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Teach Your Child About the Respiratory System

Children enjoy learning about the human body. Teaching your child the basics of each body system will augment what they intuitively know about their own body works.

You don’t need to be a physician or science teacher to teach your child body basics! Your child will simply need to know a system’s parts, their functions, how the parts work together, and how to take care of that system. What you find here may help.

The Basics:

The respiratory system consists of the nasal cavity, the mouth, larynx, pharynx, trachea, bronchial tubes, lungs, and diaphragm. These parts are well protected by the facial bones, ribs, and tough cartilage. The respiratory system works very closely with all the other organ systems, particularly the circulatory system.

We generally think of respiration as breathing, or taking in air by inhaling and expelling air by exhaling. The act of breathing is called external respiration and makes supplying your body with the oxygen necessary for the other kind of respiration, internal respiration, to take place.

What is internal respiration? Simply put- internal or cellular respiration is the process by which glucose and other substances in the cell are given the oxygen they need to produce energy and sustain the life of the cell. Carbon dioxide is the by-product of this process and must be carried through the blood stream to the lungs and out of the body. In essence, breathing makes it possible to feed and clean our cells.

The mechanism of breathing is wonderfully simple. Air passes through the nasal passages and mouth, past the larynx through the trachea and into the lungs where the oxygen in the air you breathed in is exchanged for carbon dioxide. This exchange takes place in the alveoli membrane of the lungs.

You can add to this basic description by visiting your local library or one of the excellent sites on the Web, a few of which are listed below.

Preschool

Babies and toddlers instinctively know how important breathing is. They resist anything that restricts the free flow of air to and from the lungs. A child with a stuffy nose is miserable for this reason!

You will not need to teach your very young child much except for the names of the parts involved in external respiration- the nose, the mouth and the lungs.

Four and five year olds are ready for more specific information. Have them hold their hand a few inches from their mouth and nose and deliberately breath in and then out. As they feel the breath hit their hand you can simply explain the process of exchanging clean air for used air. They may want to know why we need to do that. You can then explain that all our body parts need fresh air.

When your preschooler is running and breathing hard, he is bringing in the extra oxygen he needs to feed and clean his body during exertion. When he sleeps, his breathing is slower as the need for oxygen during rest is much lower.

If your child has asthma and allergies that interfere with breathing, you probably have already explained how the lungs work and why we need air. Your doctor can provide you with additional information.

Main points to address:

  • Preschoolers only need to be aware of the process and necessity of breathing.
  • Observing their own body at this age gives a young child lots of information.
  • You can broaden your child’s awareness by adding the names of body parts and explaining that the parts work together to keep them healthy.
  • Become educated about your child’s asthma or allergies.

Grades K-3rd

School age children will learn how the blood carries oxygen to all the cells in the body and that all body systems rely on oxygen to work. They will also begin to learn to take care of their bodies to maintain health. By third grade they should be learning the names of the organs that are involved in respiration and their basic functions.

Most kids will learn about the hazards of smoking at this time. You can reinforce this at home by discussing the dangers with them. Let your child know that the body cannot handle the poisons in cigarettes and about the breathing difficulties that come with smoking.

Ask your child if it would be wise to stand in front of a fire and breathe in its smoke. They will begin to understand that smoking does not make good sense.

Children also need to know that proper posture will help them breathe more easily as the lungs have more room to expand when standing or sitting straight. Encouraging your child to breathe into their belly will prevent them from shallow breathing when they are older. Sitting for meditation is a good time to teach them to practice proper breathing.

Stressing how hard the respiratory system works to keep us alive and healthy will create a willingness to develop healthy habits and avoid harmful ones.

Main points to address:

  • Children will learn about the respiratory system in school.
  • Encourage good posture and belly breathing.
  • Reinforce the dangers of smoking.

Grades 4-6th

Older children will learn about the human body and its systems in greater detail in school. By sixth grade they should understand the processes of internal and external breathing. They will refer to the body parts by their correct names.

Older children should also have a good handle on how each organ system depends on the respiratory system to sustain its functioning.

Years ago, when families still hunted and butchered, children, being part of these activities had a chance to see first hand the internal parts of an animal’s body that corresponded with their own. If you have an opportunity to take part in either hunting or butchering, you may want to include your child.

A substitute for this is dissecting animals that breathe oxygen like we do. Many schools provide an opportunity to dissect an animal. If your school does not, there are many good books that are suitable for this age on anatomy and physiology. The Internet is also great for visual teaching material.

At this age, it is even more important to educate your child about the dangers of cigarettes and other inhaled drugs. They need to know what smoke and the chemicals in cigarettes can do to their lungs. This is a good time to talk about other harmful substances- marijuana, cocaine, crack and glue, all of which work to destroy the mucus membranes in the nose and mouth and the delicate alveoli membrane in the lungs.

Your matter of fact explanation will let them know the reality of inhaling smoke and other harmful substances. Let them know how addicting these substances are and remind them periodically as they enter their teens.

Teaching your child about the respiratory system will help him or her develop greater awareness of how their body works. Self-care depends on body awareness and being well-informed. Taking the time to teach your child will hopefully pay off in health and vitality.

Main points to address:

  • By sixth grade, your child should know the names of their body parts and how they work.
  • If you can, let your child witness cleaning and butchering of animals and fish.
  • Add street drugs, specifically by name, to the list of substances harmful to the respiratory system.
  • Remind them periodically as they grow into their teens.

Resources
Resources that can help you in your venture include:

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