A study of bones fits into lots of units, from archaeology to football. The bones above were created by Josepha from marshmallows, straight pretzel sticks, and white chocolate coating, a fun and slightly messy classroom project to kick off your bone study. Just put mini marshmallows on each end of the pretzel sticks and dip them into melted white chocolate or white candy coating. Both melt easily in the microwave. Set them on parchment paper to cool.
If you love edible manipulatives as much as Josepha does (and they really do make lessons memorable!), then you might also want to make a model of the spine. Here’s how:
Naturally, if you are studying about bones, you will want to sing “Dem Bones.” Here you will find the tune and the lyrics, including a suggestion for a new line to replace “Hear the Word of the Lord,” which may be inappropriate for your classroom.
If you look for a recording of this song, you should know that there are two traditional African-American spirituals known by this name, and that the one that works well for a study of the skeleton is also sometimes called “Dry Bones.” YouTube has a recording of the Delta Rhythm Boys singing this song. And here is the Schoolhouse Rock skeleton song “Not-so-dry Bones.”
There is also a book, Bob Barner’s Dem Bones. This book works on two levels. It is a great picture book of the traditional song, “Dem Bones,” which makes a fun read-aloud or sing-along for the youngest students. It also has bone facts on each page. The page that shows “Leg bone connected to da ankle bone” also points out that “the knee bone (also known as the kneecap or patella) covers and protects the knee joint. The knee bone works like a hinge on a door so you can kick, jump, squat, and dance.”
The slightly spooky cut and torn paper illustrations show the particular bone being discussed as a red shape, so it is easy to find and learn.
Some ideas for using the book:
- Following the illustrations, cut bones from paper and put them in a center. Have students build the skeleton as they read the book.
- The last page spread gives bone names. Use these to make a bony word wall for October, and challenge students to learn the names. Play “Simon Says” using the terms — “Simon says, ‘Shake your tibia.'”
- The skeletons in the story have a band going. See whether your class can name all the instruments.
- Make an art project inspired by the book. Textured paper, watercolors, and some skill with cutting or tearing are all it takes.
For the youngest students, that’s probably enough information. Add some hands-on items, like a model skeleton, and they’ll have a good idea of what bones are and how they fit together.
There are also several different skeleton games, including Human Skeleton Bingo, which is a great choice for vocabulary practice. The spaces show the key bones, including rib cage, femur, skull, spinal column, pelvis, and more. A spinner and markers are also included.
Here is The Toymaker’s skeleton to print out and cut.
Older kids will want more detail. A Laminated Skeletal System Anatomical Chart provides quick reference throughout the unit. For an overall study of human anatomy, you can’t beat Dover’s Human Anatomy Coloring Book. It is economical enough to make a class set affordable, or you can remove the skeleton pages, laminate them, and put them with some wipe-off crayons for a center.
Once the kids have the basic idea of what bones are and what they do, we like to move on to what is needed for good bone health: namely, healthy food and exercise. Classroom books on exercise and nutrition can be useful for the study of bones:
- Milliken’s Primary Nutrition series has reproducible worksheets about food and exercise, focusing on the newest government food pyramid and the rising levels of obesity in America. Each book includes full-color overheads — a real timesaver.
- Steck-Vaughn’s Health, Nutrition, and P.E.series has worksheets, directions for hands-on experiments, reading passages, and bulletin board patterns. The book for grades 3-4 has a skeleton worksheet.
- Teacher Created’s Healthy Habits for Healthy Kids series has lots of hands-on activities.
Bring in art with this Skeleton art lesson plan, and you’ll have a balanced lesson.