Genetics, Genetic Diseases, and the Circulatory System

Genetics is the study of how certain traits are passed down from one generation to the next. When traits are passed from parents to their children, they are considered hereditary traits. These traits are passed through our DNA, long, spiral-shaped molecules found inside every cell, and affect how our body functions and looks. We can inherit many different things ranging from physical traits like eye color to mental characteristics and even certain genetic disorders.

Use our lesson plans to start open conversations about genetics at home, encourage curiosity about health and the body, and inspire discussions about treating others with kindness.

Our Lessons

Our lessons are designed for grades K-5 with the flexibility for you to decide how much depth is appropriate for your students. The activities themselves usually take about 5-10 minutes; full lessons might be 20+ minutes with lots of conversation! Most of the materials should be easy to find around the house; feel free to reach out if you want to brainstorm alternatives.

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All About Blood with Drew and Nia


What Makes You, You

  • Humans are made up of trillions of cells. Each cell in the body contains nearly 30,000 genes, with each gene carrying the information that determines which features we inherit from our parents..
  • Each gene is made up of DNA. DNA or “deoxyribonucleic acid” is a long, two-stranded molecule that contains our unique genetic code. Like a recipe book, it holds the instructions for making all the proteins in our bodies 
  • DNA contains four basic building blocks or ‘bases’: adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T). The order, or sequence, of these bases form the instructions in the genome.
  • DNA has a unique ‘double helix’ shape, like a twisted ladder. The bases on one strand of the DNA molecule pair together with complementary bases on the opposite strand of DNA to form the ‘rungs’ of the DNA ‘ladder.’
  • The bases always pair together in the same way, A with T, C with G, and each base pair is joined together by hydrogen bonds.
  • The human genome is made of 3.2 billion bases of DNA but other organisms have different genome sizes.

Genetics and Heredity Traits

  • Heredity refers to the passing on of physical or mental characteristics genetically from one generation to another
  • Our physical traits are only inherited from our parents and grandparents.
  • Each parent contributes half of their genetic material to their children. Sometimes one parent may pass more dominant traits to their child, which would result in that child looking more like that parent.
  • Some well-known inherited genetic disorders include cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, Tay-Sachs disease, phenylketonuria and color-blindness, among many others. All of these disorders are caused by the mutation of a single gene

Sickle Cell Disease

Sickle Cell Disease is a group of inherited red blood cell disorders. Healthy red blood cells are round, and they move through small blood vessels to carry oxygen to all parts of the body. In someone who has SCD, the red blood cells become hard and sticky and look like a C-shaped farm tool called a “sickle”. The sickle cells die early, which causes a constant shortage of red blood cells. Also, when they travel through small blood vessels, they get stuck and clog the blood flow. This can cause pain and other serious problems such infection, acute chest syndrome and stroke.

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Who it affects

In the United States, about 1 in 13 black or African American babies is born with sickle cell trait and about 1 in every 365 black or African American babies is born with sickle cell disease. About 100,000 Americans have sickle cell disease. Pediatric sickle cell disease affects many families. In fact, it is the most commonly diagnosed disease in newborn screening. There are also many people who have sickle cell disease who come from Hispanic, southern European, Middle Eastern, or Asian Indian backgrounds.

What You Can Do

Disclaimer: always follow the guidance of your child’s doctor-prescribed Sickle Cell Disease action plan.

Genetics in Context: How to Support Students

Use lessons about genetics and hereditary traits to show each child in your space that they are unique and special. Building self-confidence and pride can help with academic and social performance.

Students with certain genetic diseases, such as SCD, may need flexibility regarding missed activities, instruction, testing etc. if they miss class time due to pain, going to the nurse’s office, and/or visiting their doctors.

Bullies might target students who seem “different,” so talking with your participants about asthma and kindness may be beneficial. For a free, PDF book on asthma, please see “All About Asthma” (appropriate for K-5). Use our lesson plans to encourage open conversation and discussion about asthma, healthy lungs and other health topics.