The Evolution of a Budding Naturalist

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Conversations about evolution should be done in context. Allow the children to think the process through themselves. A discussion might go something like this. What is it? Is a squirrel a bird, an insect or a mammal? How do you know?

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It has hair. Okay, well if we lived at the North Pole and we saw a squirrel, do you think it would have more or less hair? So, if the weather here was to get colder and colder every year, what do you think would happen with the squirrels? This will help these lucky ones to survive, find a mate and have babies.


Eventually, all of the squirrels may end up with more hair, since they might be the only ones to survive the colder weather. In a nutshell, evolution can be explained to children like this: 1.

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All creatures struggle to survive and have babies, but many fail. Creatures born with a helpful trait e.

Parents pass on the useful trait s to their young. Over time, these new traits can lead to a new species — one that can only have babies with its own kind. Eventually, the question of human origin will come up. They became separated into two groups. One continued to live in forests, spent a lot of time in trees and usually walked and climbed on all fours. The other group moved into more open fields and had to spend more time on the ground. Over time, the second group started acting differently like walking upright, which is better for seeing long distances above the grass.

Over about seven million years it takes about three days to count to a million, non-stop the differences between the groups increased, until the second group became more or less like we are today, and the first group became chimpanzees.

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For example, we began to build tools and to develop language. Scientists have found fossils of many of our human ancestors. This includes fossils, the amazing similarities in the fetuses and bodies of humans and all other vertebrates and the similarities in the genes, which you can explain as the recipes for making plants and animals. Tell them that when scientists look at chimpanzee genes, they are practically identical to those of human genes.

We even share more than half our genes with bananas! Kids are great critical thinkers if you give them a chance. Small changes: This activity shows how small changes over time make a big difference. Draw a simple bug on the first page of a stack of paper. Then pass the paper on to another person and have them draw the bug as exactly as they can. They should move the original to the bottom of the stack.

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Have them pass their copy onto the next person who will try to reproduce the bug. Do this at least ten times. Was there much of a difference? All it takes is a small change mutation in each generation to create huge change over time. Think of how birds evolved from dinosaurs!

Fifty are green and 50 are brown. Now, which bugs do you think will best be able to hide from enemies like bug-eating birds? Most kids will say green ones. So, if I go back in a few years, would I find more green or more brown bugs? And, what color will the babies of the green bugs be? Just as your mom or dad passed on a certain trait like your blue eyes, the parent green bugs will pass on the green color to their babies.

Now comes the tricky part. Life will be hard. However, once in a rare while, a pair of these green bugs might produce a brown baby. Do you think those rare brown babies would escape enemies more easily? And, if the rare brown bugs live a little longer because they can hide better, do you think they may have more babies than the green bugs? Most kids will agree. What color would most of the babies be? As the years go by, brown bugs will become more and more common.

Some of the brown bugs get blown off the island and end up on the grassy lawns where their ancestors came from. Would they have trouble surviving? Kids should say, yes. Other than eating, what else do all animals do? She might just chase him away or completely ignore him. At this point, we can say that the green lawn bugs and the brown sand bugs have evolved into two different species.

Just like horses and zebras!

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Kids are fascinated by living things and why they look and behave as they do Photo: Drew Monkman. Paper circles game: This is a hands-on version of part of the story above. Using a whole punch, make 50 sand-brown and 50 grass-green paper circles. You might want to use paint sample cards.

Sprinkle 20 of each colour on a green lawn. Give the children maybe 30 seconds to remove as many of the little circles as they can but only one at a time. Then, count the number of circles of each colour that were picked up.

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For every circle that remains on the grass 20 minus number picked up , add 3 or so of the same colour. This represents reproduction. You can then try the same activity on sand.

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Place outdoors in nearby green spaces. Leave for several hours at a time. Repeat daily. Sprinkle in a dash of adventure. Fold in a generous portion of exploration and discovery. Top with wonder and awe. Not long ago, my friend Jacob and I took a group of children out for a hike to a nearby wetland. Along the way, we came across some Northern Leopard Frogs. We hunkered down and stayed as still as we could. We observed how one frog hopped slowly against a backdrop of sedges and wildflowers, its spotted, wet skin glistening in the sun.