This article talks about plant and animal cells for kids in an easy to understand manner. Read on to find out more about cells, parts of animal cells, plant cells and the differences between plant and animal cells.

What are cells?

Plant and Animal Cells for Kids - animal cellCells are the smallest unit of life that make up plants, animals, and other living things. All living things have at least one or more cells and begin as a single cell.

Living things that are made up of only one cell are called unicellular organisms. Amoebas, bacteria, and yeast are examples of unicellular organisms.

Living things that are made up of more than one cell are called multicellular organisms. Plants, animals, and fungi are examples of multicellular organisms.

What happens in a cell

Cells are like mini chemical factories. They take in raw materials such as oxygen or digested food and turn them into other substances. These substances can then be used by the cells themselves or carried to other parts of the body. Cells keep us alive by manufacturing these substances for our body to use.

Our body contains many different types of cells. Groups of cells working together are called a tissue, different tissues work together in an organ, and different organs make up a system. For example, muscle cells group together to form muscle tissues which are part of the stomach (organ) and the stomach is one of the many organs that make up the digestive system.

How can you see a cell?

My First Lab Duo-Scope Microscope
Amazon Price: $79.99 $63.99 Buy Now
(price as of May 19, 2015)
Cells contain tiny structures called organelles. However, most cells and their parts are too small to be seen with the human eye. Microscopes are needed to help us see cells and parts of cells.

This microscope set for kids consists of a microscope made like a professional scientific instrument. It comes with microscope slides, forceps, stains, test tubes and many other accessories to help budding scientists investigate cells, microorganisms, and other scientific endeavors that pique their interest.

Parts of animal cells for kids

An animal cell (including human cells) usually has a cell membrane, nucleus, cytoplasm, mitochondria, and vaculoes.

  • Cell membrane - the cell membrane is a sheet that surrounds the entire cell. It is partially permeable, which means it allows some substances to go in and out of the cell but not others.
  • Nucleus - the nucleus contains most of the genetic material of the cell and controls activities that happen in the cell.
  • Cytoplasm - the cytoplasm is the jelly-like material inside the cell between the cell membane and the nucleus. It contains organelles such as the vacuoles and mitochondria.
  • Mitochondria - mitochondria (singular: mitochondrion) are tiny organelles shaped like sausages. They turn digested food into energy for the cell's use.
  • Vacuoles - vacuoles are organelles filled with fluid and surrounded by a membrane. They store food substances and water in animal cells.

Of course, these are not the only parts of an animal cell. There are many other structures in an animal cell and different types of animal cells contain different structures. You can see a different animal cell in our specialized cells section. 

The diagram below also shows some other parts that an animal cell may contain.

animal cell structure

Fun way for kids to learn about animal cells

Famemaster 4D-Science Animal Cell Anatomy Model
Amazon Price: $27.99 $15.79 Buy Now
(price as of May 19, 2015)
What better way to learn about animal cells than by assembling a 3D anatomy model of one? This colorful model is 6 inches and comes with 26 detachable animal cell parts. Putting together a model helps kids learn about cells in a fun and memorable way.

Parts of plant cells for kids

A plant cell usually has a cell wall, cell membrane, cytoplasm, nucleus, vacuole, mitochondria and chloroplasts.

  • Cell wall - the cell wall surrounds the plant cell (including the cell membrane) and is made of a strong material called cellulose. The cellulose gives the plant cell its shape and protects it from injury.
  • Cell membrane - like the cell membrane surrounds the plant cell but is behind the cell wall. It is partially permeable, allowing some substances to pass through but not others.
  • Nucleus - the nucleus controls the activities of the cell and contains most of its genetic material.
  • Cytoplasm - the cytoplasm is a jelly-like material between the nucleus and the cell membrane. It contains the vacuoles, mitochondria, and other organelles.
  • Mitochondria - the mitochondria are tiny sausage-like organelles that turn food substances into energy for the cell to use.
  • Vacuole - there is normally a large central vacuole in plant cells. Similar to the animal cell, the vacuole in the plant cell is used for storage. In plant cells, the vacuole contains cell sap and you can find dissolved mineral salts, sugar, and amino acids in the cell sap.
  • Chloroplasts - chloroplasts contain chlorophyll which help plants make food from sunlight and give them a green color.

These are not the only parts of a plant cell. Different plant cells may look different and contain different parts. You can read more about this in the specialized cells section.

The diagram below shows some other structures that a plant cell may contain.

plant cell structure

Fun way for kids to learn about plant cells

Famemaster 4D-Science Plant Cell Anatomy Model
Amazon Price: $27.99 $12.59 Buy Now
(price as of May 19, 2015)
This colorful model of a plant cell is about 6 inches tall and comes with 24 detachable parts. Learn more about plant cells in a fun and memorable way by assembling a 3D model of one.

Differences between plant and animal cells for kids

You've learnt about plant and animal cells but can you name their differences? The following is a list of similarities and differences between plant and animal cells.

  1. Both plant and animal cells have a cell membrane
  2. Both plant and animal cells have a nucleus
  3. Both plant and animal cells have cytoplasm
  4. An animal cell may have multiple tiny vacuoles but a plant cell usually has a single large vacuole
  5. A plant cell has a cell wall but an animal cell does not
  6. A plant cell has choloroplasts but an animal cell does not

Specialized cells

Although we have mentioned the general characteristics of plant and animal cells above, not all plant or animal cells look the same. Cells can look different, have different functions, and contain different structures. Below are a few specialized plant and animal cells.

Red blood cells - the red blood cell is an animal cell that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. It does not have a nucleus. The red blood cell contains a substance called haemoglobin that gives the blood cell its red color and helps carry oxygen. The red blood cell has a biconcave shape that lets oxygen move in and out of the cell faster.

Root hair cells - the root hair cell is a plant cell that has a long and narrow shape. Their shape allow them to absorb water and mineral salts faster more efficiently from the soil. Root hair cells do not contain chloroplasts.

Learning Resources Giant Magnetic Plant Cell
Amazon Price: $19.99 $13.99 Buy Now
(price as of May 19, 2015)

Other science for kids articles:

Magnets and Magnetism for Kids
How to Make Magnets for Kids
Water Cycle Experiments for Kids
Heat Energy for Kids