BOOMbox at Home: Respiratory Activities

Your lungs take about 6 million breaths every year, so keeping them healthy and working is pretty important. As we’ve seen in the past few months, people all around the world have been very sick with COVID-19, a disease that can make it challenging to breathe. This disease moves from person to person from little droplets that come from your nose and mouth when you breathe or talk or cough. That’s why so many people are wearing masks now. 

Breathing is how your body takes oxygen from the air and gets it into your bloodstream. Lungs also take carbon dioxide out of your body. Lungs allow us to breathe, talk, shout, sing, laugh, and cry. To understand why COVID-19 is such a serious disease, we need to know how the respiratory system works. These videos will help you learn more:

If you’ve seen and heard the news about COVID-19, you’ve heard the word "ventilator" many times. What is a ventilator? A ventilator is a machine that helps people breathe when they can’t do it on their own. It pumps oxygen into their bodies and exhales carbon dioxide. How do Ventilators Work?, a TedEd animation with educator Alex Gendler, explains it more fully. 

Design Challenge: Based on what you’ve learned, can you design an optimum ventilator? How can your design incorporate easier-to-find (and therefore less expensive) materials? Your design can be a drawing or a 3D model made with materials around your house.

How Your Nose Tricks Your Mouth

Your sense of smell has a lot to do with how food tastes. Get a partner or many partners from your household who are willing to experiment with how their nose tricks their mouth. Many items can be used for the experiment. Our example is jelly beans. Tasters close their eyes, hold their nose, and see if they can still identify foods by taste.


  • Jelly beans (at least three different fruit flavors work best)
  • Pencil and a recording sheet
  • Plastic sandwich bags
  • A partner or a group of friends/family from your household
  • Bandanna or fabric to cover eyes (optional)
  • Drinking water (optional)


  • Separate jelly beans by flavor and put them into plastic bags or individual containers by flavor.
  • Squish the bags just a little to crack the jelly beans. If using containers, use a spoon to apply pressure to the jelly beans to crack.


  1. The taster closes their eyes or covers them with a piece of fabric, and pinches their nose shut.
  2. Instruct the taster to pick a jelly bean from in front of them and take a bite. It is not necessary to eat the whole jelly bean. Ask your taster to guess the jelly bean’s flavor.
  3. Record their response, along with the correct answer.
  4. Repeat with at least two other flavors. You can offer your taster a glass of water between samples as a palate cleanser.
  5. With each flavor, record each response, along with the correct answer.
  6. Repeat the experiment with other tasting partners.
  7. Compare results. How did your tasters do?

For a healthier variation on this experiment, peel and chop two potatoes and two apples. (Have an adult supervise when you use knives or peelers.) You'll notice the peeled apple and potato slices look very similar. Hand either a slice of apple or potato to a partner—don't let your partner know which is which. Ask your partner to take a bite while keeping their nose pinched closed. Can your partner tell the difference between the apple and the potato? Can you? Try again with your nose unpinched.

Using Your Lungs--Mindfulness

You can use your breath to relax and focus your mind. There are many resources for learning how to use your breath as a calming technique. We recommend the Rainbow Breath exercise from GoNoodle and, for younger audiences, the "Belly Breathe" song with Elmo, Common, and Colbie Caillat.

Make a Lung Model

You can make a model of your lungs with a plastic water bottle and two balloons (one preferably smaller than the other). First, cut off the bottom portion of a water bottle. Cutting plastic can create sharp edges so we recommend younger kids ask an adult for help with this step.

Next, place the end of a small balloon into the water bottle and secure the lip of the balloon over the mouth of the bottle. Knot one end of a larger balloon and cut the other end off. Place the larger balloon over the cut bottom portion of the water bottle and use a rubber band to secure it in place. Hold the balloon tightly against the water bottle with your hand, and gently pull the knot of the balloon with the other hand.

The balloon inside the bottle should start to inflate, simulating the expansion of the lungs when a person breathes in. Looking for a more complex lung model? We recommend this model from Nerdy Science.

Scientist of the Week

Tu Youyou became interested in medicine as a teenager when she missed a year of high school because she had tuberculosis. Later, while studying traditional Chinese medicine, Tu discovered a plant could be the base for a treatment for malaria. At that time, malaria was one of the world's most deadly diseases, and western cultures did not value traditional Chinese medicine.  

For her work, Tu won the 2015 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. She is the first Chinese scientist ever to win a Nobel Prize. Her work has also created new interest in traditional medicines for malaria that has saved millions of lives across the world.

Tu Youyou is 89 years old and she lives with her husband in Beijing, China.


We’d love to see the results of your experiments! Tag @skokielibrary when you share photos of what you’ve created on social media.

Written by Mahnoor and Pam.