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Explore Genetics by Finding Family Traits!

Middle School Life Science Activities: Explore Genetics by Finding Family Traits!

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The study of genetics may seem like rocket science to your child, but an introduction to genes doesn’t need to be confusing. In fact, we all carry evidence of the way genes work: in our eyes and hair color, in our earlobes and tongues, and in countless other physical characteristics that we inherit from our parents and grandparents. For a fun family activity to introduce your child to genetics have your child go on a search for dominant and recessive family traits!

What You Need:

Printable Family Genetic Traits chart

What You Do:

Have your child fill out her own genetic characteristics on the chart, and then interview members of the family for their information too. The more details, the better, so use this as an excuse to call up Grandma, Grandpa, aunts and uncles, and whoever else! Your child should ask each person about the following traits:

  • What color hair do you have?
  • Do you get freckles on your face?
  • Do you have cheek dimples when you smile?
  • Are your earlobes attached or do the ends hang free? (Follow up questions: do they hang low? Do they wobble to and fro?)
  • Can you roll your tongue up into a tube?
  • Are you double jointed? If so, in what part of your body?

Your child should record the results of her interviews, then take a look at the data. The chart should look something like this:

  Hair color Freckles Cheek dimples Earlobes Tongue Roll Double jointed
Me Brown Y Free  Y Y(thumbs)
Mom Brown N Y Free  Y N
Dad Red  N Attached N Y(elbows)
Sibling A Brown Y Free  Y Y(elbows)
Sibling B Brown Y Free  Y Y(thumbs)

To help your child interpret the information on her chart here’s a quick review of the way genes work:

Humans have two copies of each gene that makes up our physical structure, one from each parent. For example, if you have the tongue roll gene from both parents, you will be able to roll your tongue. However, if the two genes are different, one of them will be “dominant.” That means that only the dominant trait will appear. For instance, if you have the free-hanging earlobe gene from your mom, and the attached earlobe gene from you dad, you will probably have free-hanging earlobes, because your mom’s gene is the dominant one. Sound confusing? Take a look at your chart. What traits did you inherit from your parents? And if your parents have different hair color and earlobes, which kind did you (and your siblings, if you have any) inherit? This is probably the dominant gene.

Wondering why your redheaded sister is the only one in the family? She may have inherited a trait from a long-ago relative that stayed “dormant” (asleep) while being passed on.

Liza Jenkins is a middle school Language Arts teacher and private tutor from Maryland. She enjoys spending time with her husband and two children.

Updated on Jun 1, 2012
See more activities in: Middle School, Life Science
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