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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

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
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
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.
Tashi took a deep breath, counted to ten and said calmly, “I am really
mad that your ball knocked into my lunchbox.”
“Ugh, I am sorry Tashi”, said Rosa, “I’m bad at throwing”.
This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND
“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.