Imagine taking a guided tour through the inside of a human body to learn the intricate workings of the organs.
That is just what more than 1,200 children throughout Oktibbeha County had the opportunity to do last week with the help of Mississippi State’s Extension Service.
The Body Walk, which was originally created by the Kansas State Department of Education Nutrition Services, has been apart of MSU’s Extension Service since 2006 and is an educational program designed to teach young children about the body, what it does and how to keep it healthy. Throughout the state, more than 20,000 children participate in the Body Walk annually.
“The MSU Extension Service has a long standing commitment of providing educational programs and activities for both youth and adults in all 82 counties. These programs focus on issues and needs of the people of Mississippi, enabling them to make informed decisions about their economic, social, and cultural well-being,” said Julie White, Oktibbeha County Extension Director. “We hope that through this event, youth will have a better understanding of how their body works and be able to make healthier choices throughout their lives.”
Set up as a fun, interactive and shoe-less experience, the Body Walk is geared toward young children, and it puts them in an environment that teaches them important information, but in a format they can understand and retain.
“Schools use the Body Walk exhibit and its related materials to give children repeated opportunities to practice healthy behavior skills,” said Vivian Cade, MSU Extension Associate. “Children will learn about the digestive system by walking through the exhibit. And they will remember the exhibit because of the active learning. Linking nutrition, health and physical activity will help reinforce positive health behaviors and raise the value placed on health.”
Children start their journey through the exhibit in the same place their digestive systems start working — in the mouth.
The key concept of the mouth station shows the children the importance of a healthy mouth.
“Students enter the domed mouth station by walking on a large tongue. The tongue has areas marked where taste buds for specific tastes are located. Inside the mouth, students sit on stools shaped like teeth,” Cade explained.
Inside the mouth, students discuss how to brush and floss properly, foods that should be limited because they may harm teeth, foods that build strong teeth and foods that are good for the gums. Children also learn that tobacco products harm teeth, gums and mouth.
The children make their way from the mouth, through the esophagus to the stomach stop.
In the stomach, the children learn all about the food pyramid and the digestive process that takes place in this organ.
From the stomach, the children made their way to the small intestine. There, children learn that the small intestine is where food is broken into small parts called nutrients, and those nutrients travel to all the parts of the body where they can be used.
One of the key concepts the small intestine station teaches the children is the importance of drinking lots of water as it helps carry the nutrients through the body.
From the intestines, the students learn some parts of the body where nutrients (broken down in the small intestine) travel. The first stop is the heart.
In the heart, children learn that low-fat foods are good for the heart, exercise keeps the heart healthy and what happens to blood vessels if their diet is too high in fat.
The lungs are the next stop, and the children learn how smoking affects the lungs. They also practice deep breathing so they can feel first-hand how their lungs work.
The bone stop helps convey the importance of calcium-rich foods in the diet. It also shows children the function of the bones as the literal frame of the body.
And with bone comes muscle. The children learn how they use muscles and that protein, found in foods like meat, cheese and legumes, help build strong muscles. The children squeeze small balls to see their forearm muscle flex and feel the fatigue that comes with exercise.
Next is the organ that holds us all together — the skin. In the skin station, children learn that nutrients help skin stay healthy. They also learn the importance of sunscreen and regular washing to prevent germs from staying on the skin.
The last stop in the Body Walk is the brain. The children learn that the healthy eating and exercise they learned throughout the Walk are also things needed for a healthy brain. They also learn that helmets protect the brain and should be worn every time the children play hard.
Cade explains that the Body Walk would not be possible without the volunteers who man each station and deliver the important information for the children.
“Without all of their hard work Body Walk would not be so successful,” Cade added.
The Body Walk can also be transported to schools for convenience. To arrange to host the Body Walk or for other programming needs, contact the Oktibbeha County Extension Service at 323-5916.