Washington Homeschool Organization Conference Notes: Kieran O’Mahony – Ignite Your Children’s Learning With A Neural Lens

Basic overview of the brain

The amygdala controls defense (fight, flight, react)

Boredom results in shutting down and can move us into the defense mode. If a child doesn’t feel safe they can’t learn.

We can move the brain to use the prefrontal cortex and restore calm.

Learning Components

  • Physical Movement – BDNF (brain-derived neurtrophic factor)
  • Choice and Prediction – we all hate being told what to do (can cause us to be reactive)
    • when we are predicting we can not be functioning from the amygdala
  • Fun and Laughter – releases feel-good neurotransmitters, makes the brain “talk”
    • serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin
  • Human Interaction – also releases feel-good neurotransmitters
    • a lack of human interaction releases cortisol
  • Sense of Discovery – prefrontal cortex –> curiosity, imagination, creation
    • discover the answers vs being told them
    • we are hardwired to learn
    • boredom activates the amygdala

Dandelion vs Orchid Children

Serotonin Transport Gene – short, long.

  • Dandelions: long/long
  • Orchid: short/short
  • can be a combination (short/long)

Dandelions are resilient kids who thrive in any environment. Orchids need to be greenhoused – very sensitive children. 23andme can show the results of this. You’ll know if you have an orchid.

Always teach towards the orchid, dandelions flourish wherever they are.

The Environment

Also important for learning:

  • Safety (obviously)
  • Sleep (regular routine, 7 days a week – practice good sleep hygiene)
  • Low cluttered spaces keeps working memory open

Working Memory

1950s – Miller’s Law –> 4+/- 2

The Finger/Palm Game

Engaged a lot of learning components

Anticipation is often greater than the reward


Keep lessons short, end on success

The younger the child, the more activities are needed

Kieran’s Websites:

Kieran has a book coming out this fall (IIRC) as well.

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