Friday, February 15, 2013

Fun Interactive Ways to Teach Kids About the Pulmonary System

Fun Ways to Teach Kids About Lung Health
The pulmonary system lends itself to so many fun and interactive learning opportunities! Giving kids the chance to actively learn while having fun can be an effective way to encourage lifelong learning. Make it memorable and perhaps they will remember it years down the road!

I provide special fitness education for second graders at a local elementary school and see groups in 30 minute segments. This pulmonary program typically takes about 15 minutes, but it could easily stretch to 30 minutes if you have more time. I like to take the second half of my 30-minute programs to give the kids the opportunity to actively exercise while reinforcing the focus on the pulmonary system.

  • Wild and crazy wig
  • Three balls
  • Paint roller cover
  • Bag of balloons
  • Umbrella
  • Bunch of grapes (real or plastic)
  • Construction paper (6 sheets, each a different color)
  • Marker(s)
  • Mats

Before the program:
Cut out the construction paper into fun shapes. I chose large hearts because I was teaching this class on Valentine's day and hearts are quick and easy to cut. Write one word on each piece of paper. Here are the ones I chose below:


Next, cut each colored shape into two pieces, sort of like a puzzle, making sure that some of the letters of the word are on each piece. Place one of each color on the floor or some other place where the kids can easily see them. I taught in a gym and placed the pieces on the far side, which worked nicely for this program. Keep the other halfs on hand.

After the kids are seated on the mats:
Ask for volunteers. You might choose six, twelve, fifteen, or more volunteers, depending on the size of the group. If you have twelve or more volunteers, create teams. I paired my volunteers so that two students were on the "green" team, two students were on the "yellow" team, etc. as I handed each team their half of the paper. Once each team had their piece, I had the children on those teams who were not holding the piece of paper to race across the gym, find the matching color, and bring it back to their partner.

Have the pairs to assemble the pieces so that they can read the word. Many kids will find most of these words to be unfamiliar, so it is helpful to let them know how to pronounce the word!

Below are some fun ways to teach about each term:

Photo by fictures from USA at Wikimedia Commons
  • Let the team with this word intruduce the word cilia.
  • Put on the wig and ask the kids if they have hair.
  • Ask if they know that they have hair in their nose and in their breathing tubes (you'll probably have everyone's attention by this point).
  • Have one to three additional volunteers stand a short distance away from you.
  • Explain that cilia catch dirt and mucous to keep the lungs cleaner.
  • Throw the balls one at a time while the child(ren) attempt to catch the balls.
  • Have everyone repeat the word cilia and then have that team to sit down.

  • Let the team with this word intruduce the word trachea.
  • Hold up the paint roller cover. (You could substitute a paper towel roll if you don't have a paint roller cover.)
  • Tell the kids that the windpipe is also called the trachea, describing it as a hollow tube.
  • I mention that the fuzzy part would really be on the inside rather than the outside like the prop.
  • Ask everyone to lift their chins and feel for the location of their own trachea in their neck while you demonstrate.
  • Have everyone repeat the word trachea and then have that team to sit down.

Trachea and Bronchi of the Pulmonary System - Photo by Public Domain at Wikimedia Commons
  • Let the team with this word introduce the word bronchi.
  • Explain that the trachea splits into two branches sort of like a tree.
  • You might also mention that one would be bronchus while two would be bronchi.
  • Then have everyone hold up a hand and "karate chop" down like they are splitting a board.
  • Practice the chopping a couple of times to build excitement.
  • Have everyone repeat the word bronchi and then have that team to sit down.

  • Let the team with this word introduce the word lungs.
  • See if they know how many lungs they have.
  • Ask if they know that one lung is larger than the other.
  • Explain that the left lung is typically smaller to leave room for the heart.
  • Ask a volunteer to select a balloon out of the bag and hand it to you.
  • Begin to blow up the balloon while asking if they know what happens to the lungs when you take a deep breath. (You might also throw in the word "inhale" here.)
  • After the balloon is completely filled, begin to slowly let the air out and ask if they know what happens to the lungs when they breath out. (You might also throw in the word "exhale" here.)
  • Stop letting the air out when the balloon is about 20% full.
  • Mention that we only use about 1/5 or 20% of our lungs when we are breathing normally.
  • Ask if they can think of ways that we might use more of our lungs (exercise, yawning, deep breathing) and what to avoid to keep our lungs healthy (avoid smoking, smog, etc.)
  • Have everyone repeat the word lungs and then have that team to sit down.

  • Let the team with this word introduce the word diaphragm.
  • Begin to open and close the umbrella. (If you don't have an umbrella, you might simply ask the kids if they can think of something you might carry to keep you dry in the rain.)
  • Mention that the diaphragm is a muscle that looks a lot like an umbrella.
  • Close the umbrella and place it aside and then use one hand on top to represent the lungs getting bigger and smaller as you open and close your hand.
  • Use the bottom hand with the palm down to flatten and then point the fingers down like an umbrella as it represents the diaphragm.
  • Have the kids practice making an umbrella hand shape for themselves.
  • Have everyone repeat the word diaphragm and then have that team to sit down.

Alveoli Look Like Grapes - Photo by Rita Willaert at Wikimedia Commons
  • Let the team with this word introduce the word alveoli.
  • Show the bunch of grapes.
  • Ask "Do you know that you have about 6 million alveoli in your body?"
  • Explain how alveoli look like tiny grapes at the bottom of the lungs.
  • Tell how alveoli help oxygen to move from the lungs into the blood so the body can use it.
  • You might also mention that oxygen "hitches" a ride onto the red blood cells and have the kids put thumbs out while mentioning that it would not be safe to really "hitch" a ride in real life.
  • Have everyone repeat the word alveoli and then have that team to sit down.

Deep Breathing Exercise:
  • Have everyone to lie down on their backs and place both hands on their abdomens.
  • Encourage the kids to focus on how their hands move as they take deep breaths.
  • Up Goes the Castle is a short, fun breathing song that is kid-friendly.

Having the kids to do a cardio or mind/body exercise component after the educational component is a great time to encourage the children to focus on their own breathing. You might even do moves like pretending to throw and catch a ball while reminding the kids about cilia, etc. or have them to count their own respiratory rate before and after exercising.

I hope you find this inexpensive, interactive educational resource to be helpful to you. The kids I taught seemed to really enjoy it and particularly liked having the opportunity to help teach!

Find more resources, including fun music playlists, fitness articles, and additional educational ideas at Fit Tips 4 Life.

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