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Teach Your Child About the Skeletal System

As your child grows, they will develop a curiosity of the internal workings of their physical selves. Coupled with an instinctual sense of their body as a collection of parts that do different things to keep them alive, this natural curiosity will make it fairly easy to teach them the functions of the various body systems.

The skeletal system is fascinating! We can feel many of its components on the outside. Our bones are obvious indicators that we are growing and changing. A child’s first identification with their physical body is probably through this system.

Our bones, joints (hinged, ball and socket, fixed), our teeth and our skull make up the skeletal system. They give the body its form and make it possible for us to move around. The bones, such as the skull and ribs, protect and support the various organs. The spine bones protect the spinal nerves and enable us to stand upright, and to twist and bend. Bones also manufacture blood cells and store minerals our bodies need.

How many bones are there? We are born with about 300, but as we grow, some fuse, giving us 206 at maturity. We have 32 teeth when we are grown. The longest bone is the femur, or thigh bone, and the smallest bones are found in the ears

Bones are composed several layers. The outside is a thin, dense membrane called the periosteum containing nerves and blood vessels which feed the bones. Next is compact bone, which is hard and smooth. It is made up of calcium and other minerals. Inside compact bone is the cansellus which is several layers of hard spongy material. At the very center of the bone is the marrow, a thick, jelly-like substance that makes blood cells.

Teaching your child about the skeletal system can be done quite naturally, in stages, as your child grows. Knowing what our bones are made of and what they do for our bodies will help your child know how to care for this marvelous body system when they are grown.

Preschool – Grade 3

Your baby’s bones will not be “set” when they are born- and for good reason. In order to accommodate the squeeze through the birth canal, bones must be pliable. Even the skull is somewhat soft and must be protected when your baby is young. Eventually the bones harden as the softer material we call cartilage slowly turns to bone. Cartilage does remain in the parts of our bodies that will always require flexibility, such as our nose and ears and our joints.

Young children’s bones need to be softer for another reason. Learning to crawl, walk, climb, jump and run involves many falls. Bones hardening slowly is a safeguard against early bone breaks.

Your child will compare their hands and feet to yours. Seeing the difference in the size of these bones, and how they change through the years is a way of gauging growth. When your child needs larger shoes, bigger clothes- when their favorite things no longer fit, your child will become acutely aware of their own growth.

In order to assure your youngster is developing good, strong bones, take care that they are consuming enough calcium rich foods. Cheese, milk, cottage cheese and yogurt are good dairy sources and indeed the best sources of calcium. Dark leafy greens like chard, kale and spinach can supplement dairy sources. Recent research indicates fruits and vegetables also contribute to strong, healthy bones. If your child’s diet does not include dairy, get the advice of a nutritionist or medical doctor.

Other minerals are helpful to bone growth and strength, such as phosphorus, vitamins A and D, and magnesium. Your bones also need high quality protein to grow. At this age, your child needs you to choose foods rich in calcium and these additional nutrients for him or her, as they will not have the will or understanding to consistently choose these vital foods. Making sure your child’s diet provides for bone health will help them develop bones that will stay strong and healthy.

Fresh air, sunshine and exercise are needed to grow strong bones and keep them doing their job. Make sure your child gets outside everyday to run and play. Weight-bearing activity is essential for building and maintaining bone mass. Working and playing outside is good for your child!

Should you suspect your child has broken a bone, get to the doctor quickly as young bones heal speedily, and you need to make sure they mend correctly, in the right alignment.

Main points to address:

  • Bones at birth are not yet set.
  • Your child needs a calcium-rich diet- everyday.
  • Talk to your doctor or nutritionist if your child does not eat dairy.
  • Your child needs to get plenty of sunshine and exercise.
  • If you suspect a broken bone, get medical attention quickly.

Grades 3-6th

Older school age children will have learned about their skeletal system in school, but they will still need some monitoring of their diet to make sure they are taking in sufficient calcium. The blood will take calcium from the bones if calcium intake does not support the calcium balance needed in the blood.

Teach your child to pack a lunch that includes at least one calcium rich food. Cheese sticks, yogurt, and of course milk are favorites. At this age they will need 3-4 servings of dairy each day. Calcium supplementation is an option, but should be monitored by a doctor. The benefits of supplements stop when supplementation is discontinued.

Some sports can be pretty rough on the bones. If your child skateboards, bicycles, skates or plays field sports such as soccer or American football, make sure they are using shin and arm guards and in the case of skateboarding, biking and football, helmets.

If your child should suffer a broken bone, they will heal relatively quickly, but they must get medical attention quickly and follow doctor’s orders during the healing period.

Your child’s frame may grow in spurts, giving a somewhat awkward appearance at times. Reassure him or her that their body is growing and that things will even out eventually. As your child grows, they may indeed experience “growing pains”. A warm bath and a cup of chamomile tea may help, but if the pains are severe, recurring, or interfere with sleep, see your doctor.

Main points to address:

  • Teach your child to pack at least one calcium-rich food in their lunch.
  • Kids need protective gear for many sports. Make sure they use them!
  • Outside play and work remains important at this age.
  • Bones heal quickly at this age.
  • If your child has severe “growing pains”, see your doctor.

Resources that can help you in your venture include:

KidsHealth: For kids – http://kidshealth.org/kid/htbw/bones.html

KidsHealth: For parents: Broken bones- how to know, what to do – http://kidshealth.org/parent/general/aches/broken_bones.html

National Institute of Health: Guide for parents on bone health (excellent) – http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Bone_Health/Juvenile/default.asp

Posted in Health.

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