What can 4 and 5 year olds learn about neuroscience and their brains? As it turns out, plenty! This week we finished up our Peace of Mind Pre-K and K unit on the brain, and it never fails to amaze me how much these little brains are soaking up. When we first started out five weeks ago, the words “hippocampus” and “amygdala” were so foreign and strange on their tongues (pickle-campus and hippo-camper were two of my favorite bungles) and truthfully, felt strange to me as an educator to be teaching, too.
“Maybe this is too much for them,” I thought. “Maybe I need to slow it down a little more, or come up with cutesy phrases like “wise owl” instead of “Pre-frontal cortex.” But by the second class, I was impressed that several kids were already using their hippocampi to recall all these terms and facts after just one lesson! By the third and fourth weeks, more kids joined in with recalling the three parts of the brain we had been learning and what each part does. As the material became less novel and more familiar, our enjoyment of the content increased too.
At Peace of Mind, we believe that this knowledge helps children better understand their emotions, behaviors, and reactions, which leads to increased self-control and self-management. After completing lessons on our “overactive amygdala,” students tell me how they tried new foods, smelled a horrible smell but stayed calm, and took deep breaths to think about a reaction instead of just yelling and screaming. Some of them tell about showing moms, dads, and siblings how to keep from “flipping their lid” as well. Four and five-year-olds. When we equip them with this level of self-awareness at such an early age, they can certainly grow a lot!
And just imagine where these brains will be in a few years after repeated exposure to this material when the emotional reactions and decision-making stakes become so much higher in adolescence. For more information on the neuroscience behind Peace of Mind’s curriculum, check out Dr. Dan Siegel’s groundbreaking work, or our resource page. – Jillian