How to Host a Homeschool Co-op on Plant and Animal Cells: With Hands-on Slime Cell Models

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This article goes over how to host an awesome, hands-on homeschool co-op on plant and animal cells, microscopes, and the “micro-verse.”

Learning about cells and microbiology, a whole other world that we can’t see with the naked eye, inspires a wonder of learning. I’m thrilled when I get to see the kids learning something new and they have a look of awe and amazement on their faces.

Honestly, our homeschool co-op learning about cells was a little too much for the kindergarteners in our group, but was perfect for 7 to 9-year-olds. Ideal for grades 2-4, in my opinion. (Or if you’re in grade 100 as a grown adult who still wants to learn and is fascinated by microbiology, like myself.) 

Living vs Non-living

First, ask the kids, “What are some examples of living things?” And then, “What are some examples of non-living things?” Living things like people, plants, animals, and bacteria are made of cells. Living things grow (move and react), reproduce, breathe, and need energy.

Rocks, water, metal, and plastic are non-living things. Then, have the kids color these animal and plant cell model pages while you read a book about the difference between living and non-living things.

Living or Non-Living Books, picture of 2 books

Slime Cell Models

Next, we made slime cell models! The idea for the cell cytoplasm model made from slime came from Royal Ballo. She has awesome, hands-on ideas for homeschooling on her website.

I made this slime recipe the day before. Three batches were enough for each kiddo to be able to take some home, and also have two Pyrex containers for the slime cell models. (I just wrapped the slime in wax paper to take home.)

I dyed one batch green to represent the plant cell, and the other yellow to represent the animal cell. Then I brought random stuff from home to represent organelles that the kids could use to make a cell slime model.

For the organelles, I brought string, beads, buttons, cardboard tubes, and cut-up straws from home,  but you could use lots of different things you have lying around the house.

We based our cell models on these awesome cell model graphics and coloring pages from Etsy made by Arrows and Applesauce. Her printouts also go over the functions of the different cell parts and organelles.

Animal & Plant Cell Model

Split the kids up into groups of two, and using their coloring sheets, ask the kids to make a cell model using the supplies (above) in the slime. Have one group create the animal cell model and the other group create the plant cell model.

Ask them to tell you which item represents which specific organelle. You can talk about what the organelle functions are while they put the “organelles” in the slime cytoplasm.

picture of a group of kids making a slime cell model, one plant cell and one animal cell

The kids had fun sticking the “organelles” in the slime, and I liked that it was a collaborative activity. And then we discussed some of the differences between plant and animal cells. We kept things simple since our kids are on the younger side, but you could go into more detail with older kids.

Plant and Animal Cell Differences

  • Plant cells have a cell wall and a chloroplast.
  • Animal cells don’t have a cell wall since they have some type of skeletal structure to give them their shape.
  • Animal cells don’t have chloroplasts.
  • Chloroplasts are used to make food from the sun using photosynthesis.

Microscope with Slides

Lastly, bust out the microscope with slides! I would go ahead and splurge on a good-quality microscope so you can really see the cells, and this Amscope microscope does not disappoint. This microscope came with prepared slides, which are all amazing to look through.

I also like that it can use batteries and/or be plugged into the wall. We did all of these activities outside at a picnic table. No electricity, no problem because this microscope is portable.

I had it already focused so the kids could easily look through it. Remind the kiddos to be gentle and take turns. They were so excited they wanted to all look through it at the same time.

I got a “Wow! This is sooo cool!” from the majority of the kids that day! Mission accomplished! The awe of learning about the micro-world! To see what we are made of, but can’t see with the naked eye. Hopefully, this homeschool co-op on plant and animal cells will awaken the wonder in budding microbiologists!

How to Host a Hands-on Homeschool Co-op on Plant & Animal Cells: Picture of an animal cell watercolor

Ideas on Fun Things to View with the Microscope

The above activities are all we had time for during our homeschool co-op, but there are so many other activities you could do with the microscope.

Here are some ideas of stuff we looked at under the microscope at home: pond water, hair, cheek swab of saliva, teeth plaque, house dust, a fly’s wing, onion skin, mold growing on an orange, and raspberry skin.

Looking at bacteria from our mouths was especially illuminating! And gross! (And a great segue into talking about how brushing teeth is so important!)

Make Your Own Slides

You could also teach the kids how to prepare their own specimens on a slide. All you need is a dropper, tweezers, clean water, slides, and slide covers, and possibly gloves. You just need a very thin layer of whatever specimen you choose, add a drop of distilled water, and cover it with a slide cover. And viola! You have created your own specimen in a slide to look at!

There is a wonderful book called “The World of the Microscope: A Practical Introduction with Projects and Activities” for more ideas and in-depth info on what you can do with your microscope. The pictures are awesome, we added this book to our library for microbiology, as I thought it was worth buying.

History & Science

At home, we read the book All in a Drop: How Antony van Leeuwenhoek Discovered an Invisible World. Antony van Leeuwenhoek is considered “The Father of the Microscope.” It was a great way to tie in some history with our science.  

The book "All in a Drop: How Antony van Leeuwenhoek Discovered an Invisible World"

Supply List

Slime:

Organelles:

  • String
  • Beads
  • Cut up straws
  • Buttons
  • Tiny Cardboard tubes

Microscope:

Books:

How to Host a Fun Hands-On Homeschool Co-op on Germs! (that will make your kids want to wash their hands): picture of germs cells in the background

If you enjoyed reading How to Host a Homeschool Co-op on Plant and Animal Cells here are other homeschool co-op ideas:

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