Objectives: Kids will learn what genes are and that traits are inherited from both parents. They will apply the theme of inheritance to examples of animals and plants’ inherited phenotypes.
Materials: animal and flower pictures, poster (optional).
The pictures should be classed in groups of four. One picture of each group will be the focal organism, (e.g., a pink flower). Two pictures will be of organisms that could potentially be the parents of the initial one (e.g., a red and a white flower of the same species). The fourth picture should represent an organism that is similar but that is not one of parents (e.g., a yellow flower of the same species or a pink flower of a different species).
[Greet kids and have them sit in circle around station]
Today we’re going to learn about a certain type of science called genetics. Genetics is science that involves genes.
What do you all know about genes or inheritance? Does anyone know what those words mean? [allow them to respond – hopefully they’ve learned at one of the other stations what these mean and can try to explain; if not, explain what each means]
[If they don’t know what genes or inheritance mean] Does anyone know what genes are? [Allow kids to respond, then steer them to a definition]
Genes are actually like tiny instruction manuals inside all the cells in your body. Cells are tiny little things that your body is made out of. For example, your heart is made out of millions of cells all put together. And so is your skin and every other part of your body. So, each one of the millions of cells that make up your body has a copy of your genes, the instructions that make you the way you are! Take, for example, your hair. What color is it? Why is it that color instead of any other color? Because of your genes!
And inheritance just means genes being passed down from parents to children for many generations.
In this activity we’re going to see inheritance in all different types of animals, but it’s going to be up to you to match the animals to their parents. You’ll have to pay close attention to their appearances.
- Have several picture cut-outs of adult animals (two different colors for each animal) and half as many cut-outs of young animals (each a mix in coloring of the two parents it goes with)
- Spread pictures all over table and have kids try to match each baby animal with its correct parents.
[Once they’ve matched all the animals correctly, ask a few questions]
So, does this cat [hold up calico kitten cut-out] look like its mom or its dad? [wait for responses – if anyone says just “mom” or just “dad” tell them they’re right, but that the kitten ALSO looks like the other parent]
It looks like BOTH of its parents! That’s because both of these cats [hold up cat parents] passed on their genes to make a kitten. This is how inheritance works!
Post-activity discussion questions:
- Why animals look like their parents?
- Do humans have genes too, or just plants and animals?
- Do you think it’s important that genes and traits be heritable – that they get passed down from parents to children? Why?
- Why else do you think genes are important?