JUST MAKE A PATH

A story about neuroplasticity for the students of College Park Elementary School

It was a chilly day in January and Sam was excited to try out the new

unicycle he had received for Christmas. His best friend Yakub was

eager to ride the mountain bike that he had gotten for Hanukkah. Both

boys couldn’t wait to get home from school to ride their new bikes.

Yacub hopped on his shiny new mountain bike and took off. He could

ride as fast as the wind and he looked really cool on his black mountain

bike speeding off into the distance.

Sam tried to hop on the unicycle but it wasn’t so easy. Each time he

tried, Sam missed. He spent most of the afternoon falling, picking up

the bike, or pushing his unicycle trying to catch up with Yacub.

During their usual after dinner walk, Sam’s mom said, “Well, how was

the new unicycle?”

“Really hard,” said Sam. “I’m bad at riding unicycles. I tried and tried

and couldn’t even ride it once. I think I will just ride my old two -

wheeler tomorrow.”

“Hmmmm, maybe you just need to make a path,” said Sam’s mom.

“No momma, I was on a bike path all day,” replied Sam.

“Not that kind of path silly, a path in your brain,” answered Sam’s mom.

“My brain? What does my brain have to do with riding a unicycle?”

“Well, our brains have billions of cells, called neurons and everything

we learn takes place when neurons communicate with each other by

exchanging chemicals to make permanent connections or pathways in

our brains," Sam's mom explained.

“Our brain has trillions of connections and even more new connections

form when we learn. This is called neuroplasticity. When we learn

something new it’s often slow and difficult until the neuron pathways

are well established in our brains. “

“If you keep practicing your brain will fire the neurons involved in

riding your unicycle and before long you will have more connections

and a fast, speedy, new path in your brain.”

The next day instead of thinking he was bad at unicycling, Sam thought

about neuroplasticity and making a new path in his brain. He practiced

riding in the hallway outside his bedroom and learning to balance on one

wheel by holding his arms out using the walls for support.

While he practiced over and over, his brain kept firing the neurons that

were needed to ride the one-wheeled bike and, soon, his brain started to

make permanent connections and grow a path for balancing on the

unicycle.

By the end of the day, Sam sped right by Yacub! Everyone thought he

looked really cool riding a unicycle !

At school the next day, Sam’s friend Lucy, told him that she was really

frustrated with math. Every time she needed to multiply she kept

adding. When the problem was 3 x 5, Lucy kept writing 8 even though

the answer was really 15.

“I am bad at math,” said Lucy.

Sam said, “Hmmm, maybe you just need to make a path.”

“A path? I said MATH, not a path,” replied Lucy.

Sam told Lucy all about how the brain needs to make a new path every

time it learns something new. “Right now," he said, "You probably have a path for

doing addition but you need to get the neurons responsible for

multiplication to fire over and over to make connections so that your

brain grows a path for multiplication. It’s called neuroplasticity.”

The next day Lucy thought about neuroplasticity and tried to work on

math again. This time instead of thinking that she was bad at math, she

thought about how she just needed to make connections to form a path in

her brain for multiplication.

Lucy imagined that making a new neuron pathway would take time and

when she was unsure, or made a mistake, instead of getting discouraged,

she kept on trying. Her neurons kept firing and making permanent

connections each time she used flash cards or solved multiplication

problems.

By the end of the day, Lucy could complete an entire page of math

problems correctly in just a few minutes. She had made a new path!

During recess that afternoon, Lucy’s friend, Tashi was sitting on the

bench. “Why aren’t you playing, Tashi?” asked Lucy.

“Ms. Plumb told me I need a time out because I keep losing my temper

playing basketball,” said Tashi. “Every time I try to stop, take a breath

and count to ten I lose my temper and yell at my friends.”

“I’m just bad at emotions,” sighed Tashi.

“Hmmmmm, maybe you just need to make a path,” said Lucy.

“I don’t think I can find a path when I’m stuck here on this time out

bench,” Tashi grumbled.

Lucy smiled, “Well, maybe it’s time to make a new path in your brain.”

Once Lucy explained neuroplasticity to Tashi, he started to think that

maybe he wasn’t bad at emotions after all. He thought about how it

takes time for the brain to form connections and make new pathways to

learn.

Tashi started to practice breathing and taking deep breaths. When he

was in his room with his toys, he pretended they made him mad. He

practiced taking deep breaths, counting, and reacting calmly. He tried

reacting appropriately with his dad, sister and even his dog. Along the

way, Tashi began to make a new path in his brain for handling emotions.

It wasn’t easy but the next day, Tashi handled his emotions calmly when

Rosa accidently threw a ball right into his lunchbox.

“Hmmmm,” said Tashi with a smile, “Maybe you aren’t bad at throwing

Rosa. Maybe you just need to make a path!” Then he told Rosa
all

about neuroplasticity.

THE END