evolution theory for young children (4-10yrs)

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Discussion by: gabriel!

Does anyone have recommendations for books introducing evolution theory to young children, aged 4-10? Obviously, I am perfectly willing to read to them, and explain the pictures in the book. There are many books telling bible stories in an interesting way, but I hardly find any quality (i.e. interesting to children, story-like, getting a message across) books on evolution theory. Some have a boring style (probably written by scientists that try to simplify the story), others don't even get a little bit of the essence across, and certainly not in a lasting manner. Any suggestions anyone? 

I think it is really important to create a balance against the offerings of excellent bible stories for children (and other fairy tales), and plant a few additional seeds labeled "evolution theory" early on in a world seeded with so many religious references explaining the creation of life.   

17 COMMENTS

    • In reply to #1 by Matrix7:

      How about Richard Dawkins’ “The Magic of Reality” for a start?

      I’ve had good feedback from my resident 7 year old on that one. Bought it for 12 year old, but the younger one got interested. She loved finding that the fossil shell we have in our Interesting Things cabinet is “the best kind of fossil”, and she wedged it into the page with the photos of all 3 kinds, which wasn’t all that good for the book, but never mind. She also liked the portrait of her 185,000,000th grandparent. The book’s not perfect for her age, I’d like to see a large format edition with much bigger pictures, and more of them, but with the same core narrative. (Please, Dr Dawkins, if you read this).

      Now she likes pointing out similarities between us and other animals, ever since I outlined the basic body plan (head, spine, 2 pairs of limbs branching 1-2-5) Frogs, birds as well as mammals she now sees as her relations, quite happily.

      Beyond books, there are the David Attenborough documentaries. Life of Birds is the one my kids found most fascinating, they could replay that series over and over.

  1. The Magic of Reality.

    I have a boxed set of cool stuff called “The Darwin Experience”. It has reproductions of documents and maps and journal entries and photos and all sorts of cool stuff in it. It is by John van Whye. Great for kids.

    However, no book substitutes for the thoughtful answering of kids questions and the proper pointing out of evidence when the moment presents itself.

    I was teaching about DNA replication today. The two strands of DNA separate and (many awesome details omitted) one strand is the “leading” and the other strand is the “lagging” strand. (Because DNA is antiparallel and the DNA polymerase can only travel in one direction.)

    Anyway, a kid raised his hand and said “well that is stupid. Why isn’t there a polymerase that can go BOTH ways?” I was over the moon excited and we had an enormously important class discussion about the FACT that this system evolved and how all of us would come up with a better design if we were the designer. Intelligent design? I think not. If I had designed it, I would not have it so that one strand proceeds all neat and orderly and the other is in chaotic frantic motion….

    Take the time to listen and answer their questions. It is the best pathway.

  2. The very best one I’ve found is Evolution Revolution – from Darwin to DNA by Robert Winston. Published by Dorling Kindersley and is in their style with lots of pictures and small bits of text. I got it for my nephew and am definitely getting a copy for when my daughter is older. Probably a bit much for a four year old but certainly good by the time they are seven. Lots to interest them, like how the animals evolved and Darwins voyages as well as looking to the future.

    I thought it was easily the best childrens book on the topic I could find.

  3. Evolve or die! by Phil Gates. This book is part of the ‘Horrible Science’ (science with all the gory bits left in!) series of books. It is full of comic book style illustrations and science based humour. It is 142 pages long and contains all the main points of the theory, including continental drift (leading to speciation etc). ISBN 978-1-407105-35-2. I’d recommend this book for kids aged 7+

  4. Besides books, take your kids to your local museums!! I was lucky growing up in Los Angeles. We had the La Brea Tar Pits, now with the Page Museum. Griffith Observatory and Planetarium, The Natural History Museum and the Science Museums in Exposition Park. Take your kids on trips to cities with such museums. It may also be corny to some, but the evolution sequence in the Rite of Spring in Disney’s Fantasia fired up my young imagination. And around the age of ten or so I was riveted by watching “Inherit the Wind” with Spencer Tracy rehashing the Scopes Monkye Trial. That movie alone did me wonders to really question fundamentalist attitudes! There’s tons of stuff out there!

    • In reply to #8 by Darwinorlose:

      Besides books, take your kids to your local museums!! I was lucky growing up in Los Angeles. We had the La Brea Tar Pits, now with the Page Museum. Griffith Observatory and Planetarium, The Natural History Museum and the Science Museums in Exposition Park. Take your kids on trips to cities with such museums. It may also be corny to some, but the evolution sequence in the Rite of Spring in Disney’s Fantasia fired up my young imagination. And around the age of ten or so I was riveted by watching “Inherit the Wind” with Spencer Tracy rehashing the Scopes Monkye Trial. That movie alone did me wonders to really question fundamentalist attitudes! There’s tons of stuff out there!

      A great idea – and one can make it more fun with an ice cream, or lunch in the museum cafeteria or whatever. Also it puts the idea of evolution in with all the lessons to be learned about the world, and all the other cool stuff in a museum. The experience needs to be made exciting by the accompanying adult, by putting things to the four-year old at their level, and being sure to avoid lingering on anything too long if boredom sets in. Maybe a small purchase from the museum shop can make for a talking point when back at home.

  5. Well, I think that “Pepper’s special wings” Could be appropriate for 4-7 year olds. There is also the option of “Little Changes” Which is probably more appropriate for 7-10 year olds. But I think you should definitely have a look into those.

  6. As well as books, a bit of hands-on activity is good.

    If children grow trays of seedlings (apart from F1 hybrids), there is often diversity in the plants, sometimes with “variegated sports” or seedlings lacking chlorophyll, arising from mutations.

    F2 hybrids can illustrate Mendel’s experiments. It all builds up understanding.

    Having a collection of fossils, rocks and minerals is also a good idea.

  7. Check out the discussion “A children’s book about evolution?” at P.Z. Myers’ blog Pharyngula http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/01/08/a-childrens-book-about-evolution/.

    I really liked this little book Little Changes by Tiffany Taylor (a really cool site) http://www.rinkidinks.co.uk/
    and as a pdf http://www.rinkidinks.co.uk/_assets/book/littleChanges.pdf

    You don’t say what sort of opportunities are available in your area, like whether you are close to any natural history or science museums, Bird sanctuaries often have natural science programs for various age groups through the year. On one hand it helps bring the reading to life and generate interest that will motivate
    reading.or study.

    ? Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan

    • In reply to #14 by whiteraven:

      I really liked this little book Little Changes by Tiffany Taylor (a really cool site) ….

      I looked at the forums at the site and they look strange for an English lanuage site. Maybe they aren’t cool. The rest of it looked fine.

  8. When I was younger (13 now) my parents used to let me watch David Attenborough documentaries, I really enjoyed them, even if I didn’t remember much. I wouldn’t attribute my interest in science to them as I only really began to take an interest when we started secondary school biology, and also when I read the greatest show on earth (around the same time) but they are better than anything on children’s television.

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