Helping kids with executive functioning challenges can take one part instruction, one part practice, one part mindfulness and one part patience. For the instruction part, I have created fun visual aids to support kids with their learning and understanding of how their brains work.
Within the school I work, every grade is using the In-Focus Social Emotional Learning curriculum, (see link below).
With this curriculum, the brain is likened to an Owl (prefrontal cortex), a Dog (limbic system), and a Lizard (Brain Stem). I created these manipulatives for kids in my group to use at their seats. These visuals are available through the curriculum website.
Teaching kids about brain functioning
First, we learn about the Brain Stem and how it is in charge of the basic fight flight or flee mechanism in our bodies. We discuss how when we are stressed or afraid, our bodies are designed to automatically keep us safe. If we become stressed and afraid too often then our brains can get stuck in this mode and our bodies and minds can begin to fight/flight/freeze, or REACT a lot of the time.
Next, we talk about the limbic system, the emotional part of our brain that houses the amygdala. This part is responsible for our emotions and can jump around like a dog if our emotions are out of control. I have them share some times when they have felt that their emotions were running around wild like a dog. We talk about how it is so very hard to learn and to think straight when the dog part of our brain is “chasing its tail.”
Finally, we discuss the Owl part of our brain known as the prefrontal cortex. This part is responsible for our wise thoughts, our ability to solve problems, and can help us to pause, to calm down the Dog, and to begin to breathe to calm our bodies and mind. This Owl works the best when the Lizard and the Dog are cool, calm, and collected. Our relaxation tools help us to do this!
I introduce the OWL BREATH here. Breathing in, we make an “o” shape with our mouth, sucking in a very deep breath, feeling our tummies push out as our lungs fill with air. Breathing out we make the WHOOOOO sound as long as possible, completely emptying our lungs of air, feeling our tummies deflate or flatten. In: “o” Out: “WHOOOO”
Our owl breath helps us to calm down the dog and lizard brain so that the Owl can think, focus, and create.
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