I’ve never met preschoolers who weren’t excited to show me their bandaged fingers or skinned knees. Have you noticed that? Talking about their injuries makes up the crux of preschoolers’ vocabulary for talking about the human body. Unless children have a particular interest in how the body works, though, the details on how the rest of the body functions may still be a mystery to them. What better way to help young children learn more about the human body than through stories and activities? I present to you: Body Science!
First, we read our story. I decided to use Tedd Arnold’s fantastic Parts to introduce the concepts of how our bodies work. In case you don’t know the story, the book shows a somewhat-neurotic little boy as he worries that he’s completely falling apart because some of his fair fell out, his tooth is loose, and a bit of something that looked like a brain came out of his nose when he sneezed. According to kid logic, that means he’s falling apart–get some tape, hurry! The terrific rhyming book is simultaneously funny and comforting; by the end, the boy is assured by his parents that all of those things are normal and his body is doing just what it should. Whew! There are plenty of opportunities for asking open-ended questions throughout the story.
Next, we retell the story and talk about the science. The kiddos helped me to retell the story of Parts with the help of a felt human body (various templates here). We talked about the brain and what it does, the teeth and what they do–both topics in our story. Then we added on discussion of the heart, stomach, and lungs, which were the three body parts to be featured in our activity stations.
We always have plenty of time to explore the science with hands-on activity stations. I think it is really important for children to be able to experiment and interact with things in order to build knowledge of the world and how it works; The Usborne Book of Science Activities Vol. 3 and Janice VanCleave’s Play and Find Out About the Human Body were great resources for coming up with activities that do just that. Our three Body Science stations feature hands-on experiments as well as questions for caregivers to ask their children to further concept knowledge:
- Our first station explored the heart and how it beats to pump blood all over our bodies. Children used paper towel tubes to listen to their caregivers’ heartbeats. Then caregivers did 10 jumping jacks, at which point children listened again and noted any difference in heartbeat speed. The experiment was repeated with the caregiver as the listener.
- Our second station was my favorite–the stomach! Each child got a plastic zip-top baggie that had been duct taped along the three sealed edges. The bag represented a stomach, and each child could add some food to the stomach; I had pudding, cereal, and saltines available for a mix of colors, sizes, and textures. The kids sealed the bags, then drew what the stomach looked like pre-digestion. Then it was time for the stomach muscles to do their job–kids squished the food in the bags. Kids drew what the stomach looked like at the end, after digestion. They loved the squishy grossness of the activity, and they really got to understand one of the ways food gets broken down in the stomach.
- Our third station focused on the lungs and how they expand with air when we breathe in. Kids used paper lunch bags to simulate lungs; they put them up to their mouths and breathed in and out deeply, thus deflating and inflating the bags/lungs. I heard great conversations between kids and caregivers about how the lungs expand, with many children placing their hands on their chests to feel their own lungs expand.
Everyone gets to take something home to reinforce our STEM topic. I had plenty of books available for check-out–both non-fiction about the body and the rest of Arnold’s Parts series. I also had available take-home activity sheets featuring three additional activities to explore parts of the body. The activities included labeling and/or coloring parts of a body illustration; conducting a taste test experiment to learn about the tongue; and making fingerprints to see how everyone’s prints are unique. I’ve found that caregivers are excited to continue these activities at home, and I place extra copies at the check-out desk of the library for families who are interested but couldn’t attend the program.
How do you explore the human body with preschoolers? Do you incorporate hands-on activities?