This isn't my style. (Also, I doubt my tutoring families would enjoy potentially hazardous chemical reactions going on in their homes.) But even if you're not going for the jaw-dropping experiments, science seems to lend itself to great hands-on, exploration-type activities. Here is my hands-on science approach.... a quieter, more controllable type of excitement.
Recently, my homeschool kids found a fun, very simple book, with pages of science experiments in it (The Usborne Book of Science Activities: Volume Three). This book is really a great introduction to a lot of science concepts. (Amazon has it listed as ages 6 & up, which sounds accurate.) Although it's an easier to understand text, I think it has definitely been enjoyable & thought-provoking to my older students.
The kids are loving our science experiments and the hands-on time during the day. One student even decided to do "The Body" as her research project. (More about our self-directed research projects here!) Through our experiments and her research, a few questions about the spine presented themselves.
We had already talked about how important the spine is. It keeps our spinal cord safe! The kids were familiar with the concept of the spinal cord and how it sends messages from the brain to make the body move.
There did seem to be some confusion, though, over the construction of the spine. Here's how I decided to make it more accessible. The spine is made up of three main parts:
1. Spinal cord
The vertebrae are the bones, the disks keep the vertebrae from hitting each other, and the spinal cord runs through it all.
Making Your (edible) Spinal Cord, Vertebrae & Disk Model
1. One strand of a pull-apart Twizzler = spinal cord
2. Life Saver mints = vertebrae
3. Gummy Life Savers = disks
(We discussed that the spine has 33 vertebrae, but we only used 10 in our model.)
When I was researching this activity, I checked to see if anyone had done anything similar. Turns out, they had! I checked out this great blog and loved Ms. Den's idea of having the kids put the vertebrae on without the discs first, to see how the spine would "click" if it weren't for the discs.
Step 1: String the mints on the strand of Twizzler and *gently* jiggle it around. Hear the clicking? Does your spine sound like this? Have the kids bend their spine backward & forward... any clicking? Nope. That's because in between every set of vertebrae is a soft disc.
Step 2: Take off the mints. Re-string in a mint-gummy-mint-gummy pattern. Now, *gently* jiggle the "spine" around. Hear any clicking? Nope! Is it easier to move the spine smoothly? Yes!
(I didn't want this activity to be too involved, but rather a "glimpse" at how the spine works, so this was most of our activity. We are going to embark on an entire body unit after we finish with our Ancient Greek unit, so this was sort of a "teaser." )
Just How Fast Does Your Spinal Cord Send a Message?
We did a fun activity to see just how quickly our spinal cord can send messages to make our body move. (I've seen this activity in so many places, I'm not sure who to attribute it to! But, it is not original :) )
Start with a heavy sheet of paper (like a large index card, poster board, etc.) Make a mark on the bottom on both sides of the card. Have the kids hold the card with a thumb on each dot. Then, have them drop and catch the card as quickly as possible! Try it a few times (it was fun to see how our reaction times got faster!) This is how fast our bodies respond to our brain's instructions! Thanks spinal cord!