Nervous System Functions 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.

In this lesson, we will discuss the nervous system and its function. You'll learn about the main parts of the nervous system--the central and peripheral nervous systems--and how they function in the body.

Your Nervous System

How do your lungs remember to breathe when you're asleep? How does your big toe know to wiggle when a fly lands on it? How does your nose tell you that cookies are baking in the kitchen? These things are all handled by your nervous system, a network of organs and nerves that sends signals throughout the body. Your nervous system controls everything you do, including breathing, moving and smelling.

There are two main parts that make up the nervous system: the central and the peripheral nervous systems. While the two have their own particular functions, they work together to send messages throughout the body. Let's explore.

Central Nervous System

The central nervous system is made up of your brain and spinal cord. Your brain is your body's control center, overseeing all the functions of the body by sending and receiving messages. It receives messages from your body and the world around you and then figures out how to react to the information.

Central and peripheral nervous systems
Nervous System

Peripheral Nervous System

The peripheral nervous system (peripheral is pronounced puh-rif-er-al) is the part responsible for actually carrying those messages to and from the central nervous system. It's made up of nerves that connect to the spinal cord. You also have some peripheral nerves that come directly off your brain, and these are called cranial nerves. Nerves act as information highways, carrying messages to and from your brain.

This peripheral nervous system can be further separated into two parts:

Autonomic system

The autonomic system makes sure your body keeps working even when you're not paying attention. For example, it tells your stomach to digest dinner and your lungs to breathe. Do you see how the word 'autonomic' looks like the word 'automatic?' When something is automatic, it happens without you having to think about it.

Somatic System

The somatic system lets you control your muscles through motor nerves, which carry messages away from your brain and send those instructions to your muscles and organs. Let's say your brain receives a sensory nerve message that a fly has landed on your big toe. Your brain sends a message down a motor nerve to your foot, so you can wiggle it off!

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