International Darwin Day is fast approaching (Feb 12). And in honor of Charles Darwin, many organization are hosting events to celebrate science, reason, evolution, and Darwin. As I came across one of these events, I was reminded of one my daughter’s main complaints about atheism. Really the complaint is more about me, but because I am the one who talks with her about religion, I have come to embody what it means to be an atheist to her. Anyway, her complaint is we don’t have any holidays or celebrations. A claim that is utterly false. I see her claim as more of a ploy or a tool of manipulation to get me to cave on pressures to participate in more of the religious holidays and celebrations that she hears about at school. So with this and the fact that I want to promote science education more in mind, I decided that we absolutely must have a Darwin Day at home. But what should we do? I scratched out a few ideas and asked others what they thought, and I came up with this list of things you can do with your children on Darwin Day.
- Sing songs about science or write poetry about science
- Develop a scavenger hunt. Ask children to find things with certain qualities. After that, ask them to talked about how are those qualities useful.
- Create a poster or a picture book about Darwin, evolution, or anything science related.
- Toilet paper analogy for geologic time
- Ask children to write a blog post, email, report, etc about evolution and what it means to them.
- Go to a museum
- Go to a Darwin Day event
- Fish or bird shaped jewelry. We see fish used a lot in reference to evolution, but birds are great too. First, we have a lot of evidence that birds are decendants of dinosaurs, a fact that any kid who was or is into dinosaurs knows. Second, Darwin develop his theory of evolution and variety of species by observing the varieties of finches on the Galapagos Islands. So birds, especially finches, make great symbols for Darwin Day.
- Chocolate or candy that is also fish or bird shaped
- Books or DVDs about evolution or science
- Science kits or experiments
Darwin Day Party!
These are all great ideas, but I wanted some kind of celebration, something big that would excite my daughter (something that would quite honestly get her off my back about how much I don’t like to party). So I outlined an evolution themed party.
Every year on the Saturday closest to Feb 12th, we will learn about one animal (or plant), preferably one that is still alive today and not humans. First, we will learn all about that animal in the present day. Where does it live? What does it eat? How is it different from other animals in its genus or family? We can use books, the internet, or documentaries to help us with this.
Then, we go back in time and create an evolution scrapbook for that animal. This will take some prep work because parents will have to do some research. I recommend picking five stops in geological time or less, depending on the age of your child. Looking back in time, what was the environment of that animal like? What did it eat? How or why did it evolve? (Link to cat-themed Darwin Day party resources including an evolution scrapbook.)
After we’ve learned all about that animal and gone back in time, we’ll do some crafts. We can draw pictures of that animal, make animal shaped cookies, play a game pretending to be that animal, or watch documentaries or read additional books about that animal. You could even have a themed meal where you eat foods that the animal eats that’s also possible for humans to eat (assuming that there is overlap). Or if the diet is incompatible, find fun substitutes. For example, if your animal is a bird that eats worms, buy gummy worms.
The day itself will be an evolutionary celebration of that particular animal (or plant). I also encourage picking animals that are around you. Can you observe these animals near your home, in the woods, at the zoo, or in a museum? Then you can add a trip to that part of your day.
Whatever you do, make it fun for you and your children. I can understand why someone wouldn’t want to plan an elaborate event like the one I described, but doing something small yet educational, like buying a book, still makes the day special for children and promotes learning, which is what Darwin Day should be all about.