Human Skeleton Model
Children are intrinsically motivated to seek information about this big, wonderful world that we live in. But we must provide the right experiences to help each child understand the “self”. This is a vital part of the journey towards truly understanding the world that the self inhabits! The ‘self’ is holistic; it includes our senses, our emotions, our ideas, our experiences and our physicality. Children need support to comprehend all these aspects of the self – but it is our physicality that is explored with the Human Skeleton Model.
The Human Skeleton Model provides children with a unique way to visualise an integral part of our physical selves. Our bones provide the structure for our bodies and protect our most precious and vulnerable organs. Yet this foundation of the body is hidden away beneath the skin and so we need this external resource to represent this vital part of the human anatomy.
Measuring approximately 46cm in height it is just the right size for a child to confidently handle, examine, and manipulate. It has an extremely realistic appearance with accurate proportions. The material that forms the ‘bones’ has quite a pleasing tactile feeling and is certainly not a cheap or brittle plastic. The model can be placed on a stand which is weighted at the bottom to help it remain upright. This creates an excellent display feature and also allows for easier exploration and observation.
Some of the pieces do disconnect but can be returned to their positions, as shown below.
This adds an interesting ‘fine motor’ element to the experience. This feature can also be utilised to create a 3-dimensional puzzle by simply taking apart the pieces and allowing the child (or children) to reassemble the skeleton.
In my experience I have found this particular model to be extremely sturdy and durable. It has lasted for several years in a Pre-school classroom with lots of eager little hands interacting with it. We haven’t had any broken bones so far! The only breakage we have experienced is the snapping of one of the pegs (representing the femoral head) that connected the top of the femur (upper leg) to the socket of the hip bone. We were able to overcome this by just placing a screw where the plastic peg used to be. It turned out to be an extremely appropriate representation of a real medical procedure; we essentially performed a hip replacement!
The official recommended age range listed on the box is 8+, but I have personally used this particular model in my own Montessori classroom with children as young as 3. My Pre-schoolers have engaged safely with the resource. Their explorations have also been extremely effective in terms of educational value. These children have engaged in self-directed discoveries to examine the model, comparing it to information in reference books and to their observations of their own bodies. A child will often spontaneously start to touch particular parts of the Skeleton Model and then try to find the corresponding bone in his or her own body. At times I will initiate this, actively encouraging my little learners to observe a part of the Skeleton Model (such as the bumpy rides of the spine) before trying to find or feel this bone in their own body.
My Pre-schoolers have also used the Skeleton Model to start identifying parts of the body (such as the skull, spine, shoulder blades, elbows, wrists, ribs, hips, knees, shin bone and so forth). A teacher presents this language, with the Skeleton Model providing a tactile representation of each word. This allows a child to absorb the new words along with a physical impression. This seems to create a more lasting, meaningful impact than just viewing an illustration with the word. Even my three year olds enjoy using the Model Skeleton to learn this new language and quickly start absorbing it into their general vocabulary. My favourite example of this occurred two days after one of my 3 year old boys had used the Skeleton Model for the first time. While playing outside he tripped over, but stood himself up and announced “Don’t worry, my hip and my elbow bumped the ground but all my bones are fine!”.
Older children, in the Primary Years, can use the Model Skeleton as the basis for a more thorough exploration of biology and human anatomy. The Skeleton could act simply as a provocation for independent research, providing a point of interest in the classroom or home to inspire exploration. Alternatively it could be used as one of the resources in a class study or assignment.
The Skeleton Model offers a concrete representation of the information that will also be accessed through reference books or internet investigations. The 3-dimensional model provides a different, and much more clear, demonstration of the overall skeletal structure and of specific bones and joints. It provides a perspective that the illustrated page simply can’t provide and can therefore increase the depth of understanding gained through any research.
The Model Skeleton can also assist older children with learning, or reviewing, the language to describe the various bones and joints. This is information that many older children would usually encounter in a book-and-worksheet experience, but a lot of children find it hard to retain knowledge experience only through the page. The Model Skeleton provides a much more tactile, tangible experience and this is particularly helpful for children who are kinaesthetic learners.
*Kinaesthetic learners are children (and adults!) who gain knowledge most effectively when movement and physical interaction are part of the learning process. Montessori Primary Schools will already incorporate movement into the learning environment, but many children in traditional classrooms are still experiencing the style of ‘sit still and listen’. If you have a child who is not thriving in a traditional classroom then it may be due to their need for a more kinaesthetic model of learning. There is no ‘simple’ answer for this predicament but one part of the process of support can be providing concrete, interactive materials at home to help scaffold the ‘on the page’ learning happening in the traditional classroom.