Empowering Children Parenthood Science Teaching

Teaching Genetics to a 4-Year-Old

If you ask me, it's never too early to learn something.

If you ask me, it’s never too early to learn something.

My little girl asked me why I have brown eyes while she has blue eyes. I told her it had something to do with the DNA that she received from her parents. (She and her brother are well aware that they each have half of my DNA and half of their father’s.) But I thought I could go a little further with this. Hence, a lesson in the Punnett square.

Though I didn’t use Punnett squares to attempt to explain dominant and recessive patterns of inheritance, I did think that working through a few Punnett squares and making some connection to genetics and DNA would be helpful in her understanding of science later on. (I recall learning Cartesian coordinates in school and thinking how easy it was because I grew up playing Battleship.)

Anyway, above are the Punnett squares my four-year-old daughter and I worked through together. She picked the letters and the color and I helped her fill in the squares. She did the last one almost entirely on her own.

UPDATE: I wrote this post more than two years ago. I was inspired to post it here because my son, 6, asked me the same question that she asked: why does he have brown eyes while his twin sister has blue eyes? This time I did attempt to explain dominant and recessive genes while working through a Punnett square. Not sure how much he will retain, but at least the neuronal spark will be there when he learns about it in school.

Janette DeFelice, MD, MA is a writer currently focusing on how the changing environment affects our health. Her essay collection Resistance Essays from the Heartland and her new novel Delia Rising: A Ballet in Three Acts are both available now. She has also published at Be The Change Mom, ChicagoNow, and Medium.com. She holds a Doctor of Medicine degree from Chicago Medical School and a Master’s degree in Humanities from the University of Chicago, where her major essay was Hegel and Ibsen: The Evolution of Consciousness in Ibsen’s Prose Play Cycle. She also has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Indiana University. A former professional dancer, former adjunct Humanities professor, and former lecturer in Medical Clinical Skills, as well as a mom of 9-year-old twins, she currently finds herself at a career/life crossroads at which she is trying to figure out how to use all aspects of herself (her art, her medical and scientific knowledge, her philosophical explorations, her interest in popular culture as a teaching tool, and her unique perspective) for the good of humanity.

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