I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 9.
Christian Anatomy Lessons: Skeletons and Muscles
Create edible models of bone parts, use stickers to label the bones on your body, dissect soup bones and muscles, design workouts for individual muscle groups, and more! These lessons are geared toward 4th- or 5th-grade-level children and their siblings. Another creative mom planned this for our homeschooling co-op. We meet each week for 2 1/2 hours and have 33 children between the ages of 1-13. Use these fun lessons with your classroom, family, after-school program, or co-op!
Part 1: Systems of the Body & Why God Gave Us Bones
YOU WILL NEED:
- Pray. Read and discuss Ezekiel 37:1-14.
- Review cells and DNA. Introduce the major systems of the body: endocrine system, nervous system, muscular system, urinary system, cardiovascular system, digestive system, integumentary system, skeletal system, respiratory system, reproductive system, and lymphatic system.
- Show a picture of and repeat a mnemonic device to remember each of the systems: each night my unintelligent cat dives into some really rocky lakes.
- Ask the children why they think God gave us bones. Most children will say something about how it gives us our shape or form, it holds us up, and it helps us to move.
- Quickly form a person from Play-doh and say, "If we didn't have skeletons, our bodies would be like this Play-doh person. Can it move? No."
- Allow a child to smash the person. Say, "It would also be easily smashed. Just imagine if you fell. That would happen to your body."
Part 2: How Bones Protect Organs
YOU WILL NEED:
- an egg
- a hard plastic container filled with water
- a balloon
- Show an egg and say, "What would happen if we shook around this egg in a container? It would break, wouldn't it?"
- Say, "This egg is like your brain. If it wasn't surrounded by our cranium/skull and some fluid for extra protection, it could break easily. Let's see how it works."
- Place the egg in a hard container that's filled with water. Allow every child to shake it around 5 times. Did it break?
- Tell them: "Just like the bottle and water protected the egg from breaking, our cranium and the fluid inside protects our brains."
- Then ask: "What do your ribs protect? Take a deep breath in and out. Did you feel them move? Your ribs protect your lungs and heart."
- Show a balloon and say, "If your ribs weren't protecting your lungs, if you fell, what might happen to your lungs? Yes, they might easily smash like this balloon."
- Allow a child to pop the balloon.
Part 3: Bones Make Blood & Store Fat and Minerals
It wasn't until I was learning about the human body with my children that I learned (or maybe relearned) that your bones make blood cells!
YOU WILL NEED:
- a ketchup bottle with a bone picture (or paper cut out in a bone shape) taped to the front
- a paper plate
- a bag (such as your purse)
- cheese (or other food that has calcium) for the children to sample
- "Where does our blood come from? Yes, our hearts pump our blood, but where do the blood cells come from?"
- Ask if anyone has a cut right now. Say, "Your body had to make more blood cells to replace the ones you lost. Also, blood cells work really hard delivering oxygen and carbon dioxide, so they only live for a few weeks. We need lots of new blood cells. Where do they come from?"
- Pull out a ketchup bottle that has a bone picture taped to the front and squirt out some ketchup.
- Tell them, "Yes, your bones are blood cell factories. This is why you can’t just replace real bones with manmade bones. That's not the only reason, though. Bones also store fats and minerals for our bodies."
- Show them your bag or purse. Say, "I keep the things I'm going to need in my purse. Here are my keys, lip gloss, sunglasses, etc. Your bones are like a backpack or purse, storing what your body needs, like fats (called lipids). Who can name something that fat does for our bodies? Do you remember that the cell membrane we learned about last week (which was represented by the plastic ziplock bag) is mostly made up of lipids, or fats? If you had no lipids in your diet, you would not have cell membranes. Could you have cells without cell membranes? No! You could not survive without your cells."
- And: "Your bones also store minerals like calcium, which help your heart beat and help your mind think. If you’re forgetful, drink some milk."
- Pass out cheese for children to eat. Say, "Even though your bones store calcium, you still need to eat and drink some every day—at least three servings. What has calcium? Milk, yogurt, cheese, collard greens, spinach. You help your bones get stronger with Vitamin D from sunlight (also in foods) and by getting exercise.
Part 4: The Inside of Bones
YOU WILL NEED: (1 per group of children)
- Soup bone
- Disposable plate
- Toothpicks or disposable knives
- Disposable gloves (optional)
Pair children up into groups of 2-5 and pass out pieces of cow femur (soup bone purchased from the grocery store) on plates.
- Mention each of the parts (periosteum, compact bone, spongy bone, and bone marrow).
- Have them peel away the periosteum.
- Give the children toothpicks so that they can scoop out the marrow.
- Mention how some people eat bone marrow because it is high in iron (and considered tasty) and some people make soup from these because they're high in collagen.
Part 5 (Option A): Make a Non-Edible Bone Model (Craft Project)
Make a model of a cross-section of a bone.
YOU WILL NEED: (per child)
- 4-inch piece of toilet paper/paper towel/wrapping paper roll
- Red and blue crayons
- Shelf liner
- Crumpled up red and yellow tissue paper (or red and yellow pompoms)
- Plastic wrap
- Take a 4-inch piece of toilet paper, paper towel, or wrapping paper roll. Use red and blue crayons to draw blood vessels and nerve endings on the tube, as it is supplied with blood and nerve tissue.
- Tape a piece of plastic wrap to the outside of the paper roll. This represents the periosteum, which is the bone's outside layer. The tube itself represents compact bone, which is the hard, dense layer.
- Next, push some shelf liner into the tube. This represents the spongy bone, which is still hard but less dense than compact bone.
- Put some crumpled up yellow tissue paper in the middle to represent the marrow. The yellow marrow stores fat.
- Place crumpled up red tissue paper pieces at the ends of the tubes. Red marrow produces red and white blood cells.
- Tape plastic wrap over the ends so that the tissue paper won't fall out.
Part 5 (Option B): Edible Bone Model (Craft Project)
Lead children in making an edible bone model. To see the script for what I said during this activity, look below the lesson in Appendix A.
YOU WILL NEED: (per child)
- 1 plate
- 1 napkin
- 1 small or medium tortilla
- 2 strips of white sandwich bread (which would amount to half of a piece of white bread)
- 2 sugar wafer cookies (preferably strawberry or vanilla)
- 1 spoonful of strawberry jam/jelly
- 1 spoonful of orange jam/jelly (apricot, mango, peach, etc.)
- 1 disposable spoon
- 3 strings from Twizzlers Pull & Peel (Not 78 whole pieces but 78 strings. 1 Twizzlers piece has 9 strands.)
Prep: Ahead of time lay out the items that are needed for each child on individual plates with their names on them.*
- Review each of the parts of the bone and what they do. Have the children guess what each of the items will represent in their edible bone model.
- Tell them that the tortilla is the outermost layer of the bone, the periosteum.
- Lay the 2 bread pieces in the center of the tortilla. They will be the spongy bone.
- They can use their spoons to spread the orange jam in the middle of the pieces of bread, as it will be the yellow bone marrow. They should spread the red jam on the top and bottom edge of the bread, as it will be the red bone marrow.
- Lay one strip of the licorice down the middle of the jam to represent the blood vessels. They can put the 2 pieces of bread together like a sandwich.
- Separate the 2 sugar wafers into 4 pieces and place them around the 4 sides of the bread and jelly sandwich. These are the compact bones.
- Wrap the whole thing in the tortilla. Wrap 2 pieces of licorice around the outside of the tortilla. These represent the blood vessels and nerves.
- Review one more time what each part represents. Set these aside for children to take home. If you are not limited by time, they can eat them then.
Part 6: How Broken Bones Heal
YOU WILL NEED:
- X-ray or picture of an x-ray
- A cast (if someone has one)
- Your Body Battles a Broken Bone by Vicki Cobb or another book on how bones repair themselves
- Ask if anyone has ever broken a bone. Did they have surgery or a cast put over the bone they broke?
- Show an x-ray or a picture of an x-ray. Pass around a cast if someone has one.
- Say, "A bone is strong like steel and concrete, but the spongy bone makes the bone resilient so that it can bounce back after being compressed. There is one main difference in this living tissue when compared to other matter. It has the ability to repair itself. A bone will start healing within one hour of a fracture. That's why it is an emergency when someone breaks a bone. As soon as possible, x-rays need to be taken to see if surgery is required to put the two bones back together."
- Tell them, "Within one hour of a fracture, leaking blood from the bone forms a blood clot. After a few days, cells called fibroblasts and osteoblasts make spongy bone in the open area. A callus forms on the bone as it continues to harden and blood vessels regrow over the area. It will continue to harden and be completely healed in 3 months."
- If you're not limited by time, read Your Body Battles a Broken Bone by Vicki Cobb.
Part 7: Make a Model Osteon (Craft Project)
If you are not limited by time, make a model of osteon. Compact bone is made up of osteon, also called the Haversian system.
YOU WILL NEED:
- 2 lumps of modeling clay or play-dough
- A drinking glass
- Drinking straws
- Hold up some straws. These will represent the osteons, which are made from thousands of fibers of collagen embedded in mineral salts of calcium and phosphorus, which will be represented by this clay/play-dough.
- Flatten two lumps of clay/play-dough. The fibers are laid in circular layers.
- Use the rim of a drinking glass to make an indention in each lump of clay/dough.
- In one clump, make a tower of straws pointing in all directions. In the second lump of clay/dough, make a second tower with the same number of straws placed upright around the indentation. Ask the children which tower they think will be stronger.
- Test the strength of each tower by placing books on top of it. The ring of straws should be much stronger. The circular pattern of the osteon in our compact bone makes our bones strong and hard.
Part 8: Make an Osteon/Haversian System Model (Craft Project)
Make a model of the arrangement of the osteon/haversian system.
YOU WILL NEED: (per child)
- 4x6 piece of construction paper or cardstock
- About 30 straws cut into 6-inch lengths
- Double-sided tape
- Scotch Tape
- Give each child a sheet of paper. It represents the periosteum of the bone.
- Use a few strips of double-sided tape to cover one side of the paper. Fold into a tube with the tape on the inside. Tape this closed with Scotch Tape.
- Stick the straws into the inside of the tube until no more can be added. The straws represent the osteon.
Part 9: Bone Count
Count your bones. Spend a minute trying to count how many individual bones you have.
- Tell them: "We have 206 bones and more than half are in our hands and feet. (We have 54 bones in our hands, and our feet have 52 bones.)"
- Ask them: "Why do you think you were not able to count all the bones in your body?" (Some are well-hidden, fused together, on a part that they didn't think to count like on the back, etc.)
Part 10: Labeling Your Bones
Go over the scientific names of some of your bones.
YOU WILL NEED:
- Stickers containing the above-referenced bones
- A reference sheet
- Walk children through them and have them touch each one.
- Pass out a sheet of printed labels that have each of the bones listed on them. Children can use a reference sheet from the Internet or a book for assistance.
- Have the children place each of the stickers over the named bones on their own bodies.
- Our stickers included cranium, mandible, maxilla, scapula, humerus, radius, ulna, carpals, metacarpals, phalanges, sternum, costals/ribs, vertebrae, sacrum, femur, tibia, fibula, talus, malleolus, calcaneus, tarsals, metatarsals, phalanges, patella, pelvis, and clavicle.
Part 11: Learn About Vertebrae
Create a model of the vertebrae. Briefly talk about our backbones.
YOU WILL NEED: (per child)
- Pipe cleaner
- 5 pony beads of 1 color
- 12 pony beads of another color
- 7 pony beads of a third color
- Construct a spine using a pipe cleaner (representing the spinal cord) and 3 different colored beads.
- Fold a knot at the end of a pipe cleaner.
- Working from bottom to top, add 5 lumbar vertebrae of beads of one color.
- Next, add 12 Thoracic vertebrae of another color.
- Finally, have the children add 7 cervical vertebrae that are the neck. Shape the spine into an S shape and you have a human vertebra.
- Be sure the mention that these are just the 24 articulating vertebrae. There are also 9 fused vertebrae in the sacrum and the coccyx that don't bend. As they bend their pipe cleaner spinal cords, they can see just how flexible our column of vertebrae bones is. You can also talk about what it means when someone says they have a slipped disc. "The Visual Dictionary of the Human Body" has a great illustration of this!
- You can also make an edible model of vertebrae using gummy Life Savers, pasta, and pipe cleaners.
Part 12: Joints and Synovial Fluid
YOU WILL NEED:
- 1 bottle of mild scented or unscented hand lotion
- Explain what joints are. If someone made a hand model, you can use it to demonstrate the joints in your hands. We have over 200 joints in our body. There are 56 joints in each hand. Some joints allow a lot of movement. Some allow a small amount of movement. Some joints (like the ones in your cranium) hold the bones together but do not allow any movement. Between the joints is synovial fluid, which helps the joints move more easily.
- Have the children rub their hands together really hard for 20 seconds and then notice how warm their hands are (from the heat produced by friction) and how rough it felt.
- Put lotion on each child’s hand and tell them to rub their hands together for 20 seconds again. This lotion is like the synovial fluid that helps your joints avoid damage from friction.
(This activity idea came from in Exploring Creation with Human Anatomy and Physiology (Young Explorer Series) by Jeannie K. Fulbright.)
Part 13: "Name That Joint": Types of Joints
Having a game-show-host type of persona while presenting this would be ideal.
- Tell them: "We are going to play a quick game of “Find that Joint”. I am going to describe a type of joint, and I want you to show me where that type of joint is in your body by moving it."
- Say, "We will start with a hinge joint. A hinge joint lets bones swing fully in one direction: up and down, but not side to side." (Move your elbows up and down like you are doing bicep curls and kick your legs like you are kicking a ball to give them a hint.) Say, "Yes, the elbow and knee have hinge joints! They offer a limited range of motion but are very stable. Move your elbows and knees while saying, 'hinge joint.'"
- Tell them: "The pivot joint allows for one bone to twist around another joint, allowing it to rotate or turn from side to side" (Shake your head “no” and “yes” to give them a hint.) Yes, the top two vertebrae let your skull pivot from side to side and up and down. Shake your head “no” and then “yes” while you say, “pivot joint.”
- Tell them: "The ball-and-socket joint is the most flexible joint, allowing movement in many directions." (Stretch your shoulders out and around in circles and wiggle your hips around to give them a hint.) "Yes, your shoulders and hips have ball and socket joints. They offer a wide range of motion but are less stable than hinge joints." Move your shoulders and hips while you say, “ball-and-socket joint.”
- "A sliding or gliding joint lets two bones that can move separately meet." (Flick your wrists, move around your ankle, and twist around your back to give them a hint.) "Yes, your wrists, ankles, and vertebrae/spine have sliding or gliding joints. You have two bones that move separately meet and slide over one another, allowing you to bend and twist." Move around your vertebrae, wrists, and ankles as you say, “sliding joints”.
- Say: "Our last one is tricky, but I think you can guess what it is. A fixed joint is a joint that does not move. There are places in our body that bones come together in our body, but they do not move." (Tap your head as if you are thinking hard.) "Yes, we have fixed joints where the bones of our cranium come together." Tap your cranium gently while you say, “fixed joint”.
- Thank you for joining me today on “Name that Joint”!