Objectives: Kids will learn what genes are and that traits are inherited from both parents. They will see how inheritance works through generations, and that genetic inheritance entails some randomness, i.e. that it is impossible to predict with complete accuracy the specific genes that are going to be found in any given individual, even if we know his/her parents.
Materials: cups, skittles or colored beads, marker for labels
[Greet kids and have them sit down in a circle around the station]
Do you like science? [wait for responses] What do you like about it?
Well, today we’re going to learn about a certain type of science called genetics. Genetics is science that involves genes. Does anyone know what genes are? [Allow kids to respond, then steer them to a definition]
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!
Does anyone know where your genes come from? [See if anyone says “your parents”; if not, lead them to that conclusion]
That’s right, your parents! And there’s a really fancy word for that, called inheritance. Inheritance just means genes being passed down from parents to children for many generations.
Lucky for you all, we’re going to show you just how genes work by inheritance with skittles. But you can only eat them once they’ve been passed down to each generation!
- Start with four cups (two sets of grandparents), labeled Grandmother A, Grandfather A, Grandmother B, and Grandfather B
- Fill each cup with about 20 skittles, each cup with a different color
- Have kids close their eyes and pick three skittles from Grandmother A and place them in another cup underneath labeled Mother. Then, do the same for Grandfather A.
- Once the Mother cup has been filled with skittles, repeat this process for Grandparents B and a cup labeled Father.
- Place one more cup below the Mother and Father cups to represent one child
- Have kids close their eyes and pick three skittles from each parent for the child
See how the mother and father get genes (represented by the skittles) from each one of their parents, and then have a child that they pass those same genes on to? That’s inheritance! Does anyone have any questions?
Post-activity discussion questions:
- What are genes and what do they do?
- Where did your genes come from – your mother, your father, or your grandparents? And where did your parents get their genes?
- Can you give some examples of inheritance in yourself and your family?