The amygdala, the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. Fifth through eighth graders at Sisters Middle School have been getting to know and love their brains.

The students have been participating in a mindfulness-training program called MindUP. They have been learning how these three important parts of the brain help us think and react to everything that happens around us. The intent is for kids to recognize their own thoughts and emotions, and give them better control over their minds in order to improve focus and calm themselves down in ways that can improve learning.

“MindUP teaches self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making based on brain research,” explained SMS teacher Julie Patton, who spends 15 minutes each week teaching MindUP to her homeroom class. “These skills are important and yet they aren’t usually taught.”

MindUP was developed by actress Goldie Hawn’s non-profit Hawn Foundation in order to help kids cope with everyday life stresses. The research-based curriculum teaches students how to focus their attention, improve their self-regulation skills, build resilience to stress and develop a positive mind-set in both school and life.

“Students are becoming more aware of how their minds react in certain situations and what they can do to calm their brain,” said Patton. “We take three calming breaths together as a class – teaching kids to quiet their minds and focus on breathing.”

Patton also teaches Yoga Calm to seventh and eighth grade students in her health class. Especially designed for children, Yoga Calm is a social emotional learning program that uses yoga movements and games to teach kids things like self-regulation, self-awareness and decision-making. The yoga classes complement the MindUP curriculum.

“Both MindUP and Yoga Calm are beneficial because they emphasize social/emotional learning,” said Patton. “They address the whole child not just the academic child. Students are very stressed and may not learn [calming] skills at home. The middle school years are a roller coaster as kids are going into puberty. By teaching these programs we are giving students the skills to manage the ups and the downs of life.”