Studying the Human Body

Human Body Project - An Everyday Story

“Once children are helped to perceive themselves as authors or inventors, once they are helped to discover the pleasure of inquiry, their motivation and interest explode” ~Β Loris Malaguzzi

Thank you to everyone who shared their child’s interests with us on Monday.

I mentioned that Jack (4yrs 3mths) had been interested in the human body lately, particularly the function of different organs. It started a couple of months ago now when Jack wondered what happened to food once we ate it;

‘What does the food do in our stomach?’ ‘How does it get to our stomach?’

Let’s go find out. Firstly I asked Jack what he thought happened. I can’t remember exactly what he said but he thought that our teeth made the food smaller and then it fell down our necks and dropped into our stomach. He wasn’t sure what happened to the food once it was in our stomach.

Human body project - bones - An Everyday Story
Some of Jack’s first drawings.
Left: green line is blood circulating around the body.
Right: Jack’s first thought on how food digests.

Usborne See Inside Your Body - An Everyday StoryAfter finding out what he understands (or thinks he knows) we always do some research. We have Usborne’s See Inside Your BodyΒ which has lots of lift-up flaps. I really like this book because it uses corrects terms, explaining the different systems and functions of the body simply but without dumbing it down. While it doesn’t have the reproductive system, it does explain the respiratory, digestive and circulatory systems nicely.

Human body project - drawings - An Everyday Story
Left: How are kidneys and bladder work
Centre: How our digestive system works
Right: A skeleton

Human body project - organs - An Everyday StoryJack wanted to know all about the digestive system. Here’s a couple of things he’s worked on:

  • drawings of the digestive system – how food travels through the body
  • labelling drawings – learning proper terms like oesophagus
  • paintings
  • pretend play – doctors
  • clay modelling of the intestines – he was particularly interested in how they made poop
  • working with his organ torso “Organ Man” – talking about each organ (oesophagus, stomach, liver, large intestines, small intestines, bowel) and putting them in order
  • we took a trip to the National Science Museum where Jack was able to ask lots of questions to the staff and investigate lots of different animal skeletons.
Human body project - organs - An Everyday Story 2
Inside our body: You can see a brain at the top, oesophagus down to two lungs, into the stomach with the liver sitting on top, and down to the kidneys and intestines.

Human body project - digestive system - An Everyday Story This experience at the science museum inspired more questions about our bones.

‘Why do we have bones?’Β 

‘What do you think, Jack?’

‘I think we have bones so our bodies aren’t just blobs. Bones are hard (see feel it). Bones are made of metal. Metal is hard.’

Observational drawing - human body project - An Everyday Story Human Body Project - drawing - An Everyday Story This misinterpretation of bones led us into exploring bones in a little more depth; what is inside bones, what happens when bones break, and the function of bones.

  • we looked at some x-rays on the light panel – including some old x-rays of daddy’s (and how great isΒ this one?! Might put it on our Christmas list)
  • explored some raw meat bones – cut them open and had a look inside
  • investigated a bird skeleton – a chance find while walking
  • Jack made observational drawings from our model skeleton
  • and used wire to create his own skeleton
Human body project - skeleton - An Everyday Story
Drawing helps pre-writers like Jack document what they understand. Jack drew this picture this week. You can see how his understanding has grown from his initial drawing at the top of the page.

Human body project - X-rays - An Everyday Story An incredible amount of learning has taken place over these last few months; word recognition, writing, sequencing, problem-solving, thinking creatively, asking questions and finding answers.

Jack is still interested in learning about the human body; he plays doctors most days, he tells us about what happens while he is eating, but I think this project might be coming to its natural end…for now at least. There is something else which is dominating his play at the moment. But you’ll have to wait until next month to find out what it is…


26 Replies to “Studying the Human Body”

  1. I love this approach to learning, but find it doesn’t work well for us becausemy son will not draw. It’s not that he can’t, because on very rare occasions he has, but he just won’t. I strongly believe it is because he has this inborn perfectionism and realizes that his drawings don’t look like the ones in a book or the ones mommy or daddy do. To give another example of his perfectionism…those sticker books where you are supposed to put the sticker over it’s silhouette…if there is even the tiniest sliver or speck of the silhouette showing he will flip out until he peels the sticker off and fixes it so it is perfect. I find this so upsetting and don’t know what to do about it beyond telling him that things don’t have to be perfect which doesn’t seem to have any effect.Do you have any advice?!?!

    1. Is there some other creative outlet that he enjoys? How does he usually show you what he knows and understands? What he is interested in? Maybe through play of some kind? Reggio emphasises allowing children to explore their interests more deeply and expressing themselves in which ever way connects with them. This is what they mean by the Hundred Languages. Does he like painting or sculpting or collage? Or maybe he likes to build or make models?

      Jack is similar with perfectionism. Not with his drawing but definitely when he is building. He is just so invested in building and really wants it to be a certain way. There isn’t a whole lot which will calm him beyond recognising what he is trying to do and helping him to find a way to do it. Even if there are tears, there is just no moving beyond what he wants to build. We’re trying to give him language; ‘oh well, the block fell down. I’ll just build it up again.’ This is helping, he is starting to take deep breaths when his buildings fall and I have heard him talking to himself.

      What things does your little guy like doing? Maybe we could find some other way for him to explore and discover and make his learning visible.

      1. Thank you for you reply! He definitely shows what he knows/what interests him through imaginative play, either dress up and act out, or with blocks and wooden figures creating different “set-ups”, as he calls them. The second that he sees something that interests him, I can tell that he is itching to get home and act it out. I think it is hard for me sometimes because I am not the acting out type (and he nearly always wants me to do it with him rather than on his own), so going along with all of his scenarios doesn’t come naturally to me (I am way better with the “set-ups” than the dress up and acting out…even as a kid that wasn’t my thing!)…something I need to work on! He also wants to turn absolutely everything into a pretend scenario…anything we learn he then wants to take the materials and use them to “play” teacher or something else…I know in my heart that this is probably great but sometimes my Montessori background makes me struggle with this…as in the materials are not “toys”. (We are not strict Montessorians at home, I should qualify, but we do have some Montessori influence…as well as some traditional, some Waldorf, etc, etc)

        Sometimes I think it is just hard to let go of the image you had in your head of how things would go with your kids and learning…I pictured my child drawing and painting and modeling, but at this point I have to accept that those are not his “things”. Maybe they never will be, or maybe it will come later…I really appreciate your response because it really made me see that I need to appreciate and encourage the ways he connects with his interests. I also appreciate the advice on perfectionism! We are working on it!

    2. Megan and Kate, I hear you. Perfectionism in a little person is so hard to live with. We feel powerless to ease the upset. I’m thinking that the exercises in the videos I just put up may help, both you and the children.
      If they learn the simple and quick exercises by copying you, when they are in a calm state, it will be easier for them to do them when they are upset. When they get into a state you could then just do some of the exercises.
      When they see you doing them they may start to copy you, thus having a tool to calm in the moment. When done regularly they will also help to calm in the long term.
      If you think this might work for your little ones you could check out the videos on this page.
      I hope it helps.

  2. My child plays doctor also. But it is much younger. So I can not explain her what happen with the food πŸ™‚ Very nice pictures and a lot of smart information. I think in some years I will do it also πŸ™‚

    Best wishes
    and warmly regards to

  3. Love this comprehensive post Kate. Love the learning that went on!

  4. gorgeous work β€” thank you so much for sharing! love seeing this!

  5. This is a wonderful project. Love to see the direction one simple question can take a child… With the right support!

  6. Such exciting things going on with this project! I love the avenues that he is leading you down. I’m working on a post about our Faces Project… πŸ™‚

    1. looking forward to reading it πŸ™‚

  7. Such an inspiring post Kate! I love everything about it!

  8. So fascinating to see the natural progression of his learning throughout the whole process!

  9. A little girl I was talking to told me that her mommy ate her up. No she didn’t I responded . Well then she said ” so how’d I get in there.”

    1. That’s the drawback of telling people they have a baby in the tummy instead of in the uterus or the womb. πŸ™‚

  10. This is the advantage of keeping children him out of school. You both have the time to explore his interests and he is probably learning os much more this way.
    I posted a reply to Megan above but it hasn’t shown up. Is that because I put a link in it?

  11. Hi Kate
    Could I ask how big your “organ man” and skeleton are? I have looked on the link but the dimension don’t seem to be stated.
    I have a four year son, that asks the same types of question all the time. Love their questioning minds.

    1. Our organ torso is about 40cm tall and 22cm wide. There is a smaller one available. Let me see if I can find the link…. here it is 4D Vision Human Anatomy Torso Model It is a lot smaller though. Only 4.5 inches so less than 12cms tall. I can image the organs would be really tiny.

      And our skeleton is about 80cm tall and 22cm wide. I really like this skeleton. He’s nice and sturdy and a good size for the price. He does take up a bit of room though.

      1. Thanks for that information Kate. I was concerned that they may be too small to work easily with, but the bigger one sound great πŸ™‚

  12. Hi,

    Just wanted to say that your blog is very inspirational and you are doing such a wonderful job with both Jack and Sarah. I found this post very interesting as recently my almost 4yr old daughter Rosie asked me an interesting question – she told me she was so hungry she was going to eat 100 chips and I told her that they wouldn’t all fit in her tummy and after a little thought she asked me whether eventually I was going to pop!!! Clearly she thought that eating was in some degree a cumulative thing so I tried to explain how food was digested and taken through the blood stream to different parts of the body, It amazed me how when she was quizzed about this by my mum she clearly understood how it works. It showed me the importance of really following their interests and how when you do they really remember what they’ve learnt. I will definitely take on board what you’ve done with Jack in this project and see if this resonates with Rosie – thanks so much.

    1. A lot of our projects and little explorations come about because Jack or Sarah have asked a question or has miss understood something just like with Rosie. You are so right, when we follow their interests (and then can learn all kinds of math and literacy this way) they truly do learn, naturally.

  13. Your blog is SO lovely, truly. I have a question for you. It seems like you have a lot of resources and materials on hand for when their inquiries come up. Is this the case or do you find yourself buying resources (like your organ model) as the questions start coming up? Is there enough time before their interest wanes to gather the materials as budget allows? And I loved the comments about perfectionism…my 4 year old is like that…will not do ANY observational drawings if he can’t draw it exactly as he sees it. In the meantime, I’ve been trying to do a lot of basic material explorations with him and trying to get him just to scribble because I realized I was trying to get him to do observational drawings without having even gone through the scribbling stages.

  14. Hi! I just wanted to know, do Jack decides to do observational drawings or do you suggest him to do so? How exactly do you guide/support him throught his projects?

    1. Initially I suggested observational drawings to Jack. He would create a block sculpture and I hand him a clipboard and fine tip marker and ask him if he’d like to draw it. Or I would place some intriguing materials on the art table (maybe things we had collected from a bush walk) along with some drawing materials and he would start to draw the materials. Now though he will draw most things he creates as well as ideas he has for creating and modelling. I really think drawing is a wonderful language for him. Jack is able to express many of his thoughts, interests and ideas through drawing.

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