My four year old is starting to get interested in human biology, which is tremendously exciting to me. Of course he's already pretty knowledgeable about the excretory and digestive systems (in less fancy terms), but he's also fascinated by what he's learned about most of the organs and the skeleton. I've been trying to impart that all these systems are made up of smaller bits, called cells, but I'm not sure how much it's sinking in.
So to help illustrate this point, we made a 3-D model cell! This was an extremely easy project that was perfect for a preschooler attention span. I followed the guidelines here, but I know I've seen this activity written up elsewhere around the web as well.
What you will need:
Light corn or karo syrup
Two sandwich baggies
Assorted foodstuffs and toys for organelles
Picture of a cell for reference--I found the one below to be the right level of detail for our purposes:
What to do:
First put one baggie inside the other (there's your bilayer membrane!), and then fill with syrup (cytoplasm). Now, go crazy adding in your organelles!
I spent a fair bit of time organizing my ingredients, and trying to assign an object to each cellular component. I attempted to explain what each thing represented, and gave a very brief description of what it's role in the cell would be. Here's what we used:
And here's our finished product:
So, in the interest of full disclosure, my son was much more interested in eating leftover organelles than learning about the mysterious workings of the cell. I don't think he really absorbed anything other than "mitochondria make energy for the cell" and the term "golgi " (because come on, who doesn't find that funny?). However, we had a good time working on this together, and he loved squishing things about when it was done. I think this would be a fun activity to try again in a few years, when he will perhaps understand a bit more about basic biology.