© Glendon Mellow, The Flying Trilobite

Evolution for breakfast

vita32001One of the tropes in my seminars is the suggestion that big ideas are best consumed in little bites over many years. The old “how-do-you-eat-an-elephant” joke is right on the money. Religious education works best this way. No big lectures, no Bible marathons required. A toe-dip a day for 18 years will get you wetter than a whole catechectical bath. Best of all, you don’t get all pruney.

Same with evolution. When we lived in Minneapolis, our family used to take walks through an area called the Quaking Bog in Theodore Wirth Park. I spotted a fawn once and waved the kids over with the universal handsigns for “Come-quickly-and-quietly” and “You-call-that-quiet?” What followed went something like this:

DAD: Look, look. See the deer? You can just barely see it against the leaves.

ERIN (about 8 then): It’s almost invisible.

DELANEY (about 4): Whoa. If I was an aminal that ate deers, I’d never see them. I’d just starve.

DAD: Unless there was a bright pink one.

They laughed. The deer bolted.

CONNOR (10): Oh, good job, girls!

DAD: Okay, pink and slow. I think I’d eat nothing but slow, pink deer.

(*Munch*) That’s one bite of evolution. No need to hammer it home with big hairy terminology. No need to connect every dot on the spot. Just take a bite. Mmmm, Daaarwin.

In the previous post I wrote about the possibility of artificial selection at work on heike crabs in Japan. Fishermen toss back crabs with somewhat facelike markings on their shells, leading over the course of hundreds of generations to ever-more-facelike shell markings. I told Erin the story of the heike that night at bedtime.


This morning as the girls ate breakfast, I opened the bottle of their chewable vitamins. “I want an orange one,” said Erin.

“I’m well aware.”

“Me too,” said Laney.

“I know what color you want, girls, you tell me every morning.” I tapped two vitamins into my hand. Both purple. I poured out a bunch more. All purple. “Pfft. Of course,” I said, showing the handful of purple vitamins.

Erin chuckled. “That’s because we ask for orange every day.”

It hit me like a brick. “Hey, Erin! It’s just like the heike crabs!”

“The wha…oh, the crabs in Japan! Omigosh, it is!” Just as the fisherfolk selected and rejected crab phenotypes, we had selected and rejected vitamin “phenotypes” until purple ruled the bottle.

(*Munch*) Mmmm.
A frankly incredible annotated list of books about evolution for kids at CHARLIE’S PLAYHOUSE



This was written on Monday, 12. January 2009 at 10:38 and was filed under critical thinking, My kids, Parenting, Science. You can keep up with the comments to this article by using the RSS-Feed.

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  1. an excellent simulation – similar to what a lot of high school or college-level classes do to help get the point across.

    But, unless otherwise prescribed, you’re better off giving your kids apples and carrots (etc.) than a multivitamin.

    Comment: Jim Lemire – 13. January 2009 @ 3:03 pm

  2. But, unless otherwise prescribed, you’re better off giving your kids apples and carrots (etc.) than a multivitamin.

    Too true. Fortunately they get both.

    Comment: Dale – 13. January 2009 @ 3:49 pm

  3. Great new link on Charlie’s Playhouse! I saw the new DK Children Evolution Revolution at the bookstore yesterday, and it is VERY cool.

    Comment: matsonwaggs – 15. January 2009 @ 1:45 pm

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