Brain Awareness Week: An Active Brain Keeps It Healthy and Well

Our annual Brain Awareness Week – now in its fourth year! – is a time for our community of students, parents and staff to better understand how their brain works and how important it is in our overall health and wellness.

Below are some of the highlights of Brain Awareness Week from our three schools.

Junior School

The Junior School was treated to a presentation from licensed clinical social worker and author Lynn Lyons, who talks to students and parents primarily about managing stress and anxiety. Later in the week, students had the chance to participate in a sheep’s brain dissection. On Friday afternoon, classrooms turned into workshops, where students could participate in a variety of fun brain-based activities.

Middle School

Middle School students kept their minds active and healthy throughout Brain Awareness Week, thanks to the Student Ambassadors. The student-run club, which focuses on building a strong school community, helped plan extracurricular activities at lunch to keep their classmates’ brains active.

SMUS-MS-BrainAwareness-BrainActivitiesAmong the activities Student Ambassadors organized and ran were games and activities that test students’ concentration and hand-eye skills, like kendama, juggling and ball coordination games. Students also got to enjoy the movie Inside Out, which is set primarily in the brain of a teenage girl.

“It seemed like everyone was having fun, and everyone found something to do that they enjoyed that would test their brain,” said Grade 8 student Esther K.

“I really enjoy coming together as a school community for Brain Awareness Week and just learning about the brain and how it works and how to keep a healthy mind,” adds fellow Student Ambassador Meaghan P. “It’s nice to really focus on our brains. They’re such an important part of our body – we have to know how it works.”

SMUS-MS-BrainAwareness-BrainDissectionOur Middle School also participated in a sheep’s brain dissection, led by Ms. Theresa Hogg-Jackson, and heard from Lynn Lyons.

Senior School

Lynn Lyons kicked of Brain Awareness Week at the Senior School, with a wonderful assembly talk that was both informative and really engaging.

On Wednesday, an annual Brain Awareness Week favourite, the puppies, returned to campus. A pack of friendly, affectionate dogs came to SMUS over the lunch hour to give students and staff an outlet to de-stress and decompress.

SMUS-SS-BrainAwareness-BrainBowl2The Academic Council hosted the annual Brain Bowl trivia contest on Thursday. From trivia about SMUS history to having to spell “antidisestablishmentarianism,” quiz participants gave their brains a good workout answering some very tough questions. After all was said and done, the staff team beat out the dozen student teams to claim victory of the Brain Bowl trophy!

And throughout the week, Chapel at the Senior School highlighted brain health in a larger context of health and wellness.

Mr. Ritch Primrose, our director of Health and Wellness, led the conversation and talked from the heart about the importance of keeping your brain healthy. He offered tips on maintaining brain health, and invited some others up to speak. Ms. Carole McMillan, Head of Counselling, shared with the community her firsthand experience of consciously practising gratitude in her life and the impact it’s had on her health and wellness. Here’s an excerpt from her Chapel speech:

Gratitude is one of those small things that can make a big difference in your life. There are recent studies that show that practicing gratitude can affect your life in many positive ways and can actually change your brain. Practicing gratitude activates something called a positive feedback loop. When we start to be grateful, happy endorphins are released into our bodies – that feels good!

Gratitude makes us happier. Gratitude makes people like us. Gratitude makes us healthier. Gratitude boosts productivity. Gratitude strengthens our emotions.

SMUS-SS-BrainAwareness-Chapel-02

In preparation for Brain Awareness Week, Mrs. Clayton issued a 50-Day Gratitude challenge to the faculty and parents at SMUS and asked us to record several things each day for which we were grateful. My daughter Emily’s name comes up a lot in there, as does my husband, Chad. And at first, the big things like my family and friends were the things I focused on in my journal – but as the days went by, I started to really pay attention and notice what other kinds of things I was grateful for. One gloomy Monday, my gratitude journal focused on Starbucks; another day my comfy bed made it in; and on another it was the sushi that I had for lunch that I was grateful for. I also started to notice little things around me that I was grateful for, like how the sun sparkles on the ocean on my drive to work, how happy I am to hear birds singing and kids laughing.

Do I feel better after keeping a gratitude journal? Yes. Do I feel happier? Most days. Do I feel more productive? Definitely! My challenge to you is to start practicing gratitude, too. It takes a minute of your time – and you just might find that it actually makes a difference!

A huge thank you and congratulations to Ms. Heather Clayton, Director of Learning, for heading up another very successful Brain Awareness Week and all things brain health at SMUS.

(photos by Kent Leahy-Trill and Kyle Slavin)

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