Academic journal article Science and Children

Elementary Anatomy: Activities Designed to Teach Preschool Children about the Human Body

Academic journal article Science and Children

Elementary Anatomy: Activities Designed to Teach Preschool Children about the Human Body

Article excerpt

The parts of the human body are one of the first lessons we teach to children. From a baby learning motor control to a toddler singing about heads, shoulders, knees, and toes, the human body is a fascinating topic for young children. Rarely, however, do elementary students have opportunities to explore this topic in the classroom. Although the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) specifically mention external body parts in grade 1, internal structures are not mentioned until grade 4 (NGSS Lead States 2013). This limitation seems to echo in the literature, as only a handful of research articles since 2000 have focused on preschool-age children's body knowledge (Jaakkola and Slaughter 2002), and only one article has specifically focused on what children understood about the internal structures of the human body. Garcia-Barros, Martinez-Losada, and Garrido (2011) designed a study to evaluate what children between the ages of 4 and 7 understand about the digestive and respiratory systems and found that they have knowledge of the systems but are unable to provide accurate details until at least age 6. This conclusion is reiterated in other works (Tiexeira 2000; Carvalho et al. 2004), all of which focus solely on the digestive system.


These findings suggest that children may not be able to conceptualize some of the topics associated with anatomy, including internal organs and involuntary muscles, because the concepts are too abstract and are not easily visualized. Thus, the activities that follow incorporate a variety of models and hands-on activities designed to provide preschool-age children with tactile experiences and investigations focusing on the human body. This series of activities is supported by National Science Teachers Association's (NSTA) key principles that guide science learning among young children, specifically that:

* "children have the capacity to engage in scientific practices and develop understanding at a conceptual level,"

* "young children need multiple and varied opportunities to engage in science exploration and discovery," and

* "young children develop science skills and learning by engaging in experiential learning" (NSTA, pp. 2-3).

Each of the preK activities is connected to the NGSS grade 4 standards (see Connecting to the Next Generation Science Standards, p. 56). The activities build on each other in a learning progression, with more complex and abstract systems (i.e., the cardiovascular system) coming after students develop understandings of less abstract systems (i.e., musculoskeletal system). The lessons address three main ideas about our bodies, focusing on how the parts of our body help us by:

* Collecting information about the world around us (i.e., eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin).

* Moving, playing, and growing (i.e., muscles and bones).

* Breathing and eating (i.e., heart, lungs, stomach, and intestines).


Activity 1: Using Our Senses

Prior to the beginning of the activity series and as a preassessment, we gave children a blank outline of the human body and asked them to indicate where they thought the following body parts were: heart, lungs, stomach, brain, intestines, bladder, skeleton, and muscles. As they marked the outline, an adult wrote down their ideas about the body parts on the diagram (see Figure 1). The introductory lesson began with a 15-minute whole-group discussion about our bodies. We began by asking students to talk about their own bodies. When asked, "What is our body?" students responded with "it's in our bones," "the blood," and "your skin." During our discussion, we talked about what we use some of our body parts for, focusing on our eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and hands.


After the discussion, students visited centers to explore how their senses work. The first center focused on taste and smell. …

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