YOU ARE HERE: HeraldMail HomeCollectionsCake

Teaching children about science might require illustration

March 09, 2007|by Lisa Tedrick Prejean

On a recent trip to the grocery store, we bought cake mixes and pudding mixes, butterscotch chips and chocolate chips, white frosting, green frosting and orange gel.

It was more sugar than my daughter is accustomed to seeing in our cart, so she naturally had questions.

"What's all that for?" she asked.

"We bought it for Tristan's cell cake," I explained.

She looked a little confused, shrugged her shoulders and turned her attention to the next aisle.

A few days later when my son was greasing and flouring a cake pan in our kitchen, she became even more inquisitive.

"I want to help," she said as she climbed onto a bar stool.

Her older brother shook his head.

"No, you can't help. This is my project, and you're not allowed to help. I have to do it by myself."


She shook her head and said, "Mommy, he won't let me help!"

I explained that he had to do the work by himself because he was working on a school project.

"Oh, I thought this was going to be his birthday cake," she said.

I can't imagine why she thought her brother would have to make his own birthday cake. (Perhaps she thought cell was short for celebration.)

We then explained that this cake was for science class and it would include all the parts of a cell, complete with labels.

"What's a cell?" she asked.

"Cells are the building blocks of life," I replied, knowing that she would not be satisfied with that answer. "There are many, many cells in your body, and they make you what you are."

Children are naturally fascinated by how their bodies work, how plants grow and how animals move. Since cells are involved in all these functions, teaching seemingly complex and abstract ideas becomes easier when applied to what interests a child.

The word cell is derived from the Latin word cella, which means "small room."

Cells really are small rooms containing many important things. They are made up of atoms and molecules.

Water is a cell's main ingredient. It accounts for about 90 percent of a cell's weight.

Here's the remaining breakdown: Proteins make up about 5 percent, carbohydrates 2.5 percent, nucleic acids 1.5 percent and fats about 1 percent.

Each cell is controlled by its nucleus. The DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, of a cell provides the coding for the cell, what makes it different from other cells.

DNA looks like a spiral ladder. Scientists call this shape a double helix.

After explaining these things to my daughter, we showed her a diagram of a cell and pointed to the various parts. Her curiosity was eventually satisfied - or so we thought - and her brother was able to carry on with his project.

After a few minutes of looking at the diagram by herself, she spoke again.

"OK. I think I got it. Now, tell me how the brain works," she innocently asked.

"Well, that takes a lot of cell power," I said. "Your brain is like the nucleus of your body, controlling all the cells contained in you."

Thankfully, that's all she needed to know for now. I'm sure more questions are probably coming, but I'll be ready with additional diagrams.

Much of the information for this article came from the Kids Discover magazine Cells. I think I need to pull out the one Kids Discover did on the brain. It sounds like I'm going to need it. For information about the monthly Kids Discover magazine for children, go to

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page.

The Herald-Mail Articles