Children start acquiring knowledge on their body structure and its functioning already at an early age. A gradual transition from their naive perceptions towards the knowledge of natural sciences takes place through their experiences.
My diploma work studies concepts children of 5–6 years of age have on the skeleton of human beings and animals. I examined how much knowledge on the structure and functioning of skeletons children can obtain through activities, based on direct experiencing and active learning.
A quasi-experiment with a control and an experimental group was carried out, each consisting of 19 children. Children's perceptions were established with half-structured individual interviews. An interview included 10 questions on the structure and functioning of skeleton in man and animals; children answered two of these questions with drawings. Exactness of their perceptions, evident in drawings, were evaluated by way of a values scale, defined in previous research.
In both groups, initial interviews were used to determine the children's starting perceptions. The children of the experimental group then participated in the project, learning about skeleton. The goal of the activity was for the children to get the most direct experience possible and actively to get to know various animals, thus acquiring knowledge on varied structures of different animals. Emphasis was given to get familiar with the diversity of their skeletons.
The children in the project thus acquired experiential knowledge on the skeleton of a human and some other vertebrates (cat, bird and fish), on cow and chicken bones, the exoskeletons of arthropods (insects, crayfish and spiders) and molluscs (snails and cuttlefish). Children also learned about animals without solid skeleton elements (earthworms and jellyfish). These activities were omitted in the control group.
Having finished the activities, I repeated individual oral interviews that consisted of the same questions as the initial ones in both, the experimental and the control group. The results of initial and final interviews in both groups were compared and on this basis a conclusion on how much knowledge the experimental group children acquired during these activities was drawn.
The results show that the initial perceptions of skeleton by the children of 5–6 years were quite superficial; most children failed to mention a bone as something they have in their bodies; mostly they had an improper notion of the role and the look of bones in our body; their drawings reflected only superficial ideas on human skeleton. Most children knew that animals also had skeletons, but their perceptions of these skeletons were modest. After the activities had been completed, the children of the experimental group had essentially better knowledge regarding the structure and functioning of skeleton in various organisms; all children mentioned bones as something they had in their bodies; most of them had an exact notion about the role and the look of bones in our body; most children's drawings also reflected precise ideas on the human body. Results also demonstrated correct children's perceptions about animals having skeletons as well, and these perceptions became more complete.
The results of final interviews in the control group show no essential differences in comparison to the initial ones.
My conclusion is that, through activities adapted to their development stage and involving extensive direct experiences, preschool children can actively learn the structure and function of human and other animal skeletons. Their acquired knowledge presents a basis for understanding the diversity of organisms, possibly underpinning a positive attitude towards the living environment.