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Grades K-1

Background

Although students will not be learning about specific parts of the brain, it might be useful for you to have this information available. The following section explains the four major parts of the brain in more detail. These parts are the cerebral cortex, composed of the right hemisphere and the left hemisphere; the cerebellum; the brain stem; and the limbic system. Each part controls different things.

Cerebral Cortex: Left Hemisphere and Right Hemisphere

The cerebral cortex is the brain’s largest part, making up more than 3/4 of the brain in people. It has two hemispheres. The left hemisphere, which controls the right side of the body, is largely responsible for analytical thinking, such as solving problems and comparing information needed to make decisions. It also is the brain’s language center.

The right hemisphere, which controls the left side of the body, is largely responsible for artistic expression and understanding relationships in space. A bundle of fibers called the corpus callosum serves as a bridge to pass messages back and forth between the two hemispheres. The cerebral cortex controls the five senses: seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, and smelling. The senses are a key way the brain receives information.

Cerebellum

The cerebellum controls posture, movement, and the sense of balance. Such activities as playing ball, picking up objects, and balance fall under its domain.

Brain Stem

The brain stem is the lower part of the brain that connects to the spinal cord. Its two main parts are the pons and the medulla. The pons contains fibers that link the cerebral cortex with the cerebellum and the spinal cord. It also controls sleep, awakening, and dream impulses.

The medulla controls heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure. The medulla also is responsible for temperature control; simple reflexes, such as coughing and sneezing; and digestion.

Limbic System

The two main parts of the limbic system are the hippocampus and the amygdala. The hippocampus is mainly responsible for learning and memory. The amygdala plays an important role in emotional behavior. All of the limbic system is greatly affected by drugs.

Side view of the brain with labels for cerebral cortex, limbic system, cerebellum, and the brain stem
Part of Brain Function
Brain Stem Sleeping, dreaming, coughing, sneezing, breathing, heart rate, digesting food
Limbic System Learning new words, remembering names, crying, laughing, getting angry
Cerebral Cortex Solving math problems, deciding on an ice cream flavor, talking, singing
Cerebellum Sitting up straight, jumping, running, throwing a ball, dancing, walking

This page was last updated September 2009

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