I'm in over my head with my 4 year old, and could use some help from biologists.

Last night at dinner, I mentioned off-hand that our parrot is an extremely distant relative of the t-rex represented in chicken nugget form on my daughter's plate. At which point I was bombarded with questions that my high school biology education could not answer. (Especially since my teacher back then was very fond of the "gaps" in the fossil record. Bah.) I made a lame attempt to explain how living things change over time, and then promptly ended the discussion pending a trip to the library.

But, our library doesn't have much available. The stuff they do have is aimed at an older, more sophisticated audience. Can anybody recommend resources for teaching some basic evolutionary concepts to little kids?

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I second that.
I can't think of a resource, a book directed that that age that can explain this idea. In fact, I think 4 is too young to grasp this idea. Still, if you wanted to try again, maybe it's time for a trip to the closest natural history museum?
This sounds like a fantastic idea for a series of books. Play the game the theists play. Books for different ages, say, 5, 8, 11... and so on.
I couldn't agree with you more, EV. I figured that a discussion group centered around a biologist was a good place to ask. And here, I am pretty confident that I'll get some suggestions that are more interesting than on Amazon.

There are some good science books for the younger set, but I'm amazed by how few of them there are compared to story books. (Of course, the story books are of wildly varying quality, so maybe I should be encouraged by the relative small size of the science section at the library...) I figure if a kid is interested enough to ask about something and how it works, they're old enough to get a basic idea of the concepts involved. Back in my teacher training days, we called that the start of "scaffolding." Makes it a lot easier to build up to a more complex understanding later.

I haven't quite got the familiarity with evolution to be able to take the stuff written for grownups (or even big kids) and explain it in ways that make sense to my little one. Really looking forward to a few more suggestions from other readers. Probably should have cross-posted this question to the Little Heathens group, eh?
I am in the same boat right now with my 4 year old. I went to amazon and searched evolution for kids and was a bit suprised at how many books came up. A lot are for 8 and up, but even those could be helpful. Here are a few i have ordered (i will let you know how they turn out if you like)

Darwin and Evolution for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities (For Kids series) (Paperback) by Kristan Lawson

Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story by Lisa Westberg Peters

The Tree Of Life: The Wonders Of Evolution
by Ellen Jackson

Hope this helps us both!!
Awesome list, Jason! I am looking forward to your reviews! With any luck, some or all of these will be winners. :)
I loved watching Richard Dawkins "Growing up in the Universe" It's long and would have to be broken up for younger kids, but both my kids loved it. It cleared up many misunderstandings I had as well.
I have an idea for the book cover.
I found myself in the same conversation with my almost four year old. I explained how things have changed over a long long long time, and I explained fossils to her (simplified) then we went to the natural history museum. She loved it and I did too!! We saw Mastodons, Trilobites, and other fossils. She still talks about it. One trip or one discussion won't clear everything up. This is an on going conversation in science, reason, and critical thinking. Now when she plays in the dirt I'll ask what she's doing and she says, 'Digging for trilobites daddy!' Makes me proud every time! It's never too early to start kids off right! Encourage them to seek to understand and ask questions and to be skeptical of the answers!
I've started doing some basic evolution chats with my almost 5 year old. I have invented an island and I talk about what animals are there and what happens over time if a certain new kind of frog eating bird arrives on the island. She likes the "stories" about the green frogs who get eaten a lot but one day a baby frog happens to be born with a yellow stripe and the birds don't like eating the new frog with the yellow stripe so it gets to have lots of babies and some of them have a yellow stripe too etc. Then I ask her if she thinks many plain green frogs will be left on the island in 50 years and she tells me she thinks it will mostly be frogs with yellow stripes. I wish someone would write a book! Maybe I should get a biologist co-author and write one. My daughter asks questions about the island out of nowhere, asking what would happen if type questions which I find encouraging. I must be on to something if she keeps coming back to it.

Full on evolution-wise the main problem with kids is seeming to be time. They have no concept of a LONG time passing. They think a LONG time ago was when Mum and Dad were kids. :-) We have been talking about dinosaurs lately, that is helping. Got to love National goegraphic for the shows with fossils then interesting computer generated animations.
I know it sounds weird and 4 year old have limited understanding, but try not to dumb things down for them too much. Kids have a lot more understanding than you think. Even if they don't understand what you say today, they may have to take time to think about it. But that only pushes them to understand more and more complex ideas, and promotes more logical thinking. I think too many times people give silly answers to things, because they either 1. Don't know how to explain it to a child, or 2. Don't think the child will understand it at all. Then the child gets wrong information. Even if the material is geared toward older children, or teens, sitting there and going over the information, and helping them understand it, may be better then trying to explain it in simple terms.
To reopen this thread, we too just describe what goes on in ordinary language. Why give them two versions, one that suits our own impression that their squeaky voices require squeaky paraphrases, then the real one. Confusing. Getting the idea of the gene is a bit difficult, but they first just get the language down. "There' DNA in every living thing on Earth, even in you dinner plate." We constantly frame answers to questions in terms of evolutionary history. "Why don't Octopi have bones?" "Something about being without bones favored that evolution path."

They may not understand what that answers, but they'll keep working on it, just like all concepts they are having to learn. Life is a long road.




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