High School Dissection, by Jen W.

Dissection Day


Although dissection lab is not experimental science, there are very good reasons for high school students to engage in dissection. First, dissection is very useful in helping students better visualize biological structures. These apply both narrowly and more widely. Dissecting a sheep or cow eye not only teaches the student about sheep and cows, but they can apply that knowledge to the human eye. Secondly, dissection gives students confidence in their later labs. Dissection requires some amount of skill and precision, but there is no expectation of achieving a specific result as with later labs the students will experience in chemistry and other areas of science. Thirdly, when you take dissection in incremental steps, they gradually get used to the “yucky stuff” involved with dissection, which may help them get over queasiness that may be associated with the medical field.

First challenge for a veteran homeschool mom: finding the dissection kit in the science closet.

To get started with dissection, you will need several items: a dissection kit, a dissection tray, an instruction book and one or more specimens, you might also want to print lab sheets or worksheets. There are YouTube videos available of many different types of dissection that can help walk nervous students (and parents!) through the process.

There are several different dissection kits available. Personally, I really like the advanced dissection kit from Home Training Tools. The set has everything most students will need while keeping the price low. The scalpel is sharp, but easy to handle. The tweezers, probes and everything are made well enough to last through several kids. I added extra pins, extra scalpel blades and a magnifying glass to our kit. Note the instructions on how to change scalpel blades on the site, many people have trouble figuring it out without help.

I own this dissection tray. It is currently being used by my second child, having made it through several dissections with my eldest. It is still holding up very well. I appreciate the reusable aspect because it means that it’s always at hand.

You can see the tray at work dissecting an earthworm with pins in it in the featured photo.

We use this how-to book: How to Dissect by William Berman. This one book contains great basic information on dissection as well instructions for dissecting many different specimens, including all of the specimens that most students will tackle in high school.

I found free dissection worksheets here for most of our specimens.

There are several YouTube channels that provide students with excellent walk-throughs that will ease the mind of anyone nervous about dissection. I feel these two are among the best:

Carolina Biological

My kids do at least the following: earthworm, clam, grasshopper, crayfish, frog, starfish and perch. More science focused and/or less grossed out kids also do: a cow eye, a squid, a dogfish shark and a fetal pig. I feel this gives the more timid a solid feel for anatomical structures, and gives the braver and/or more science-focused kids a pretty good range of specimen examples.


Carolina Biological even has a useful video for dissecting the dogfish shark.

Although I strongly recommend hands-on dissection with real specimens, there are a few students who will be extra grossed-out and/or have ethical issues with dissection. In that case, as a last resort, there are virtual dissections available. Here are a couple of the more popular options:

Earthworm Dissection

Froguts Virtual Dissection

Squid Dissection

Jen jen_wW.– Jen is a born and bred Sooner who has spent twenty years following her military husband around the world. Jen started on her homeschooling journey when her eldest daughter learned to read at three years old, and she decided that she couldn’t screw up kindergarten that badly. That child is now a senior in high school, and they have both survived homeschooling throughout. Jen has two more children who are equally smart and have also homeschooled all along.

I Don't Do Dissections…But My Kids Do! by Nakia

Dissection Day


I am a nurse.

And I don’t dissect.

I made it through advanced biology classes in high school and nursing school without participating in dissections. I will admit that I am squeamish about it and don’t plan to let homeschooling change that.

My girls, on the other hand, were so excited to dissect last year! My oldest daughter spent a year studying Life Science with my younger two tagging along for the hands-on parts. We ordered a dissection kit that included an earthworm, a starfish, a grasshopper, a clam, a fish, and a frog along with a tray and the tools needed for dissection. The kit also included detailed instructions for dissecting each specimen.

Since I didn’t plan to actually dissect with them, I found YouTube videos that the girls could watch prior to dissecting each specimen. We also watched some virtual dissections online. Our next step was to talk about dissecting tool safety. When we first started, only Anna was allowed to do any cutting, but by the time we got to the frog, Emma and Cora were comfortable and skillful with all of the tools. It was also very important to me that the girls showed respect for the animals that they were dissecting, and they really did a great job with that.


Anna’s science book included a list of things to look for in each specimen. Armed with that list and the dissection instructions, they were able to start small (with the cricket) and work all the way up to the frog. Most of the dissecting was done right at our kitchen table. They actually ended up dissecting the starfish on the back porch. That shows you can dissect anywhere! For the frog, we got together with two other homeschool families. We had all ages that day – from my seven-year-old up to a 17-year-old, along with the moms. I stayed back and took pictures.

I’m pretty sure they will always remember dissecting at home! And I think they’re ready for more as we plan to study biology in the fall.

Naknakiaia–Nakia is a Southern girl, born and raised in North Carolina. She is married to her high school sweetheart and is in her 9th year of homeschooling her three wonderful daughters. She works part time as a nurse and loves photography, thrift shopping, baking, and autumn in the mountains.

Elementary Dissection Lab, by Lynne

Dissection Day


Whenever I have a question about homeschool science, I ask my friend Lisa. Lisa’s ten-year-old daughter has an insatiable appetite for science knowledge, so out of necessity, Lisa has had to do more than the average homeschool mom’s share of research into science curricula and science opportunities for her daughter. She is a veritable treasure trove of science information and has been able to parlay this research into fantastic science classes at our local homeschool co-op.

This session, Lisa is teaching a dissection class to a group of nine students, aged 9-14. They will be dissecting everything from clams to chickens. I was able to visit the class and take a peek at the students working on their crayfish dissections.

The kids read up about the specimen before coming to class. Each student has his own dissection kit and works on his own specimen, but they are seated in pairs and work together on each project. They discuss how to proceed and share their discoveries with each other. They record their information on a lab sheet.


I asked Lisa a few questions about the class, and she told me that the very first thing she did was to go over all the items in the dissection kit and explain the safety procedures to the class. Nine-year-olds wielding scalpels have the potential to be dangerous if they are not properly cautioned! The first specimen was an earthworm, and the kids enjoyed seeing its five hearts. Each week they will explore a new specimen and learn more anatomical terminology. Lisa’s goals for the class  “ . . . are for the students to have a basic overview of anatomy and learn the language that is science. I’m a big believer in exposing children to scientific terms so they build a language bank.”

There are many benefits to doing science classes in a co-op format, such as sharing the cost of expensive materials and the opportunity to swap information. A co-op dissection class, as Lisa says, “also helps busy moms keep sheep hearts out of their dining rooms.” I think many homeschool parents would appreciate having a separate location to work on some of the more messy science projects.

One of my favorite things about this class is that it is open to younger students.  Normally, dissection is reserved for high school biology and anatomy classes. This class is for late elementary and middle school aged kids. Lisa is of the opinion that many kids shy away from more advanced science classes out of fear of “scary words.” She hopes her ambition to build up a science language bank in younger students will encourage them to pursue science even further than they ever imagined possible. Judging by the excitement on the kids’ faces in that room, I have a feeling Lisa may be on to something.

Lynnlynnee–Lynne has enjoyed homeschooling her two sons for the past three years, after their brief stint in the local public school.  Her older son is a humorous fellow with high functioning autism who thrives in a home education environment.  Her younger son is a sensitive soul with a great deal of patience. The boys, Mom, and Dad, along with the two guinea pigs, live in Northeast Ohio.  Lynne holds a Master’s Degree in French Language and Literature.  She is also a Harry Potter fanatic, enjoys line dancing and Zumba, spends hours scrapbooking, and loves organic vegetables.  You can visit her soon-to-be revitalized blog at www.daysofwonderhomeschool.blogspot.com.