Meet Vertebrae-Man — Our Hands-on Explorations of the Backbone and Nervous System!

Continuing on with our vertebrate-invertebrate unit… One day last week we learned a bit about the backbone and nervous system. We talked about the importance and function of the vertebrae and did some activities to explore how/why the vertebrae work. The kids liked this almost as much as they liked Harold (when we did the circulatory system)!  Here’s a picture of vertebrae man–then I’ll explain what we did…

I made sure to have Rotelle and Rigatoni noodles on hand, plus some round gummy discs (I found a pack of gummy lifesavers that would work).

First I handed the kids each a pipe cleaner and told them this was their spinal cord.  I had the kids put plain Rotelle noodles over their spinal cord. These, I explained  were their vertebrae. When they had enough I had them hold it vertically and pretend to ‘run.’   Then I had them quietly hold the vertebrae up near their ear and pretend to bend and turn.  I asked them what they heard… They pointed out that they heard lots of clicking when they were ‘running.’  One of the kids said, “Oh, it sounds like it’s grinding,” when they held it up to their ear.  I asked if their vertebrae sound like that. They said no.

So, we all took the vertebrae/Rotelle off our spinal cords and started again.  This time they added a “soft disc” or gummy disc in between each vertebrae. Then we did the same things.  The kids were pretty amazed at how differently the vertebrate moved around. It really felt different and moved more smoothly (even I was amazed!).

We went on to talk about our nervous system.  The spinal cord is the main pathway that connects the brain with the other parts of the nervous system.  We created a brain/head and added nerves that ran into our arms and legs.  Then we had vertebrae-man step on fire (that scrap of packaging you see in the picture below).  I explained how when vertebrae-man stepped on the fire messages went from his foot, through the nerves (pipe cleaners) up to his brain which then sent back messages to “Pull the foot off the fire!”, ”PULL the foot off the fire!”, “DO IT NOW!!” The kids laughed!! The kids then took turns re-enacting and explaining the scenario.  Um… things got a little silly!!

Next we talked a little bit more about our skeletal structure.  I asked what would it would be like if they had arms with the vertebrate/disc set up.  The kids said it’d be pretty hard to lift anything up!  We talked about our arm bones and leg bones, and added a couple of rigatoni arm/leg bones.  I explained that there are actually three long bones (two in the lower legs/arms), but that we couldn’t replicate that.

I then asked them what was missing around the middle.  Ribs! We added some lungs, a heart and other squishy organs and talked about how those precious organs needed some protection.  We added some small macaroni noodles for ribs and the kids all felt their own ribs to see where the ribs began and ended.

The kids covered vertebrate-man with some skin and I let them take turns trying to move him around with his skin on.  We talked about how the bones give our bodies structure and stability.  We also learned just how flexible and strong skin has to be not to rip and tear!

All in all, the kids really learned a lot from this activity!

Next up, I’ll explain about our invertebrate activities. We worked with Planarian (a type of flatworm) which can regenerate if they are cut in half!

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  1. by Eden Mabee

    On January 16, 2013 at 10:11 am

    What a great idea! And it fits perfectly with some topics we’ve been studying. Though, before I head out shopping… what did you use for your “skin”?

  2. by Liesl Den

    On January 16, 2013 at 10:13 am

    Oh–I used homemade play dough! :)

  3. [...] Meet Vertebrae Man: Our Hands on Study of the Backbone and Nervous System [...]

  4. by | The Homeschool Den

    On December 2, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    [...] Meet Vertebrae Man: Our Hands on Study of the Backbone and Nervous System [...]