Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Nurture Innate Curiosity...DNA for Kids

Ever since my children were able to speak, I told them to ask Mama any question and I will try my best to answer it. Children have an innate desire to learn, a natural drive to be curious about their world. These questions would happen at various times during the day.

One summer afternoon we were walking to the park after it had rained. My older one noticed that the puddles on the street were smaller on our way home. "Why are the puddles smaller, Mama?" This simple question turned into a step-by-step story complete with illustration about the water cycle, about precipitation and evaporation.

During the summers usually, we have "Mommy school," where they open their blank notebooks, ask me any question, and I answer with pictures and words. They draw and write their own renditions. These conversations have led to discussions about cellular organelles, H1N1 viral replication, DNA packaging, chromosomes, other languages, our solar system, gravity, words. My older one has brought some of these illustrations and explained them to her class for show-and-tell. They have curious minds and I try to nurture that by explaining everything at their comprehension level. I also ask them "Why do you think that happens?" and I let them try new things.

Sometimes, it is at the dining table. My older one likes to mix tastes together to see how they blend. Even though an adult would not think to put some of these concoctions together, she experiments. I do not discourage, I let her try, to be as creative she can be.

Here is an exerpt about our discussion about DNA:

The smallest part of your body is a cell. Your skin is made up of skin cells, Your eyes are made up of eye cells. Your hair is made from hair cells. Each cell is like a tiny, tiny ball. A cell is so tiny, you can not even see it. Inside each cell, there is a smaller ball. The smaller ball is called a nucleus.

Inside the nucleus, there is something called DNA. DNA contains the instructions for your cells so they know how to grow. If you could see the DNA, it would look like a long strand of spaghetti. Since it is so long, we need to package it up so that it can fit in the nucleus. What else do you eat with spaghetti? Meatballs! The spaghetti is packaged up and wrapped around things like meatballs. These are called histones.

Each cell has 23 strands of spaghetti-like DNAs. Twenty-three! That is a lot. That is more than our fingers and toes together! Each of these strands has a matching pair, just like socks. So, there are two of strand 1, two of strand 2, two of strand 3… and so on all the way to strand 22. Number 23 is magical. For number 23, if you have a matching pair called XX, you are a girl! If your number 23 is not matching, called XY, then you are a boy!

Each of these stands of DNA all come from your Mommy and Daddy. Half of your DNA comes from Mommy and the other half come from Daddy. What kind of things do you think you receive from your parents through their DNA? Your eye colour? Your hair colour? Do people tell you that you look like your Mommy or Daddy? That’s because you have some of their DNA. Magical!

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