Heart health is a huge issue in our country–heart disease is actually the leading cause of death for both men and women(1), and more than half of all Americans have at least one of the 3 highest risk factors (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking) for developing heart disease(2).
I think it’s hugely important to teach our children (including preschoolers!) how their hearts work, why they’re important, and how to take care of them. I’m going to share 3 activities you can do with kids of any age (or adults!) to help them understand how impressive their hearts are and how to take care of them (keep reading…it’s below!).
Before we can teach anything, we need to make sure that we understand it ourselves!
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While you’re busy learning about health and nutrition, remember to take the time to teach your children too!
I set up this experiment to show my kids how the heart constantly pumps blood, and needs a regular consistent contraction and release of the muscles to send blood from the heart to the rest of the body!
1st Heart Experiment:
* 2 glass cups
* rubber band
* 2 straws
* colored water (my 4-year old added blue food coloring to our water)
1- Fill one of the cups about half full with colored water. One of my favorite comments during the experiment was from my 9-year old: “We must be Kree since we have blue blood!” The truth is I just ran out of red food coloring!
2- Carefully cut off the end of the balloon and stretch it over the cup with the colored water, and secure it with the rubber-band.
3- Shove the 2 straws together so you have a longer straw that can stretch between the two cups.
4- Snip a TINY hole in the balloon and squish the straw inside it. The hole needs to be small enough that it clings to the straw and no air escapes. (Though, it does make an interesting side-note to talk about what happens if you have a hole in your heart, a condition that happened to someone we know.)
Your set up should look something like this:
5- When you press down on the balloon (as demonstrated in the picture above), the air pressure inside the cup increases and forces the “blood” into the straw. It gets “pumped” out of the “heart” into the “body,” just like our hearts pump blood out of our heart and into our body.
We let everyone try pumping the heart a few times, and while we did it we talked about how tricky it is to consistently press and release over and over and over. Our heart is amazing!!!
As our “heart” started to run out of “blood,” one of my daughters asked how the heart gets refilled. I pulled out a diagram to show how our heart has more than one tube (straw, lol!). Some take blood away, and others bring blood back. The biggest blood vessel that takes blood away from the heart is the aorta, and we can feel the blood pulsing through it just above our heart. We can also feel the blood pulsing through the carotid artery on the side of our throats.
The kids actually found a way to “refill” our heart by pressing the balloon in while the other end of the straw was in the water!
Easy How To:
Our hearts pump blood to our whole body. But why do we need blood? The blood carries oxygen to our muscles, and we need that oxygen for our muscles to work!
When our muscles work harder, they need more oxygen. The only way to get more oxygen is for our heart to pump faster!
Help your children find their heartbeats! It is probably easiest for them to feel it on their chests or throats.
Then watch your stopwatch for 1 minute while everyone runs around the room or does jumping jacks.
Find your heartbeats again. Is it faster or slower? How can you slow it down? Give it a try!
If you have older children, you may be able to actually let them count their heart rate while you time them!
3rd Heart Experiment:
* Play dough
* Water — I suggest using a bucket or a sink!
Easy How To:
1- Discuss how blood vessels carry blood around your body like a straw. Let your children try pouring and scooping water with the straws.
2- What would happen if the straw were blocked with play dough? Try it out!
3- After your kids have a chance to experiment, let them know that if we eat foods with too much fat (especially trans fats), those fats will stick to the inside of our blood vessels and make it harder to pump the blood. Exercise, active play, and heart-healthy foods (like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) help clean out your blood vessels!
NOTE: Please be sensitive with this experiment if you have children who are overweight or have lost someone from a heart attack.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by ChildCare Education Institute. As always, all opinions are my own and I only recommend companies that I love and am willing to use myself!