Saturday, October 8, 2011

Animals and Us – One Pattern for Infinite Variety

Last week, The Preschool Scientist focused on helping our children to understand what they look like on the inside, specifically their bones.  Today, we will be extending that understanding to animals.  The goals of this lesson are first to help children understand that familiar animals have the same basic body parts as we do and also have bones.  The second goal is to introduce the idea that animals have lots of similarities with one another.  When children understand that animals have bodies similar to ours it inspires both wonder at the variety that they see on our outsides and empathy for other species.    This activity requires very few materials and makes no mess so it would be a great one to do at a Doctor’s office or anywhere that had a wait so long as skeletons had already been printed out.  Finally an educational use for all those stuffed animals that seem to constantly find thier way into your house!

Parent Background Guide   Our lesson today is really a study of basic comparative anatomy.  In comparative anatomy, scientists look at bones and other structures in different organisms to see the similarities and the differences.  This allows them to group and classify these organisms and before we could test DNA it helped scientists to determine which animals were related to each other.  One of the most striking similarities to me is how similar human hand bones are to whale flippers, yet they perform utterly different functions.  In general, animals with a spinal cord are most often studied.  Comparative Anatomy is still a very useful study today and is very valuable to the study of dinosaurs in the field of paleontology where no DNA evidence exists.

This week’s activity

2-3 Stuffed animals chosen from the list below

Access to the internet or printout of the human skeleton and those of the animals you have chosen.

Preparation:   Choose or allow your child to choose 3 stuffed animals that are interesting to them.  Realistic animals would be preferred, but choosing an animal to which your child has a connection would also be very valuable.  For the purposes of this lesson snakes would be confusing.

Discovery time:   Line the animals up along a couch, chair, table and begin by helping your child find similar body parts on each animal.  Where is the head, the stomach, how many feet does it have, where would the ribs be??  Look at each animal to verify that all of them have the body parts in question.  Instead of asking all the questions, encourage your child to name body parts and you can each take turns finding them.  After you have illustrated that each animal has the same basic parts (and maybe some different ones) take out or view the pictures of the skeletons.  Encourage your child to first match each skeleton with the animal.  This may require lots of help and hints, but try to avoid doing it for your child.  Next, ask your child to point to things that are similar.  All vertebrates have a skull, vertebrae, four limbs, rib cage,{hands, flippers, feet, wings}.

Tying it together:   Now that your child has the general idea that we are all made out of the same parts, both inside and outside, make sure to connect that knowledge with other animals that they see in the world around them.  This will help to get your child thinking about their bodies and the bodies of animals as well.  For example, if you see a bird flying remind your child that their arms are similar to the bones in the bird’s wing.  What do they think it would be like to fly??  The idea here is that knowing our similarities can help children to image what it would be like to be another animal or to determine what is different that makes them different from that animal.  Horses can run faster than us, this is because they use four legs to run whereas we use two of our “legs” to do other things like carry toys. 

Fun Facts

Homologous means structures that are from the same origin (are the same bone), even if they do different things for different animals.

Human Skeleton

Skeleton Images of Common Toy Animals

Common Mammal Stuffed Animals


Check Back on Toddler Tuesday for a related activity for the little ones in your house.  Until then Happy Inquiring!

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