Digestion 101

We were talking about digestion the other day, and I needed a way to make it tangible, to dig our hands into it and really see the process. This project was born out of that. My moment of inspiration proved a success as it passed 3 important criteria: we had a blast, he wanted to repeat it as soon as we finished, and he was quizzing me as I cooked dinner tonight to see if I remembered how digestion works… because he sure did!

To do this project I used:

  • Water beads (the food; you could substitute something else – canned fruit would be similar and cheap, but anything you can mash with your fingers should work)
  • Zip-lock sandwich bag (the mouth – I drew one on the bag in permanent marker)
  • Large funnel (the throat; I put a balloon over the bottom & cut a small hole in it to simulate the esophagus, but that is optional)
  • Gallon zip-lock bag with about 1/4-1/2 c vinegar inside (the stomach – again, I drew one on for kicks – and its acid; have a sprinkling of baking soda set aside for fun effects as well
  • An old white sock (the intestines)
  • A cup of colored water or juice (I recommend a yellow-orange; this is simulating fluid intake and will later become urine so showing the effects of dehydration is easier if it looks the part!
  • A container (the toilet – I cut the bottom off of a milk jug as we needed the top for another project; reduce, reuse, recycle!

Steps:

  1. Spoon your chosen food into the sandwich-bag mouth. When it is about 1/2 full, seal it up and “chew” a few times. My son used plastic pliers as “teeth,” but any method works!
  2. Pour the contents into the funnel throat, with the stomach bag underneath. As you work the food through, discuss how the esophageal muscles work to move everything along.
  3. Once it is all in the stomach, add a little baking soda to make the acid come to life. Seal the bag and mash the contents. I used my hand, he used a toy hammer; do what makes it fun!
  4. Pause to “drink” by adding some fluid down the hatch. You can add to the lesson from here on with more or less fluid to teach about how being hydrated helps the body.
  5. Either cut a hole in the bottom corner of the stomach bag or, if you know your kid will want to redo all this multiple times like mine, just reuse the funnel, and (with the toilet container underneath!) dump the stomach contents into the sock intestines. The colors instantly soak into the sock – showing how the intestines are absorbing nutrition. The liquid – now urine – passes out and is eliminated as waste. We paused here one time through to add water to dilute the color and discuss proper hydration.
  6. Once all the urine is squeezed out, tip the open end of the sock intestine toward the toilet and there you have it – the solids have vacated the bowels.

Feel free to improve on this project. It was 100% off the top of my head and with supplies I could readily think of that I had on hand. Share your tweaks, thoughts, and laughs in the comments or reach out. Happy digesting!

Get the water beads I purchased for this project

There are many versions and bead amounts, but we love the extras (tweezers and scoops) that come with this set. Great for many other projects, like safe bug exploration!


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Author:

Who am I? Foremost, the lucky momma of an amazing boy. To be perfectly honest, I am less his teacher than he is my inspiration - I have learned at least as much from him in the last seven years as he has from me. I am an old-timer at heart; I'd rather live on a farm, garden, crochet, and raise my kid out in the sun than anything else. I'm a bit of a technological dinosaur, more geared toward life where you can get your hands dirty and have some fun exploring, learning, and growing. I'm a homeschooled, homeschooling single parent with a passion for my son, nature, and the simple life. I am not here to pretend I know it all or lay out the research or provide a step-by-step game plan. I hope to encourage and inspire families to join in the journey of learning together - and have the fun that life is supposed to be made of along the way. Happy exploring!

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