, and legs.
Today we are going to dig a bit deeper into our brains and we are going to look at our amygdala!
If you have play-doh at home, you can make your own amygdala. It looks like this:
Which area of the brain holds our amygdala? (It’s in the middle part of our brains so it’s right in the middle of all the 6 areas we can see above).
I bet you’ve noticed that it is VERY small! And yet, it plays a big role in how our brains work.
Before we get really started, let’s take a pause. Sometimes our brains have a hard time focusing on learning because we are worried or sad or so happy that we have all sorts of chemicals rushing around that distract us. Lets reset our brain so we are ready to learn.
We can prepare our brains to listen and learn very easily. First, you have to get really comfortable. You can sit or stand or lay down flat on the ground. I like to take my shoes off and stand with my feet apart, about the same width as my shoulders.
Then, I like to take in 4 deep breaths. Sometimes I move my arms above my head when I breathe in and then slowly put them back down when I breathe out. Sometimes I pretend I’m a tree. Sometimes I like to pretend that my spine is wiggly like a snake and it likes to go up and down. You can do whatever you need to do to help your body relax.
When you breathe in, count to 4. Then hold your breath for 4 more seconds, and then take a LONG time to breathe all that air out…maybe 8 or 10 seconds even. Slowly relax your body more and more each time you breathe.
NOW we are ready to learn!!
Super science-y video (best for older students):
The Amygdala Song (good for younger students):
Your amygdala is like the guard dog of your brain.
How does that make you feel? What do you think a guard dog’s job is?
Our amygdala does the same thing! Its job is to protect us–to tell us when we are in danger!
When have you been in danger? Was it BIG danger or LITTLE danger?
Some things are big and scary and REAL danger and sometimes we think we are in danger and we are not. Part of growing up is learning what is REAL danger and what is pretend danger. But when you’re young, your brain doesn’t know the difference. So, sometimes our amygdala’s tell us to worry about things that we don’t need to worry about.
Do you worry about things sometimes? What are your biggest worries?
How does your body feel when you’re worried? Where do you feel things on your body while you’re worried?
Our amygdala likes to tell us to do different things depending on the situation.
Sometimes it tells us to FIGHT! Yikes! Have you ever wanted to defend yourself or someone you love? That was your FIGHT instinct telling you to protect yourself! That means your amygdala works!
Sometimes it tells us to FREEZE! Why would freezing help in some situations? When would it hurt?
Sometimes it tells us to FLY away! This is called “flight.” Sometimes our brain says “Let’s get out of here!” instead of sticking around. Has this ever happened to you?
and Sometimes it tells us to pretend we aren’t in danger and to take care of others instead. Usually this doesn’t happen until you’re an adult and the adult has trained their body and amygdala to ignore the other instincts.
Brief video about instinctual responses (might be interesting to all ages):
It is interesting to think that we can train our brains!
The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 10:5 that we can “take every thought captive.” This means even the big, scary emotions that float around through our brain and tell our amygdala to start protecting us can be controlled if we practice.
So…lets go back to the beginning where we calmed our bodies to listen and learn. We can use the same exercise to train our amygdala’s to listen and learn!
When do you have big emotions? Sometimes we feel mad, or sad, or scared, or very, very angry. Sometimes we are so darn happy that our bodies get too excited to sit still! All of these feelings are good because God created them and we were created by God, too!
To help learn to control the thoughts we have and be in charge of our responses to our emotions, we need to pay attention to the things we think and feel. This week, lets pay attention to our feelings–write down on a paper or in a journal or draw a picture about the feelings you have this week. Tell me about when you’ve felt really joyful, or really angry, or maybe even a little frustrated. Pay attention to where on your body you feel these things.
Next week we will build on this and will start working towards understanding some other interesting parts of our brains: the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, and how they work with the amygdala.
Bonus story about controlling our anger (good for K-2)