Brain Stem Function: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

What does your brain have in common with a flower? The answer is that they both have stems. The brain stem runs between the brain and your spinal cord and helps control many things that keep you alive, like breathing and your heart rate.

What is the Brain Stem?

It's about as round as your thumb and only about three inches long, but without it, you'd have trouble breathing, swallowing, and adjusting your heart beat. What is it? It's your brain stem, which is a part of your brain that controls many of the basic body functions that keep you alive.

The brain stem sits below your brain like the stem of a flower.

The brain stem is found at the base of the brain and is made up of three main parts: the midbrain, pons, and medulla oblongata.

What Does the Brain Stem Do?

Your brain stem works as a bridge or relay station for messages traveling between different parts of your brain and messages traveling from your brain to the spinal cord. It also controls the movement of involuntary muscles. Involuntary muscles are the ones that your body controls for you. They are found in and around structures like your lungs, heart, and blood vessels. So, thanks to your brain stem, you never have to remind yourself to breathe faster or pump more blood to your muscles when you exercise, because your brain stem takes care of those responsibilities for you.


Each part of the brain stem helps it do its job.

The midbrain is the top section of the brain stem. It helps out with vision, hearing, and movement. It's like an information highway because it provides an area for information about what you see and hear to travel to your brain, and for voluntary movement information to travel from your brain to your body. You can remember that the midbrain helps with vision and hearing if you recall that your eyes and ears are in the middle of your head. If you volunteer for something, it means you want to do it, so voluntary movements are things you want to do, like swing a bat and smile.


The pons is located below the midbrain. In Latin, the word pons means bridge, and we see that the pons acts as a bridge inside your brain because it provides a path for messages to get from one part of your brain to another.

The pons also helps you get a good night's sleep and helps you do things like swallow, taste, hear, regulate your heart rate, and control your bladder, so you don't pee your pants.

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