Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bones (and a bit of eyes!)

We are keeping the kids home from preschool for a couple of months, and to keep back the tide of inevitable  chaos and 3.75 year old madness, I designed units to do with them, including schedules and regularly scheduled edumacation and whatnot. This is Day 1, posted a couple weeks later because, um, nothing ever goes as planned!

First day of week one was marred by an eye doc appointment for Alex- and our eye doc appointments have been known to take five hours because she is always triple and quadruple booked or more, there's four rooms and two waiting rooms, all of which are full and the doc cycles through each room while her staff cycles people in and out of rooms. It's not unusual to have three stints in the waiting rooms with each visit, which is a pain for anyone, but I really think I deserve a medal everytime I make it through a visit like that with two small children.

To make matters worse, Anya had a sudden reaction to the antibiotic she was on for a sinus infection and we had to race to the bathroom down the hall many times.

However, the eye doc had a great model of the eyeball and I talked them through all the parts of the eye, and we tried looking through the lens showing various pathologies, so they could see how if anything happened to the lens it would not let light in. I wrapped my coat over their heads and held the cataracts lens up to the one spot I was letting light in, and asked them to tell me what they could see. We also looked at the eye muscles and talked about how the doctor could move them and shorten them, but only because Alex had strabismus surgery last year and Anya will have it next spring.

A side note on preschoolers and twins and surgery: I've read that you should consider carefully whether to tell kids much details about upcoming potentially traumatic procedures, but decided that it would be good for my kids to know. When I started talking to Anya about needing surgery, Alex piped up to tell her about his experience, and to tell her which parts were scary, but how it wasn't *actually* scary, how his eyes hurt afterwards and he wanted me to be there, but that then I came and it was better. Anya asked him questions ("Was it scary when they took you away from Mama?" "No, it was a little bit scary, but then I was pretty brave and the doctor was nice."). I told them that my mom would come to visit for Anya's surgery just like she ahd for Alex's and that got them pretty excited. They are planning to do each and every thing exactly the same, but with the roles reversed. Anya will wake up before it is light out and go to the hospital, and Alex will stay home with Mama's Mama and make cookies for Anya to have when she feels a little better. I really think this is one of those times that the awesomeness of twins shows through.

When we finally got home from the doctor, we started talking about bones. There were a couple of points that I wanted to make sure we covered, and then I oversimplified all the rest.

Important Points:

  • Bones are hard and rigid, so they are strong but they can break (the kids are obsessed with casts and stories about broken limbs, so we had a headstart on this one), They keep us upright and protect our body.
  • Different bones have different jobs in our body; some help us stay upright (backbone), some help us walk or move things (long bones of the legs and arms, pelvis)  and some protect vulnerable parts of our bodies (brain, ribcage).
  • Bones are white because they are made up of the mineral calcium, which we have to take into our body by eating things like yogurt and dark green vegetables and drinking milk.

My more advanced points that grow off the above:
  • Bones can grow: kids' skeletons are growing and making them get taller, but bones also grow if a bone is broken and the two broken edges grow back together.
  • Special cells called osteoblasts take calcium and other substances from the blood and turn it into bone on the growing or broken edges. If the rest of the body needs calcium, special cells called osteoclasts come along and break down the bone and let the calcium back into the blood. This is fun because you can pretend to be PacMan munching on bone. And again, we've talked about bones a lot prior to starting this lesson, so we had a head start.
  • Bones make up a frame for all the rest of our bodies, and all the bones fit together and work together and with the muscles and connective tissue.
Our project for bones was fun and the kids loved every step of it (and it was so easy- I did it totally on the fly, no prep work or even forethought!): 

The Life-Sized Bone Puzzle
I had the kids take turns laying down and holding still on top of a long strip of easel/mural paper, while the other kid and I traced the outline of the their body. 

Once we were done I did a refresher on parts of the body- I was pretty sure they knew it all, but every once in a while they surprise me by not knowing something and I feel like a dummy for not teaching them something so simple.

Then while the kids played with their body outlines, I grabbed some cardstock we had leftover and started drawing bones.

You can see that they are really basic, and I was concerned that all the long bones would be indistinguishable, since my drawings leave something to be desired and the kids are only in preschool, so I included some tells, like the hands/feet attached to the lower extremities and the femur's prominent one-sided head where it fits into the pelvis. I put these aside for the moment.

I had the kids come over and show me where they knew they had bones: they pointed out their legs and arms, and poked especially at bony prominence like the ankle bone and wrist bone. That told me that 1) I should physically show them some other bones by making them more obvious and 2) I might have to work hard to convince them about bones like the hips which are harder to see and feel as obvious bones. 

I started going through the bones, showing them on my own body and theirs, bending and getting into funny positions to try to reveal the bones as much as possible, and having the kids do the same. They were totally into this- having each kid curl up in a tight ball while the other felt all the bumps of their vertebrae was especially awesome.

Once they were excited about the skeletal system and seemed comfortable pointing out where certain bones are on their own bodies, we moved back to the body outlines. Unlike some of my other projects, I emphasized simple, common names because I think even the simplified skeleton involved a lot of memorizing and that I was already pushing the kids' limits. It was important to me that they be exposed to the technical terms, but more important that they start seeing how all the individual pieces fit together.

Here's the basics of what I went through:

  • The Skull - Protects our brains and forms our face.
  • The Ribcage - I showed them pictures from an anatomy book to show them how it actually looks like a cage, surrounding and protecting the heart and lungs.
  • The Pelvis/Hips-This is a tough one, since I didn't want to talk about the first thing I think of, which how the shape of the pelvis affects the passage of an infant through the birth canal. I talked instead about it looking like a butterfly and generally looking funny compared to other bones, and that it was where the legs attached.
  • The Backbone - We stacked blocks on top of one another to show how the backbone is made of vertebrae stacked on one another, and I emphasized that it helps us stand upright.
  • The Long Bones of the Arm and Leg - uppers each have one large bone, while the lowers have two bones. You can feel the lateral aspects of each lower arm bone.
As we went through these with the cards, I asked them to help me place them on the life sized outlines, and was quick to give help the first time around. Then I had them gather up the cards in piles and try to piece together the skeletons on their own. It was awesome. They were really excited, helped each other and only asked for help from me a little bit. Then they did it over and over and over till I put the whole project away the following day.

I eventually added some additional hints to help them remember some functions, like adding a red heart in the middle of the ribs, so that it actually looked like it was being protected. and the diaphragm muscle so that we could start talking about breathing in a couple of days.

One project I didn't do, but plan to someday, is to illustrate what happens to bone when the osteoclasts pull calcium from the bones- osteoporosis. That happens when the rest of the body needs calcium (and is of course much more complicated than this!) and is one of the reasons we need to take in enough food with calcium. To illustrate, take a sponge and get it soaking wet with a watery clay mixture (like slip), making sure to squeeze it out and let the slip soak in all the way, then let it dry. It should be rigid like a bone, then put it in a container of warm water, saying that the warm water is the osteoclasts, who have come to help get some calcium to the rest of the body. After a little while, the clay should get soft and dissolve out of the sponge. Cut the sponge open and let the kids see how the interior is spongy and the "bone" is no longer strong and hard. I hope that such a lesson would make the importance of eating enough calcium more real to them.


hilary said...

You are a total mom rock star! This set of anatomy lessons is so impressive.

Pollywog Preschool said...

Please, please, please continue this!! Your lessons are exactly the kind of thing I am trying to do with my preschoolers. It is SO refreshing to see someone doing it so well. Keep it up!!

Darcy said...

Thanks, Hilary! If only I could manage to keep up with blogging about our projects!