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Explaining Evolution to First Graders

I was reading on the front steps and half listening to the ChickieNob and Wolvog chat with their friend.  The boy was telling them that people used to be monkeys, and the twins were politely listening while they all sat on their scooters.

“Oh, so people in Japan used to be monkeys,” the ChickieNob told the boy who hails from Tokyo.

“No,” he said, “we were all monkeys.”

“Yes,” the Wolvog agreed since he’s an agreeable person.  “We were all Japanese monkeys.”

Later, in the house, I decided to broach the topic while I was baking cookies and the twins were eating their dinner.

Me: I overheard you guys talking about evolution.

Wolvog: I don’t know what that is.

Me: It was what you were talking about with the monkeys.  How humans used to be monkeys.

ChickieNob: Is that true?

Me: Yes, evolution is true.

ChickieNob: So I used to be a monkey and now I’m a girl.

Me: No, what I mean is that millions of years ago, there were primates — monkeys and humans are both primates — and ever so slowly, small changes occurred in the body.  And over millions of years, we changed from these early primate ancestors into modern day monkeys and apes and humans.

Wolvog: So was this back when you were little?

Me: No, I’m talking millions of years ago.

Wolvog: Like back when Steve Jobs was making the first Apple products.

Me: Millions.

Wolvog: Oh!  So when Steve Jobs was little?

Me: Millions.  As in tens, hundreds, thousands, ten-thousands, hundred-thousands.  Millions.  Millions of years ago.  65 million years ago.

ChickieNob: So I was a monkey?

Me: No!  You were never a monkey.  Your ancestors, millions of years ago, were these monkey-like primates.

Wolvog: Is this when Grandma was little?

Me: Millions!

Wolvog: I bet they didn’t even have cars that drove themselves back then.

Me: What the hell are you talking about?  Seriously?  Millions.  I am talking about 65 million years ago.  There were no cars.  There were no computers.  There were no smartphones.  Didn’t you retain anything that Dame Judy Dench taught you on that Spaceship Earth ride at Epcot?  Don’t you remember the people hunting the Woolly Mammoth?  People had no clothes back then — they certainly didn’t have cars.

ChickieNob: Was a million years ago when Betsy Ross was alive?

Me: NO!  She was alive 300 years ago.  Hundreds, thousands, ten-thousands…

Wolvog: (interrupting) I got really scared on the Spaceship Earth ride when it stopped in that room.  We didn’t even know why it was stopping.

Me: It was letting on someone who needed more time to get on the ride.

ChickieNob: So who do we know that was a monkey and changed into a person?

Me: For the love, I only brought this up because I heard you guys talking about it, and I wanted to get to you before someone who doesn’t believe in evolution filled your head with anti-evolution thoughts.

ChickieNob: Who doesn’t believe in monkey-people?

Me: Some people.  Some people don’t believe in evolution.  But we believe in evolution.  Most Jews believe in evolution.  Scientists believe in evolution.  We can look at bones and see proof of evolution.

Wolvog: What is proof?

Me: Evidence.  Things you can see that prove that something is true.

Wolvog: Jews and Japanese people were monkeys.  And then we changed into people and made computers.

Me: You are killing me.  [Opens laptop and Googles “human evolution images.”  Turns computer around to show the twins the pictures].  Look.  65 million years ago — before Betsy Ross —

ChickieNob: (interrupting) I love history.  I love learning about things from history.  Like things Betsy Ross might have used.

Me: 65 million years ago, primates looked like this.  And slowly small changes occurred, separating primates onto distinct paths.  Some became monkeys and some became apes and some became humans.  But early humans didn’t even look like humans now.  They looked like this, hunched over and covered in hair.  And slowly over time, we began to walk upright, and our brow shape changed, and we lost a lot of our body hair.  So about 2 million years ago, humans as we know them existed separate from monkeys, but we all came from the same primate ancestors.  Our DNA is 98.4% identical to a chimpanzee.

Wolvog: I don’t know what DNA is.

Me: I didn’t want to make this more complicated.  Don’t you remember we had that long talk once about DNA and why you look like me?  It’s the information in the cell that makes us who we are.

ChickieNob: Do you think they’re going to make a Toy Story 4?

Me: I have no idea.  Do you understand this now?  Evolution?  Because it goes back even farther than primates.  We can look at life forming from one-celled organisms and trace it up to humans today.

ChickieNob: If they did make a Toy Story 4, I bet it would be about that toy monkey who bangs the cymbals.  Since we were all monkeys when we were little.  And then we became boys and girls.

Wolvog: Can we talk about cars that drive themselves?



1 liljan98 { 03.13.12 at 7:55 am }

LOL, thanks for sharing this story. Grasping the concept of millions of millions of years really is hard for a first-grader. The ChickieNob’s question about who you know, that changed from monkey to person made me ROTFL.
You should read this post to them in 20 years when you celebrate the ChickieNob’s PhD and the Wolvog’s newest invention for his computer company 😉

2 HereWeGoAJen { 03.13.12 at 7:59 am }


3 Chickenpig { 03.13.12 at 8:30 am }

They had an episode of Phineas and Pherb that actually illustrated evolution in a pretty interesting fashion. Also, it helps if your kids have ever watched Dinosaur Train on PBS. Although trying to explain that dinosaurs didn’t actually have time traveling trains gets a little sticky…

One of my twins asked me last night if there was lot of blood when he came out of my tummy, and did he eat it…then they both started laughing uproariously. Seriously? you want to know this stuff now when you are already half asleep and I’m tucking you in? And since when did my c section become a punch line to a joke that I don’t get? Mel…you’ve been twin tagged! 🙂

4 Devon { 03.13.12 at 8:36 am }

Ha, I love this conversation. Thanks for sharing it!

5 gwinne { 03.13.12 at 8:42 am }


We had this same conversation, minus the smart phones, and it resulted in LG screaming at me “you make no sense!” and storming off to her room.


6 Tiara { 03.13.12 at 8:56 am }

This is a hilarious conversation! It reminds me of Abbott & Costello’s Who’s On First routine!! Thanks for sharing!

7 Gil { 03.13.12 at 9:21 am }

That’s hilarious! Gotta love it when they come out with questions, and observations, like that. Thanks for telling us how it goes down in your house; something to strive for! LOL Hugs to you all sweetie!

8 Meredith { 03.13.12 at 9:22 am }

Soooo priceless!! Instant classic! Loved starting my morning off with a big laugh, thank you.

9 Anna { 03.13.12 at 9:30 am }

Oh, thank you so much to all at your house. It’s marvellous. The only thing that has made me laugh throughout this rubbish day. x

10 Meghan { 03.13.12 at 9:49 am }

This is absolutely hilarious! My favorite is the seemingly random “do you think they’ll make a toy story 4?”. But it’s not random at all, naturally it’s about the monkey ;). Thanks for sharing

11 Her Royal Fabulousness { 03.13.12 at 9:58 am }

This is priceless.

12 loribeth { 03.13.12 at 10:43 am }

“So was this back when you were little?”

Excuse me while I clean up the tea I just spewed on my monitor at work.

Priceless. Thanks, I needed a laugh today. : )

13 Birds and Squirrels { 03.13.12 at 10:50 am }

Oh that is so funny! It is quite a strange concept for a little kid to grasp, but I love that you tried to explain it to them accurately. As a biologist turned preschool teacher I had many conversations with the kids about things like evolution and photosynthesis and DNA. It is funny to see how they try to process it!

14 a { 03.13.12 at 10:51 am }

I swear, this is every conversation I have with my daughter when I am trying to impart some information to her. And this is why I could never be a teacher!

15 Liana { 03.13.12 at 11:23 am }

“Who doesn’t believe in monkey-people?”


This whole thing about not grasping the concept of millions reminds me f when my cousins was a toddler. WE’d tell her it was time to go to bed and she’d say “No, two more minutes,” and we’d say “Okay, five more minutes,” and she’d scream back at us “No! TWO more minutes!” because she knew that two was more than none or one, but she didn’t understand what five was at all.

16 Mommy Someday { 03.13.12 at 11:43 am }

Reading your post makes me miss teaching first graders!

17 Cristy { 03.13.12 at 11:55 am }

Mel, it hurts to breathe because of how hard I’ve been laughing. Picture this: same conversation, only they’re sophomores in college instead of first-graders and armed with a bible.

One of the hardest things about teaching evolution is people’s emotional attachment to being special. After all, if our nearest living ancestor is chimps/bonobos and we’re somehow related to fish, then how the help are we special? Genesis usually gets thrown in to the mix for this one. The way I’ve learned from my colleagues to handle this conversation is not to be confrontational, but instead tell them that I’m going to present the facts and let them interpret the data. Easier said then done, but time and again I’ve found people have a very tough time disputing facts.

Hang in there. As frustrating as a conversation like that is, you’ve planted the seed for future discussion. Be it about monkey-people, Betsy Ross or Toy Story 4.

18 Josh { 03.13.12 at 12:03 pm }

Steve Jobs would be so pissed to learn that his protege could even consider him as the beginning of evolution rather than its highest achievement.

19 magpie { 03.13.12 at 12:55 pm }

Do not, however, let them know that the sun won’t exist in 65 billion years or so. They will cry. I know this from personal experience.

20 A.M.S { 03.13.12 at 1:47 pm }

I absolutely love that story. That is running a close second to the “People, these are my nipples!” story for my favorite Wolvog/ChickieNob story.

21 Erica { 03.13.12 at 2:14 pm }

This is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. Ever. About the time I reached, “So was this back when you were little?” I started laughing so hard my eyes teared up. And it just kept getting better.

I love how curious the Wolvog and ChickieNob are in this story & how they are really trying to understand and relate evolution to themselves and their own interests. Like Toy Story 4. *chortle*

22 Natalie { 03.13.12 at 2:36 pm }

LMAO!! Kids’ concept of time is a big roadblock…. thanks for the warning!!

23 Jen { 03.13.12 at 2:43 pm }

There’s a great children’s book that might help explain the concept. It’s called “Our Family Tree – An Evolution Story.” Once they’re older, the book “Magic of Reality” explains it quite well, especially the concept of “millions of years.” 🙂

24 Rebecca { 03.13.12 at 2:46 pm }

People are walking by my office and staring at me because I still can’t stop laughing at this. This was priceless. Thanks for sharing!

25 KH99 { 03.13.12 at 3:26 pm }

That was hysterical!

26 Alexicographer { 03.13.12 at 3:28 pm }

This is beautiful, and oddly reminiscent of some recent conversations in my household. We have covered evolution (DS will soon be 5) because although he’s expressed no interest in where babies come from (test tubes, obviously), he did specifically ask me where the firstperson came from. If every person was borned from a mama (sic), who was the first person’s mama?

And yes, the whole concept of understanding (or not) the elapse and length of time is … interesting. But then again, I myself may struggle with it from time to time!

27 Mina { 03.13.12 at 3:30 pm }

What, you mean even Jancifer Birdie was a monkey when he was little?!

Thanks for the laugh. 🙂

28 Barely Sane { 03.13.12 at 3:43 pm }

That is an awesome conversation. I have had similar style conversations with MG regarding extinction. It usually starts as a recycling talk that brings up endangered species, which brings us to dinosaurs and then wham, we are talking about whether or not one could hurt her. Which is always frustrating because she KNOWS they are extinct and she KNOWS what it means. LOL.
They do give us a run for our money some days.

29 S.I.F. { 03.13.12 at 3:49 pm }

Laughing so hard I’m crying! Hilarious!

30 Lori Lavender Luz { 03.13.12 at 4:30 pm }

I have no words. Just guffaws and giggles.

Your children are priceless, as is their mama. It must be in your DNA.

31 battynurse { 03.13.12 at 4:40 pm }

Lol. I don’t even know where I would begin with that.

32 Heather { 03.13.12 at 4:51 pm }

Spaceship Earth…It is sorta creepy. 😉

33 RelaxedNoMore { 03.13.12 at 4:57 pm }

This is so incredibly funny. How did you manage to not crack up during this conversation? 🙂
Thanks for sharing! Kids are awesome 🙂

34 Lori { 03.13.12 at 6:45 pm }

This is a great story. They’ll both look back on this years from now and have a good laugh. Thanks for sharing this, I’m posting to my fb to share with my frineds.

35 areyoukiddingme24 { 03.13.12 at 7:40 pm }

That is hilarious! Oh, wow. Just a glimpse into future conversations I will have! I love it.

36 Michaela { 03.13.12 at 8:44 pm }

It’s like when you see someone fall. You first question has to be: “Are you alright!”

And then of course you just laugh and laugh.

So: “Are you alright!” “Do you need anything? An aspirin?”

Haaaaaaa! Haaaaaa!


37 Lisa { 03.13.12 at 10:19 pm }

That made me really and for truly laugh out loud… and snort…

38 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 03.14.12 at 1:47 am }

So many things are so confusing when you’re little. Every time I point out a pregnant belly to Burrito and Tamale, I acknowledge to them that it must make no sense that there is a baby inside a person. Though perhaps at their age, the world is so new that everything is credible.

39 Bea { 03.14.12 at 9:17 am }

Hahahahaha. Oh my goodness. I just saw my imminent future.


40 Amy { 03.14.12 at 11:05 am }

HA! Awesome!!

41 Deathstar { 03.14.12 at 11:28 am }

Sometimes, it doesn’t pay to get involved in their world, eh?

42 Shana { 03.14.12 at 11:48 am }

Most Awesome Child Conversation Ever.

I am laughing so hard I am crying… at the office! I really needed this today, so thanks for sharing. 😀

43 SheWithRottenEggs { 03.14.12 at 12:42 pm }

I’ve been having this exact conversation with my son lately. Maybe without the Toy Story and Disneyland references. But, despite any amount of clarification I try to give him, he is now convinced that I birthed him as a baby monkey and he has evolved into a boy. And no amount of photographic evidence seems to be able to prove otherwise, since we have had this conversation.

44 Karen { 03.14.12 at 3:04 pm }

Oh, the minds of children, they are awesome and frustrating at the same time. I was laughing so hard I had to leave my desk for a few minutes.

This is my favourite part, mostly because of the truth hidden in that statement:

“Wolvog: Jews and Japanese people were monkeys. And then we changed into people and made computers.”

45 Carol { 03.14.12 at 3:24 pm }

For easy illustration, and to put the time humans were on earth in perspective, just go to this – http://andabien.com/html/evolution-timeline.htm, although it’s kind of hard to read.

46 Sara { 03.14.12 at 6:14 pm }

I teach college freshmen about evolution (“teach” being a very loose interpretation of what actually goes on). You just described my Tuesdays.

Your kids are hilarious. You, on the other hand, are a goddess for at least trying. Their future university professors thank you.

47 missohkay { 03.14.12 at 6:54 pm }

I thought this was pretty amusing. Then I tried to read it out loud to my DH and now tears are streaming down my face. I highly recommend reading this post out loud.

48 rachel { 03.14.12 at 6:55 pm }

Reminds me of when I read Little House on the Prarie, and I was trying to gague that era. “Mom, did Grandma ride in covered wagons? Mom: “Grandma was from Brooklyn. So…no.”

49 Daryl { 03.14.12 at 9:22 pm }

This totally cracks me up. Not only are your children priceless, but now I’m picturing my husband, who has a hard enough time teaching evolution to college students, trying to teach our someday kids. Too funny.

50 Jo { 03.16.12 at 5:34 pm }

I don’t know how I missed this the other day. This is PRICELESS. I am so glad you documented this on your blog, so both ChickiNob and The Wolvog can read it again in the future. LOVE IT!!!!

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