Teaching: Amygdala – Amy for short


This lesson is based on the book 10 Mindful Minutes and the MindUp program described in the book by Goldie Hawn. “Giving our children and ourselves the social and emotional skills to reduce stress and anxiety for healthier, happier lives.”


Give the children about 30 seconds to make a brain out of play-doh.

Allow each child to teach about the brain they made.  They have reasoning behind their creation as simple as it may be.

Show a simple diagram of the brain -specifically the amygdala


Have children make a new brain including two hemispheres and an amygdala.

Point out the size differences in the pre-frontal cortex and the amygdala.

Ask the children:

  • Have you ever felt scared?
  • When have you felt angry?
  • When do you feel happy?
  • When do you feel excited?

Tie in specific examples that are unique to your family.  We talked about how some of them feel when it gets really windy outside and they think it might storm.  We talked about siblings who get angry at each other.  We also talked about how they feel when they get to see their cousins or friends.

Tell the kids that these feelings come from their amygdala.  We call the amygdala the “barking dog” and call it Amy for short.  The amygdala barks when it’s happy or when it feels threatened.  Sometimes it barks when everything is ok.

Luckily we have the prefrontal cortex to reason through the threat and calm the barking dog. We call this the wise old owl.

To illustrate that the owl doesn’t have to do everything the dog tells it to we made a pretend play-doh cookie made of juicy mice, of course.  The owl is fasting.

Let each child decide what the owl will do and demonstrate.

This may bring up common responses to threats like fight, flight and freeze. One of my sons couldn’t simply acknowledge the cookie and refuse it.  He fought it and knocked it down.

Tell children it’s normal to feel anxious, sad, mad etc but we need to manage our feelings and not let them control us.

Choose an item that can get dirty to represent the brain.  We chose a King Tut bust. Next, choose something like frosting or butter or syrup to represent feelings that occur (the barking dog) and put them on the item representing the brain.  Immediately clean it off.

Teach that when we prevent or deal with emotions immedietly they are manageable but the longer we wait the harder they are to manage.

Discuss what can we do to manage our feelings?:

  • Take deep breaths
  • Count to ten before reacting
  • exercise
  • eat healthy
  • etc…

End the lesson with an activity that involves focus.  We chose Whack a Mole.  If we focus on calm, we can achieve calm.  If we focus on fear, the fear will get bigger.   We can train our brain to reason and focus.

By using our wise old owl and reasoning through things, we can recognize when our barking dog is warning us of real danger or just being noisy.  We can remember to be calm when we feel like being mad.  We can be wise in managing our feelings and being in charge of our own personal amazing minds.





2 thoughts on “Teaching: Amygdala – Amy for short

  1. Pingback: Teaching: Self-Control – It's hard but Good Things are Happening

  2. Pingback: Highlights and Bloopers: April 1, 2017 conference, house prep, hard times – Ready or Not

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