Science Activities: The Human Body

Explore human and vertebrate anatomy with simple projects, most of which can be done inexpensively with only a few supplies from your local store.

The word “anatomy” evolved from Greek roots meaning “cut up” or “separated into pieces.” We discovered how the body works, how it can go wrong, and how to help it work better, by taking it apart. We separated the supremely sophisticated organism into its simpler component pieces, and we studied it piece by piece, learning in turn about each component and system. The first scientists in the ancient world, in which cutting into the human body was taboo, had to make do with dissecting animals. In the modern world, we have a richer selection of opportunities that we can use to learn directly about the inner workings of the human body. Modern surgeons and medical students can dissect willingly donated cadavers, and the general public can view preserved human bodies in museums of anatomy, made possible by the modern art of plastination. And children in a modern home or classroom can still easily follow the time-honored practice of dissecting animals.

When you are done exploring, model-making can also be a fun and helpful component of science education. Once you've figured out the basic principles by which the various body parts work, it is often helpful to make a boiled-down representation, a simplified toy model of the real thing.

A child's study of how the human body works should include lots of dissections and anatomical models, and this list presents some projects that I have used successfully in my own classes. Some of them require preserved specimens purchased from a science supply company, but many of them can be done using meat or offal purchased from a local market. These projects could be used as random fun activities, but they were designed to be part of a comprehensive curriculum.