Can you complete these tasks without using your thumbs?
Discovery Place Science
Animals have body parts and behaviors that help them to survive in their habitats. These body parts and behaviors are called adaptations. These adaptations can help the animal find food, protect it from the weather, help it to hide and many other things. One such human adaptation is our opposable thumbs. The flexibility in this digit allows it to touch all four fingers and allow us to use tools. Humans aren’t the only animals with this amazing adaptation. Primates, old world apes, monkeys, some frogs and even certain dinosaurs had the same dexterous adaptation. What are some things you can do easily because of your opposable thumb? What would it be like if you didn’t have one? In this activity, we’ll find out!
The adaptation relay game will take about five minutes to prepare and includes approximately 10 minutes of learning time. It is best suited for elementary school children.
- Jar with lid
- Ping pong ball
- Two gloves with the thumb taped down (or just fold your thumb down and make a four)
1. Split into teams. There should be at least two people on a team. If you don’t have enough players to form complete teams, everyone can compete individually.
2. Set up. At your table, set up the gloves with tape over the thumb and the other materials.
3. Play the game. With your back to the table, at the start of the game, the first player will turn around, grab and put on the glove, then complete one task (see tasks listed below). Once the first task is completed, the first player will remove the glove and give it to their teammate. Continue trading the glove back and forth between teammates. Only one person can complete a task at a time.
When your team has completed all seven tasks, you are done. Everyone will throw their hands up when all the tasks are completed. First to have all teammates hands in the air win!
- Pick up the penny and drop it into the jar
- Use the pen to write your name on a piece of paper
- Fold the piece of paper in half
- Using the spoon, pick-up the ping pong ball and walk around the table without dropping the ball from the spoon
- Unscrew the lid from the specimen jar
- Screw the lid back onto the specimen jar
- Tie a knot in the string
How to adjust for younger and older learners
For younger learners, ask them to attempt the relay without gloves first so they understand how simple the tasks actually are with opposable thumbs, then have them run the game as usual.
When you lack a physical advantage, completing the task is not impossible. For older learners, highlight that while they were moving through the relay without their physical adaptation, they made a behavioral adaptation – changed their behavior – to still be able to complete the relay.