Evolution Toys for Under the Xmas Tree

giant-timeline-floor-mat1-charlies-playhouse-teaching-young-children-evolutionAny preschool worth the tuition teaches science. I don’t mean lining up 4-year-olds to go over the periodic table (though there are undoubtedly parents who wish they would). I mean that, at some point, there’s discussion of a caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly. Or a stocked aquarium. Even a water table and some funnels.

What’s not likely to be in your child’s pre-K curriculum is evolution, even though the great evolutionist Charles Darwin himself thought kids — young, young kids — were the perfect little scientists to start learning the stuff. “Why?” they ask. “Why, why, WHY?”

Still, Darwin? Preschoolers? What do you tell a four-year-old about evolution? Well, when they ask where birds come from, don’t say “the sky,” Colin Purrington tells Newsweek in this article about teaching evolution to the very young. Instead say … “from dinosaurs!”

That’ll get their attention.

If you need help digging deeper into the fossilized nitty gritty, check out Charlie’s Playhouse, line of evolution-focused educational toys, designed by scientist and mom Kate Miller. Miller tells Newsweek that kids get natural selection intuitively. Kids are competing with each other all the time — school, playground and with their siblings. It’s only natural to start young.

Miller sent me a couple of her Charlie’s Playhouse products to try out on my 4- and 8-year-old daughters (who compete for survival of the fittest nightly). A couple of months ago, I got a set of the Ancient Creature cards and also the Giant Evolution Time playmat.

At first, I just set the things out and let my kids fiddle with them. Initially, the playmat became a giant indoor Slip-n-Slide (bonus!) and they just flipped through the cards. Eventually, though, they developed a game where you chose a card and then had to find that creature on the map. Again, were they learning high-level theory? No. But my 8-year-old noticed it covered 600 million years, which was kind of mind-boggling for her. And then she got down and looked at some details. Creatures are emblazoned with an “extinct” label, lots of it was weird looking. Basically, it got interesting.

On the back of the mat, there are 20 activities, all suitable for 4 to 10 year olds. Some of the activities seem open-ended, not like a round of Parcheesi or weaving a potholder. But every time they got the stuff out, I was bombarded with lots of questions, many of which I couldn’t answer (thanks Kate Miller for including a pronunciation guide!), but which we found a way to talk about and I even got to hold forth a bit on Darwin and the Galapagos and turtles and stuff.

My kids still like taking out the mat — and it STILL serves the Slip-n-Slide purpose. Sometimes our bedtime “book” is the set of cards. There’s always something new and different to look at. They’re both on sale now at the Charlie’s Playhouse website and I think would make fun gifts (under the tree — they’re too big for stockings). I’d even dare say they’d make a great teacher gift for any classroom through the end of middle school — especially if you’re in one of those “intelligent design” school districts.

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Images: Charlie’s Playhouse

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