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Keeping the Brain Healthy

How do we teach in a brain-friendly way so that our learners will be more likely to recall the information being learned? There are five simple strategies we can utilize that will enable us to optimize memory formation. I like to use a mnemonic device called CROME to help me remember the five strategies.

C stands for “Chunk” Information.
R reminds us of the importance of repetition.
O helps us remember the need for oxygen and glucose.
M means that we must link the learning to something that is “meaningful” or relevant for the learner.
E helps us understand that our emotional state impacts what and how we remember.

In previous issues, we have investigated the first two strategies. In this issue, we will look at the importance for oxygen and glucose in the process of learning and recalling information.

(Editor’s note: This article is focused especially toward teaching children. It has direct application for a Lutheran elementary school, Sunday school, or Catechism class. The suggestions at the end would work best for that age level. But oxygen and glucose levels are just as important for adult learners. Knowing that may help someone decide when to offer the class or the types of activities to use within each class session.)

Sunset-Breathing-ActiveIn order for your mind to work, it must have oxygen. We can live without food, water, and sleep for a time, but we cannot survive without a constant supply of oxygen. Also, our brain is unable to function well when it has limited oxygen. With a diminished supply of oxygen, we are not able to focus or attend to matters. The best ways to provide an adequate supply of oxygen to the brain are through deep breathing and through movement. A beautiful side effect of practicing deep breathing is that it can also help us regulate our emotions. The vagus nerve runs from your brain to your stomach region and helps regulate the brain, lungs, heart, and stomach so that they work in sync with one another. We can activate the vagus nerve through deep breathing, which also has a very calming effect on the mind. The more calm we are, the more we are able to focus and concentrate.

Our glucose intake also affects our brain function. Glucose is the energy our brains run on. If we have too little or too much glucose, it directly impacts our ability to focus and learn. If a student arrives at school and has not had breakfast, there is no energy or fuel in the tank to help the brain function. The opposite is also a danger. If the child had a Mountain Dew, Doritos, and Cocoa Puffs for breakfast, there is so much glucose that the child will not be able to settle and focus.

One of the best ways to make certain your class has a healthy environment for oxygen and glucose is to incorporate movement into your lessons.

Energizers – “Take 30 seconds and turn to a neighbor and develop your own personal handshake.”

Hands On/Drama – “Reenact a scene from the Bible.”

Movement – “Stand up and touch three things in the room that are black, and then find someone standing near you and practice reciting your memory work.

Creating opportunities for students to move increases oxygen intake but also puts their brains in an optimal state to help them process and retain information.

(If we apply this to the Bible class setting, we may legitimately conclude that the coffee cake and fruit juice served before class play a greater role than simply satisfying the sweet tooth.

To encourage deep breathing, you might consider opening the class with the singing of a hymn. However, be sensitive to the culture of your class. If class members didn’t grow up singing Lutheran hymns, this activity could be intimidating. Instead, you might open your class by saying, “Since oxygen helps our brains function better, let’s all take a deep breath as we start.”

Planning breakout groups where members move together, or move from one group to another, can provide just enough movement to stimulate greater oxygen intake. Editor.)