Finding fingerprints

A slightly messy but fun activity exploring your fingerprint patterns. Turn it into a detective game or make it a craft activity by creating pictures out of the prints.

What you need:

  • Ink pad or sponge and paint to make your own (essential – although you could just paint straight onto fingers, using a pad is likely to be less messy).
  • Paper (essential).
  • People (not essential but you need a few if you want to make it into a game).

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What to do:

  • Every do some finger prints onto some paper, a combination of thumbs and fingers, and label with names.
  • Compare everyones prints looking for loops (the most common), arches and whorls (circles or sort of swirls).
  • To turn it into a game get one of the group to leave the room. One person then does a new print on a separate piece of paper. The person who left the room then comes back and has to identify who the print belongs to.

Tips/extra bits:

  •  Use a magnifying glass to have a closer look at the print/act like a proper detective.

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The science bit

Everyone has a unique pattern on their fingerprints, with no two people the same. Even identical twins. Once thought to be for helping to grip objects there have been more recent studies that suggest that they actually help to reduce friction. Possible suggestions for their existence are to increase tactile sensitivity, preventing damage from rough surfaces or to help water wick off the fingers and therefore increasing grip when wet.

Explaining it to children

This is such a visual experiment that children can see the differences (and similarities) in the fingerprints made. The fact that scientists are still unsure about why we have them and are trying to work it out is a good example of showing how science is ‘made’. You could ask your child why they think we have them or explain the possible reasons (grip, protection, for feeling) and ask them to suggest which one they think is right. You could even do little experiments to test the theories (I might come back to this at some point with some suggestions of how and what to do, in which case I will post a link!).

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Experiment based on an activity from the fantastic Usborne Activities: 365 Science Activities book.

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