Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Dem Bones.

This week sees us enjoying our first unit study of the new school year; we're studying the human body.  We're already a day behind, thanks to Thanksgiving, so I'm thinking that we'll be doing school on Saturday, too, this week.  Even at this introductory level of understanding, there's a lot of ground to cover.

By way of introduction, we talked about Creation, and where we come from.  We talked about the ways in which we human beings are similar and how we're different from each other, both on the outside and on the inside.

We then had an interesting discussion about what it means to be alive and how we can tell whether something is alive or not.  This was my way of introducing the idea of cells.  I explained that all living things are made of cells, and used a couple of different ideas to explain what a cell might be like.  For example, I said, just like you might build a castle out of lego pieces of different colours and shapes, living things are made of stacks of different kinds of cells.  Another example I used was to liken cells to making a snowman: just like individual snowflakes are usually too tiny to see, most cells are too tiny to see; but when you put enough together, you can make something big enough to see.  The snowman example seemed to help a few lightbulbs go on.

We went on.  Because cells are usually too hard to see without a microscope, we can look for other things to tell us whether or not something is alive.  We talked about living beings taking in energy; getting ride of waste; being able to move; growing; reproducing; breathing; having a circulatory system; etc etc etc.  It was interesting.

I introduced the idea of body systems by likening our bodies to a bicycle (which the kids all love).  I asked them if they could imagine riding a bike if the wheels were missing, or if the pedals were missing, and how we would manage to ride our bikes if something was wrong with it.  Just like the different parts of the bike must work together, so all of the parts of our bodies must work together in order to keep working.

We went on to name various outside and inside parts of our bodies that we were familiar with and finally got to the naming of our first system: the skeletal system.  We talked about why we have bones, what animals don't have bones, how many bones babies and adults have, about joints, and on and on.  I used Richard Scarry's book What Do People Do All Day? to explain some of this.  One of the sections of that book talks about people who build houses during the day and the importance of framing a house.  This particular example of framing a house was the perfect way, I thought, to introducing the kids to the concept of our bones/skeleton being the frame that holds us upright, keeps us strong, and protects what's inside.  After more discussion, we crafted by making miniature skeletons out of pieces that they cut and glued and we used a fun chart that I'd laminated to help us identify various bones in our bodies.

After a few hours hours, we concluded our study of the skeletal system with a watching of "Dem Bones" that I found here:  Dem Bones.

All in all it was a good start...though at suppertime, when Geoff asked about what they'd learned, Seth and Lizzie seemed to remember very little.  Sigh.  But I guess when you're starting from a base of zero, any information they pick up is awesome.  I actually think that they did learn a bunch of things, but with Seth in particular, he had a very hard time putting words to it.  I found it interesting that when he struggled to find the words for something he'd learned, it was Matthew who jumped in and explained it for his brother; Seth would then nod his head and say "yeah, that's what I meant."  It was lovely to see Matthew helping Seth out, and it was gratifying to see that Matthew had retained a surprisingly large chunk of today's material.

I felt a huge sense of relief by the day's end.  It's a little embarrassing how much work I have put into prepping for this week.  I have no biology or physiology background and it took a huge amount of time for me to sort through what I wanted the kids to learn at a basic level, and then to organize it in a way that I thought the kids would understand and also provide enough interesting things to do to capture and hold their interest.  I've seriously been using google (and pinterest...bless it), the library and amazon for weeks, trying to pull this together.  I printed my last sheet and laminated my last picture on Saturday night and filed it all into my binder!

Yet to come on our Human Body exploration:

  • The Muscular System
  • The Circulatory System
  • The Respiratory System
  • The Digestive System
  • The Brain and Nervous System (including a reinforcement of the Five Senses)
  • A cursory overview of the Male/Female Differences and the Mechanics of How Babies are Made. 


  1. I loved anatomy and biology as a child (and still do). Two of my favourite things were (1) my mom's old anatomy text books which had transparent pages of all the systems that stacked together to build a body and (2) the game "operation". I wonder if it is still around?!

  2. Hey Melissa -
    yes, Operation is still around...and thanks for the great idea. We own the game and I think it would be awesome to play it towards the end of the week.

    I also just learned today that our local IMAX theatre is showing "The Human Body" this week Thursday...so guess where we're going to be going on Thursday??!!

    Thanks Melissa.


  3. Have my old skeleton in the basement from school if you want to borrow it for a bit for the kids to play with. He has a broken clavicle that I should glue back on but I found things much easier to learn/comprehend being able to touch it.

    Let me know if you want to borrow it.


  4. Thanks for the offer Jane!! I think we're good - I had some awesome pictures and a poster-size picture of a full skeleton. We're on to muscles today anyway!!

    But thanks....yeah, I guess you'd be really familiar with all of the stuff that I'm teaching...I should've just sent them to you for a lesson or two!


  5. It sounds like you are doing a great job with this- I loved the snowman analogy that you came up with to explain cells. When I used to teach this unit (I was a high school biology teacher), I had teams of kids trace a life sized outline of their bodies, and then add in the vital organs as we learned about each system- you could do one colour for each system. What perfect timing for your IMAX field trip!