An Unschooling Moment…The Digestive System

We are sitting here eating breakfast when the discussion of swallowing gum comes up. I’m trying to remember how exactly but, for the life of me, can’t.  All I know is suddenly we are talking digestion, where our food goes, what happens to the gum.  I remembered the old child-hood myth about it staying in your stomach for years. Luc mentioned how it would make you sick to swallow gum, ironic considering he swallows his fair share.  The kids talked extensively about the Magic School Bus episode they had seen numerous times from the library about being inside Arnold’s stomach and what happens to the food in intestines.  This brought up even more questions and suddenly we found ourselves at the computer, searching for the answers. We discovered a lot of science, history and math – even some Spanish!

In a Snopes ariticle we discovered that gum, as we know it, was invented in America…Maine, in fact…by John Curtis in 1848 when he experimented with spruce resin after seeing loggers chew it.  This led to a discussion on why someone would chew a tree followed by the “eewwwhhhss”…a must when your discovering the good science!.  We discussed ancient history, the Egyptians, using bark as toothbrushes…all of which seemed terribly funny to my kids.  Then we discovered that the same General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna of the Alamo introduced chicle (a resin from rainforest trees) to an inventor in New York, Thomas Adams as a rubber substitute that ended up as a gum-base (remember Chiclets?) to which Gabe excitedly shouted, “Hey, chicle means gum in Spanish!”  – a fact I didn’t even know!

We found the myth was a bust. So…if gum doesn’t stay in your system – being indigestible fiber – where does it go? (Now I’m sure you readers know the answer to that and I must say my children enjoyed yelling at the top of their lungs the potty word we only refer to with diapers and potty training!) So off we went to look into the intestines.  We couldn’t find any good sites (in our short amount of time looking) but I did get a few tips from snippets here and there which made me throw together 2 quick science experiments.

Experiment One: Where the Gum goes

Mission: Set up an experiment that shows what happens to food in intestines and how fiber (and gum) is separated out from food nutrients.

Lab ingredients: tea strainer (to represent intestines – may use wire mesh strainer or coffee filter and glass), breakfast food, drink, gum, a spoon, a cup, lemon juice

First: chew up what we ate for breakfast (pancakes and syrup), spit in tea strainer.

Second: spit what we drank for breakfast (milk, some coffee and grounds) into tea strainer

Third: chew up some bubble gum, spit in with food

Fourth: pour on some stomach acid (lemon juice) and mash down with spoon

And – voila! – fiber rich leftover food and gum ready to be passed through the bowels, leaving the liquid (or that other bodily fluid) to be flushed out of system and our invisible nutrients passed on through to enter the bloodstream.  The kids weren’t sure about chewing and spitting food, but once they got the hang of it the game was quite fun and interesting to watch!  An experiment not for the squeamish at heart!

Experiment Two: The Length of Intestines

When we read that the intestines are over 25 feet in length, I challenged the kids to figure out how long that was.  First we reviewed measuring a foot.  Then they made predictions on how many feet tall they were.  We got out the rulers and measured.  Then pulled out some ribbon from the handy dandy craft desk and set about measuring that.  Lily participated at the math level she knew and Gabe helped with multiplication and yards.  Once we had the right length of ribbon they spread it out to the end of the hallway, which delighted Lily.  They were able to visually see how much longer the intestines were then they were tall.  So how did it fit in our belly?  We talked about coiling and wrapping and practiced with our ribbon, which delighted Gabe.

Our Intestines!

The kids got to chew some gum (Lily accidentally swallowed hers – a firsthand object lesson) while watching Arnold’s gum chewing experience on the Magic School Bus: Inside the Human Body on YouTube (since we can’t get out to the library till Saturday) and delighted in watching the process in action.  It was one of those mornings that, if you had planned it, NEVER would’ve happened as it did.  The spontaneity of it sparked from the natural curiousity of children and drove this delightful study.  I wasn’t planning on school today on account of celebrating Luc’s birthday, but God had other plans.  It is that leading that I want to remain aware and responsive to with my kids!

Other questions this has brought up (after much thought and downtime doing own things):

1) Do carrots really make you see better? (Discussed beta caratene and what other foods contain it.)

2)Why does cheese smell bad but tastes so good? (Didn’t really have an answer to why it smells like dirty feet but tastes like a slice of heaven!)

3 thoughts on “An Unschooling Moment…The Digestive System

  1. Wow, thank you so much for sharing all of this! Isn’t interest-led learning the best? You know that your kids will really remember what they learned when it answers questions that they have and is meaningful to them. You’re showing them how interesting and enjoyable learning can be!

  2. As there are only so many hours in the day, yes I believe this is vital to our kids learning! I want to always be taking the time to be responsive to them. I think back to all the big learning moments from my childhood and I can only think of a handful that actually took place in a classroom! Thank you for your kind comment of encouragement!

  3. Pingback: The Learning Room « simply necessary

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