In the United States, many children are preparing for Halloween. Other countries around the world may have a similar or related holiday or celebration around this time that involves scary creatures, skeletons, skulls and more. Stacie Bingham, LCCE and creative brain extraordinaire uses this timely Brilliant Activities for Birth Educators post to offer up some ideas that use "brains" to create great learning opportunities for the families in your classes. You can find all the Brilliant Activities for Birth Educators posts here. - Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.
Brains on the brain: this describes many Lamaze-Certified Childbirth Educators I know. The desire to find the perfect specimen lurks within us. As fall rolls around, the urge gets especially strong. With every trip to every store, we lurk in the Halloween aisles. We scan, we inspect, we look high, and we look low. Like zombies, we go in search of brains.
What do we do with these brains once they are found? Almost anything! When it comes to birth, the brain isn’t far away. Utilizing novel activities peaks people’s attention. Playing with small toys, shaping Play-Doh, or eating a sweet treat couples a creative activity with a meaningful message – and families are more likely to remember the main idea.
Brains, of course! Brain activity is situational -- like many educators, I vary my brains according to the class needs and my own. If the activity is close to break-time, I might choose edible brains that can be enjoyed as a snack. If I need a temporary brain for everyone, small, non-sticky brains that are easily sanitized would work. If I want families to take their brains home to use later, I would use paper hat brains. If I just need one hat for myself, a cap would work brilliantly.
- Cupcakes (make your own brain with a frosting tip; or order a kit)
- Erasers (easy to obtain multiples, manipulative, can sanitize for repeat use, Oriental Trading Co. sells these)
- Science kits (good if you’d like to model one brain)
- Candy (often comes in packs of many)
- Gummies (with a silicone mold these are quick and easy to make)
- Paper hats (you can download one free here, but assembling many brains is time-consuming even as a group activity; Oriental Trading Co. sells these as well)
- Soap (many uses and easy to make)
- Play-Doh (fun tactile experience, families can use a mold or freestyle)
- Gelatin mold (every year Dollar Tree has these)
Before we start, some brain basics
When to use your BRAINS
Emotional changes in pregnancy, postpartum
These topics generally don’t fall in the same class session, yet both are important and a brain of some sort can increase retention. A single brain cupcake in a box labeled with emotional changes is a tasty way to reinforce ideas at home. Make a second box geared toward partners with ideas and resources for mood disorders, and each parent gets a cupcake. I get my printable boxes from Zumibox.
Behaviors and feelings in labor
I have families watch Everyday Miracles and note what some of the internal feelings and external behaviors experienced in labor are. Using toothpicks that have flags on them, we write these down and stick them in a large Play-Doh brain. A fun variation is to reward each answer with an eraser brain (encouraging people to think of more than one answer). Participants then get to toss their brains into the gelatin mold or a bowl, carnival-style.
Communicating in labor
Brain changes can make it more difficult to express our needs as labor progresses. When I share stories in class it is with permission, and I sometimes share this one. I was with a young woman during her birth. Her mother was there as well, kneeling close to the woman’s face, encouraging her with positive words. Suddenly the laboring woman lifted her head up out of her labor-haze, opened her eyes, and shouted, “YOUR BREATH STINKS!” In everyday life, we have the energy to say this in a more positive fashion. During labor, the brain has its own agenda and jumping back into a pool of logic to “nice-ize” something can be difficult. Prepackaged candies work well with this topic because the plastic represents all the things getting in the way of the message the brain is trying to send out – by taking the plastic off (reducing outside stimuli), we can think of how to help the laboring person get what they need.
Fears and worries
One of the first activities I do with folks in a new class is “What’s in Your Head.” This activity provides room for people to share their concerns. I can then clarify for them how common a worry is, share what I may know about it, or send out an email with additional information and resources. You could easily adapt this into an activity where brains are present. The gelatin mold would work well as a container for the collected fears – families write something down, fold their paper, drop it in the brain, and then with another pass, they each take a paper to read out loud.
Bonding with baby
Many hospitals now offer “The Golden Hour,” - that time when a baby is in a quiet-alert state, skin-to-skin with their parent, gearing up to breast/chestfeed. Hospital staff used to steal this time from families to weigh, measure, give meds, bathe, dress, diaper babies, and more! The goal of this Golden Hour is all about hormones. Baby being skin-to-skin and feeding releases oxytocin in the birthing parent. This love hormone, as it’s known, helps bond the parent to the baby. Labeled paper brain hats work great here. The labels provide insight into traits of the right and left hemispheres. Families can think about what areas might be working, and what areas need to be calmed. They can also touch on what others might do to be a help or a hindrance?
Building confidence in birth and more
When things seem to get too technical, I share with families that what we are learning is a right-brain directed behavior turned into a left-brain directed list of procedures. Einstein said, “Learning is experience. Everything else is information.” In her book, “Smart Moves, Why Learning is Not All in Your Head,” Carla Hannaford writes:
“Learning, thought, creativity and intelligence are not processes of the brain alone, but of the whole body. Sensations, movements, emotions…are grounded in the body. The human qualities we associate with the mind can never exist separate from the body."
Movement anchors learning. When we hit a rough patch, I back the class up a bit to connect the physical with the mental. Is breast/chestfeeding looking complicated? Let’s change gears, recline, put dolls on our chests, and watch a laid-back breast/chestfeeding video. Using a trick taken from Passion for Birth’s Lamaze Seminars or countless baby showers, I turn to the Play-Doh. Each family gets two cans of different colors. One person makes a brain and rests it on a paper plate. The other person tries to make a body part or an idea (very symbolic!) that represents something breast/chestfeeding related and adds it to the plate. Then we go around and share our artwork. This only requires Play-Doh and plates, and can be used anytime we’re feeling topic-overload.
Pain theories and coping with labor
One theory commonly discussed in childbirth classes is the Gate Theory of Pain. I use Hot Wheels tracks and some Hot Wheels cars. I put a model brain at the end of the track (I use five or six pieces of track with one end raised to table-height). Obstacles are needed to represent the gates in the spinal cord. Sometimes I have a few people put a foot under the track to make small bumps. You could use marbles, small, loose pieces of Play-Doh (not pressed into the track), or even eraser brains. You need four or five places on the track that provide potential gates and about that many cars. Run cars down the track one after another. Some cars will make it to the end, and those represent nerve signals that come through open gates and reach the brain. Some cars won’t make it to the brain, and those represent nerve signals that are stopped or slowed down when the gate closes. Finish off by sharing how we can open or close these gates to reduce pain, and you’ve covered the topic well.
BRAIN decision-making tool
Finally, yes – we can use brains when talking about using BRAIN! In a Brilliant Ideas for Birth Educators from last October, I share how to make hand-held brains meant to be used during labor. Sharon Muza features her own Brain Cap in another BABE. Using those adorable boxes I love so much from Zumibox, it would be fun to print the BRAIN acrostic on a pillow box, and then stuff it with brain candies. In case you don’t have it memorized, here’s what BRAIN stands for:
This is still one of the handiest (and brainiest!) tricks of both educators and doulas alike.
At the end of each class series, or at reunion classes, I enjoy hearing what folks found helpful from our time together. I had a parent share once about his trip to the auto mechanic. “I pulled out that business card and used my BRAIN. I asked him, ‘What is the benefit of doing this to my car? What’s the risk? What are the alternatives?’ Then I checked in with my intuition about the mechanic and what he was saying. Finally, I asked, ‘What if I do nothing?’”
See – the things people learn in childbirth classes can carry over into everyday life. Tell me how you use brains in your classes to help families learn!
About Stacie Bingham
Stacie Bingham, LCCE, CD(DONA), resides in California's fertile Central Valley. Her experience in the world of birth and babies began in 2002 when she accredited as a La Leche League Leader. After some time, she realized how women birth affects breastfeeding, and she certified as a DONA International Birth Doula. It didn't take long to see the impact childbirth education has on birth, and that began her journey to LCCE. Stacie enjoys all aspects of teaching and compares being a childbirth educator to the role of stand-up comedian -- engaging her audience with humor and evidence so learning happens in a relaxed atmosphere. Her writings have been published in the Journal of Perinatal Education, International Doula, Leaven, New Beginnings, and Clinical Lactation. Stacie served on the Board of Directors for La Leche League of Southern California/Nevada, is actively involved in the Bakersfield Birth Network, and is the Kern County coordinator for Postpartum Support International. Always expanding her family through rescue kittens, she resides with her husband and four sons. For more teaching tips, visit her at staciebingham.com