Upper El Studies Brain Function and Mindfulness

human brain

Upper El Studies Brain Function and Mindfulness

In Upper Elementary science classes this trimester, our fourth and fifth level students have completed an in-depth unit on the human brain.  They began by studying the different parts of the brain and their specific functions, and then they applied their new knowledge to learn how to strengthen their own brains. These 10 and 11 year olds took their studies one step further and delved into what current brain research teaches us about how we can maximize our own learning.

Students explored the seminal research of Stanford University professor, Dr. Carol Dweck, who coined the term "growth mindset." Dweck's research reveals that student achievement is directly related to a person's beliefs and attitudes about the value of hard work. Our Upper Elementary students learned about the attitudes that comprise a growth mindset and discussed how their own beliefs and attitudes affect their ability to learn.

mindfulness workshop with Vanessa EnochAs a culminating activity, Upper Elementary hosted a special workshop on the practice of mindfulness as a tool to optimize brain function and reduce stress. The workshop was developed and presented by classmate Raven Enoch and her mother, Dr. Vanessa Abernathy-Enoch. This mother-daughter team shared a multi-media presentation on how the brain and body react to stress and the common sources of stress. They also led the students and faculty in basic mindfulness exercises they can use at home and at school.

To learn more about how to promote mindfulness for yourself and your child, check out this booklist.

To recap their presentation and to demonstrate the importance of parent-child conversations about healthy living, we invited Raven (fifth level student) to interview her mom on the practice and health benefits of mindfulness. See the interview below.

Raven: Mom, what is Mindfulness?

Vanessa: In our workshop, #MindfulnessMatters, we talked about mindfulness as a mental state of awareness and the practices that promote such awareness: a moment-by-moment awareness of our own experience (e.g., thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment) without judgement.

Raven: How does Mindfulness help with stress?

mindfulness workshop with Vanessa and Raven EnochVanessa: Well, stress is a normal part of life and a necessary part of growing, even in childhood. Stress is simply our AUTOMATIC physical and emotional reaction to life's demands or challenges. Healthy amounts of stress can motivate us to take action. Chronic stress can lead to distress and eventually different types of problems and even illness (e.g., physical, interpersonal and mental). When life's demands exceed our ability to cope with those demands, it can be taxing to our body and mind. Mindfulness practices help to target our automatic and involuntary stress response to prevent or reduce the negative impact of stress and increase coping. Some of our automatic responses to stress include trouble concentrating, inability to relax, muscle tension, and increased heart rate.

Raven: Why is it important for kids my age to learn about Mindfulness?

Vanessa: Mindfulness and the practices that promote it can help students improve their abilities in calming their own bodies and minds. The benefits include sustaining attention, improving focus, ignoring distractions, regulating mood and emotions, improving sleep, and increasing readiness to learn. There are many, many benefits that lead to increased thriving and resiliency.

Raven: What are some exercises people can do to help with Mindfulness?

Vanessa: In our workshop we taught students a Deep Breathing exercise (slowly in through the nose and slowly out through the mouth), the 5-4-3-2-1 Relaxation Technique where you focus on your environment using 3 of your 5 senses, and an exercise in Mindful Eating.

[We were also proud to point out that Greensboro Montessori School offers students several opportunities in the course of the day to practice and promote Mindfulness, including exercise, journaling, leisure reading, listening to music, creating art and structured-free time (plus yoga in the primary program)].

Raven: How has practicing Mindfulness helped you personally?

Vanessa: Using Mindfulness practices helps me personally in many ways, including improving my memory, decreasing muscle tension, remaining calm in times of crisis and increasing assertive communication that has improved my relationships, especially with my friends and family. Most of all, it is helping me to do what I hope it will help you and your classmates do: to relate to others and myself with more warmth, acceptance and sensitivity.