Help Students Mind Their Brains

Hi and welcome back to Attention-ology for K – 5 Teachers!

Dr. Seuss, beloved author in many parts of the world, wrote a telling poem in “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” The poem empowers children with these lines:

“Congratulations! Today is your day,

You’re off the great places; you’re off and away.

You have brains in your head,

You have feet in your shoes,

You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

Problem is, according to research done by neuroscientists, many children today arrive at school unaware of how the brains in their heads work. What’s the attention-ology connection? It’s a no-brainer! Brain function includes the capacity to stay on task in class.

Neuroscientists suggest that improving brain function in students must be a team effort – another no-brainer – but a significant challenge. Think of how many times, for example, teachers have urged students directly to get a good night’s sleep, only to watch them doze off in the class the next day. Add in the times that teachers have gently suggested to parents in conference that they enforce bedtime for K – 5 students to support success in school. Is anyone minding the message?

You don’t have to have a PhD to know that sleep deprivation can impair children’s ability to learn. Likewise, learning can’t happen if a student can’t stay focused on lessons, whatever form the lessons takes. And how about permanent learning – neuroscientists report that when children and adults sleep, the brain consolidates what they learned while they were awake.

Another documented brain builder is good nutrition – another no-brainer!  News abounds, at least in the U.S., about the growing percentage of obese children and the direct link between obesity, poor nutrition, and inadequate exercise. Professionals in all circles related to K – 5 education recommend that K – 5 students eat a breakfast with protein (milk counts) to provide a sustainable source of blood sugar – get this – that is essential to being alert. Put another way, protein in the morning keeps kids on an even keel until lunch when they need to stoke up on more good nutrients to ride the afternoon learning train without crashing.

If Minding Your Brain were a triangle, the third line, after sleep and nutrition, would be, you guessed it – exercise.  When I enter a class I’m teaching in grades 3 – 5, one of the first things I ask my students to do is to sit up, look up, and listen up. As soon as I have everyone’s attention I tell the class that it’s important to sit up because doing so allows oxygen to flow better to the brain. Better brains do better work and everyone can achieve a better brain, I explain, when you set your mind to it.

Properly cared for brains don’t just have what it takes for one-day learning; they become storage factories of information and skills for the future. To help children grasp this important concept, you can make a Brain Box. It’s a simple graphic tool:

Directions for Making a Brain Box

  • Find a box with a lid
  • Find and cut out photos (available in newspapers and magazines) of the following:

                                     * a child or children sleeping

                                     * a container of cereal and one of milk

                                     * Optional: pictures of other healthy foods

                                     * people being active indoors and outdoors

  • Place the cut out photos inside the box and write Brain Box on the lid.
  • As a class activity, invite students to open the box and discover the contents. Discuss ways for students to care for their brains. Optional: ask students to draw and color pictures that show good sleeping, eating and exercising habits. Add these to the Brain Box.

Teaching  K – 5 students about brain health offers another opportunity to stress the importance of being able to stay focused on tasks that lead to academic and personal success.

Remember, you don’t need to be a magician to work magic in instructional settings!

Talk with you in two weeks after I join in the U.S. celebration of Labor Day next Monday,

BarbaraThe Lovable Poet

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Barbara Cleary has been serving as a resource to hundreds of educators for more than 25 years. An award-winning writer, producer, teacher, and trainer, Barbara’s focus is on offering easy, fun tools and tricks that support K-5 curricula and assist teachers with classroom management.
Quick tips for common classroom conundrums: K-5
Situation: Young students are getting noisy while you’re trying to teach.

Solution: Hold up "Listen Star," a toy magic wand that you’ve designated to be a cue for quiet. Tell the class, "When you see our friend, 'Listen Star' dance across the classroom sky, that’s your signal to HUSH for a moment."

Related Posts: Let "Listen Star" Work Magic for You