Brain Basics, Teacher Tools, Videos

Upstairs and Downstairs Brain

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A new video is HERE! Yay! One of my favorite subjects to teach my students is the upstairs and downstairs brain. This concept is introduced in the book The Whole Brain Child, and it’s just an easy and fun way to explain the function of our brain to young kids.

There is so much empowerment that happens when we learn how to personify something (like the brain) that can be so very complicated to understand. I hope that this video helps your students learn details about the brain, and how to be the boss of their brains when things feel out of control!

Questions/Ideas Following the Video

An activity kit for this video is still in the works (stay tuned!), but there are a few simple questions you can ask to get the discussion rolling after you have viewed this with your student(s).

Before you watch the video, ask students to stop and think about the different jobs our brains are responsible for completing in a day. Make a list of all of their ideas – highlighting those things that actually do not have to do with learning. Emphasize that our brains handle a lot more than just learning (walking, breathing, etc.).

Show students the video, then discuss the upstairs and downstairs brain. Emphasize that the downstairs brain is responsible for keeping us safe, and the upstairs brain is responsible for thinking. Then ask the following questions:

  • When might you find that your downstairs brain has taken over?
  • When do you feel like your staircase is working and your upstairs and downstairs are working together?
  • Who can help you rebuild your staircase when it has been broken?

I do a few other things following the discussion to make this concept a bit more tangible for my students. First, I’ll take out a foam model of the brain and show students exactly where the upstairs and downstairs brains are located (downstairs = base and limbic area; upstairs = outer cortical brain). Then, I have them hold up their hands and touch each part on their own head as we discuss further.

The next part I will do is get out my handy dandy doll house. I love this thing (seriously!). I use it all the time in my room. I will place the brain house family members inside and we will talk about certain “triggering” situations that might happen at school and discuss how each family member may respond. It’s super fun and provides students with a tangible way to understand this concept as I often let them move the family members around and take the lead on this – only correcting where necessary. (Pssst…a family member printout is available for free on the Sketches resource page!!)

Reading for Parents and Professionals

Interested in learning more about how the brain impacts our student’s behaviors? Consider checking out these books if you haven’t already! (Click to see more info!)

Stay tuned for the activity kit and more ideas to use with kids following the use of this video!