- Read Your Fantastic Elastic Brain by JoAnn Deak and illustrated by Sarah Ackerley. Although this book was not in our library system, we were able to acquire it via interlibrary loan.
This book was a great way to introduce the central nervous system (CNS). The illustrations and text were fun, yet provided good information on the anatomy and function of the CNS. Descriptions included some of what the brain does (helps you remember, helps you name things, interprets what you hear, makes you "you" with all the things you like and dislike), what the parts of the brain are (cerebrum, cerebellum, medulla oblongata, and so on), and what the neurons do (carry information to and from the brain). I also really appreciated that the book emphasized that we grow and stretch our brain by learning and trying new things, and that "making mistakes is one of the best ways your brain learns and grows." Here is a YouTube video with a brief introduction to the book.
Rather than just reading the book, I tried to incorporate some movement and physical activity. We would stop at various points during the reading to act out what was being described or to swing, run, hop, and so on and then talk about how our brain made such movement possible. Although it has been weeks since we had our lesson on the central nervous system, my kids will still remark about how their brain is allowing them to do a certain movement, how their brain feels a certain way that day, or how their prefrontal cortex helped them decide something. Although they aren't always accurate with their terms or the brain region responsible, I'm surprised by how much they do recall. Hopper 1 will sometimes mention something about his "oblong medulla" (a.k.a. medulla oblongata), and I'm impressed that he recalls such an unusual term.
- Cut out life-size printouts of some brain parts and glued them onto our body maps. I printed off a life size cerebrum, cerebellum and medulla oblongata which I downloaded from this blog post from Confessions of a Homeschooler. Whenever we add something to our body maps, I also have the kids tell me something they like about their bodies and write it at the bottom of their body maps.
- Made a jello brain, examining the general structure, the left and right brain hemispheres and the brain regions which were visible. We used a brain mold purchased from Amazon, and followed the instructions from one of Amazon's "answered questions" on this item to make a jello brain using peach or watermelon jello, fat free evaporated milk, and food coloring. The brain ended up looking pretty good, and the kids thought it was really cool. However, I thought it was much, much too gray, and I would either skip food coloring next time or use a different mix of colors. Additionally, none of us could stand the taste of the peach jello, and we ended up throwing the brain in the trash after playing around with it a bit - I intend to use a different flavor the next time we make a jello brain.
- Our brain is vital to life and nearly all bodily functions. It is our body's control center and plays a role in controlling everything from breathing and body temperature to skeletal muscle movement (e.g. walking or picking up a spoon) to memory to emotions. Our brain translates messages from sight and hearing into an understanding what it is that we see and hear and then sends return messages for appropriate responses.
- The brain has 2 halves called the right hemisphere and left hemisphere. These hemispheres control opposite sides of the body and have different dominant functions (e.g. logical tasks versus creativity). The two hemispheres are joined by a band of nerve fibers called the corpus callosum. We discussed the hemispheres primarily while looking at the jello brain and then cutting it in half.
- Neurons, or nerve cells, carry messages to and from our brain and the rest of our body. The neurons are like little roads going throughout our bodies along which messengers (electrochemical signals/nerve signals) travel, dropping off messages to the various parts of our bodies and taking other messages back to our brain.
- Since our brain is so important to our life and to everything that we do, we need to take care of our brain and protect it. We help keep our brain strong and working well by eating healthy, exercising, avoiding excessive stress, making sure we get plenty of sleep, and continuing to learn new things. The ways that we protect it include wearing a helmet when we bike, skateboard, play hard contact sports, or do activities with a likelihood of falling and hitting our head; and avoiding diving head first into shallow water or charging head first into things or people (we've had some issues with the latter, so I made sure to emphasize that).
- Act out how messages are sent between our brains and the rest of our bodies by imagining the house as our body and having the kids run to a room in the house to pick up envelopes/messages prepared ahead of time; for example, pretend the bathroom is a finger containing a message, "I feel something very hot". The kids would run the messages back to me at another location in the house (the "brain"). I would then read the message, write a response message, such as "move your hand back quickly", and have my kids run that message back and pretend to do the response. This is an activity for which several different scenarios could be acted out. Since signals need to travel very quickly, this could be a great way to learn while also expending some excess energy. Another option would be to have two of us stand across from each other with one representing the brain and the other representing a body part, tossing a ball back and forth quickly as we call out messages to each other.
- Do an experiment putting one hand in cold water and one hand in hot water, then moving both to a bowl of lukewarm water and registering how each hand feels. This experiment could show how our brain - and our perception of our environment - can be "tricked" by the multiple messages it receives.
- The Brain Made Simple - this website has some good information on the various parts of the brain, including the functions of the right and left hemispheres.
- Australian Child and Youth Health website - this site has a page with good information for talking about the brain with kids.
- Neuroscience for Kids - as well as neuroscience information, the website lists experiments, such as touch experiments that show neuroscience in action
- Video: Brain Jump with Ned the Neuron: Challenges Grow Your Brain
- Video: Magic Box Animation video on the brain for preschoolers