Both of my children are easily daunted by the sight of their own blood. The tiniest pin prick requires immediate attention and the prettiest of Band-aides. And then we must peek under the Band-aide and inspect it every hour for three or four days, until the wound "zips up", as they say.
In researching project ideas about blood, I came across this fun sensory-rich activity by Jenae at I Can Teach My Child.
What's in our Blood?
For this activity, you'll need to order 1 small pack of water beads from Amazon. Water beads arrive looking like tiny seed-beads but when you add water and let them soak overnight, they absorb the water and puff up into rubbery bouncy balls that look and feel like tough Jello.
One tiny $6 pack on Amazon will contain about 3 Tablespoons worth of beads, which will swell up to about 3 gallons worth of balls - which was enough for us to completely fill both troughs on our water table.
Water beads hold their liquid for weeks, and are also reusable and re-hydratable after they've shrunk back down to their original size. Because the beads last for so long once hydrated, I recommend coordinating this project with another homeschooling family, one with whom you would enjoy donating or sharing your materials with after trying this project in your own home. This is a very inexpensive project to assemble, but one which will provide excellent sensory stimulation for hours for children ages 3-7 years old.
Be aware that water beads should never be ingested, so use caution around young children.
Additional materials needed;
1 sheet of red craft foam ($0.79 at A. C. Moore) Cut foam into short, thin strips.
1 box of 6 ping pong balls ($3.99 at Walmart)
water table or large bin to play in
Optional: A colander, ziplock bags to save beads, towels for the floor, Matchbox cars.
To begin, I drew a picture of a boy with a scraped knee and a broken skateboard and asked the children to tell a story around the image. When they mentioned the blood, I told them that we were going to make some fake blood today. We would learn about the "ingredients" inside blood, and why our bodies need blood.
First, I poured some water into the water table and explained that blood has four special ingredients, one of which is called plasma. Plasma is like the river that makes blood flow. It carries proteins and nutrients to all of the parts of our bodies that need them. When we eat our multivitamin, it's the plasma in our blood that carries those vitamins to their homes. Water will be our plasma.
Next, we talked about how the blood was dripping from the boy in the drawing's knee, but that it wouldn't drip forever.
The second ingredient in our blood is called platelets. Platelets are like little sponges floating around inside the blood, waiting for a hole to plug up. When you have a cut on the skin of your finger, the blood drips out. But those little sponge-platelets rush to the cut and stick together to plug up the hole to stop the blood! Great work, platelets!
> At this point, I sprinkled the slivers of craft foam into the water.
Craft foam is very static-clingy, so the little slivers of "platelets" were sticking together and sticking to our hands and arms. The kids were laughing, trying to pull them off and put them back into the water, only to have them flip back up onto their skin. The foam so perfectly illustrated how platelets "stick" together to block up a wound!
However, at this point our blood didn't look much like blood yet, and the kids suggested we needed more red. So our third ingredient was Red Blood Cells! Red blood cells carry oxygen to all of the cells in our bodies. We took deep breaths and recalled that another word for oxygen is air. Our itty bitty cells need air, just like our great big lungs do. I poured the great big bucket of water beads into the table. This was the exciting part!
We had to pause here and play with the bouncy balls for a few minutes before I could move on to the last special ingredient in our blood; White Blood Cells. White blood cells fight off infections. When you're sick or when you have an infected cut, those white blood cells are multiplying and rushing around, looking for the infection, so they can fight it off. There are much fewer white blood cells in our bodies than red blood cells, so we added just 6 ping pong balls to represent our white blood cells.
Perspective: We pretended we could make ourselves super-small, like the Magic School Bus, and drive around inside our veins. At this point, I added a basket of toy vehicles for everyone to play with. Since we could make ourselves super-small, this is why we could see our red and white blood cells and our platelets looking like big balls swimming along on a river of plasma. But if we were super big and far away, like looking at our water table from across the backyard, we would just see a bucket of red stuff that looked just like blood. That would also be like being regular "human-sized", looking down at our tiny scraped knee.
This was a very exciting and fun activity for the children, who played at the water table enthusiastically for more than two hours. Materials totaled about $11, but could be divided in half if you wish to split the expense with another family. To clean up, I siphoned off the water beads using a colander and drained the water table. Water beads can be stored in gallon-sized ziplock bags for transfer between families.