Evolution As Explained to a Six Year Old

Every once in a while as I am driving the kids around town for soccer or music lessons or whatnot I have conversations with them which I find to be incredibly insightful. We (my wife and I) have noticed however, that either boy will indulge in serious or semi-serious conversation only when one of them is in the car with either of us. For some reason, any of the following other permutations appear to upset the balance:
Both parents in the car with one or both kids,  one parent with both kids in the car, both kids with both parents in the car.
The latter two are self explanatory because nine times out of ten when both of them are in the car with either or both parents World War III is just about a few minutes from breaking out. However miraculously, we somehow manage to make it to our final destination every time and Armageddon  gets postponed for a few more hours.
This particular conversation I had with my six year old took quite a curious turn. Please keep in mind that these are just my opinions and they are as simplistic as can be made while explaining complex concepts like Evolution by Natural Selection, the primordial soup, and concepts like sexual selection etc.  I am aware that not everyone who reads this will agree with my views which are facts, some of them.  I also understand that not everyone will agree with my choices on how to explain such complex concepts to children. I respectfully urge those of you disagreeing with my point of view to please not miss the forest for the trees.
So the conversation went thus:
Nana (rhymes with La-La) means Dad in our native language, not to be confused with the American Nana for grandma.
Six Year Old (SYO): Nana some people in my school say that God created us. That’s not true right?

Me: Well, yes.

SYO: We are just one kind of animal correct, mammals?

Me: Yes, that is correct.

SYO: So how did we get created?

Me: Do you know what Evolution is?


Me: Ok, do you know what a cell is?


Me: Every living being, and by that I mean, plants, animals, BoBo, Mamma, you, I, we are all made of these tiny building blocks called cells. Just like you use Lego blocks to build your set.
When you put cells together in a certain way, we get a plant. I mean when Nature — not you as in you and I — puts together cells in a certain way, we get plants. When Nature puts them together in another way, we get BoBo. Still another way, we get you. Still another way we get Nana. Understood?

SYO:  Yes but how did we get made?

Me: Ok, so a long time ago and by long time ago I mean a really long time ago, like when the earth was very young. 4.5 billion years ago. A billion is…

SYO: I know, 10 with 8 zeroes.

Me: Yes. So the scientists estimate the earth to be 4.5 billion years old and the sun to be 10 billion years old. Humans as we know ourselves today have only been around for 10 thousand years.
I understand my numbers here may be off, by several tens of thousands of years.

SYO: So before George Washington?

Me: Oh yes. George Washington was only 200 years ago. We are talking thousands of years.
Ok, so remember I told you about cells? When the earth was really young there were animals or organisms as they are called, that were only made of one cell. They evolved into organisms with multiple cells, which evolved into fish, which then evolved into amphibians. Do you know what amphibians are?


Me: Amphibians are animals that can live on both water and land; like turtles and frogs. We are humans we cannot live in water just like fish cannot live on land. So we evolved from fish to animals that lived on land to monkeys. From monkeys to apes. You know what the difference between a monkey and an ape is?

SYO: Yes, monkeys have tails. Apes don’t.

Me: Yes, that is correct. That’s how we came about.

SYO: So how many apes made us? A million thousand?

Me: No evolution doesn’t work like that, and million thousand, though technically correct, is not a number. What you really mean is billions. Apes make or create other apes. Humans create other humans.

Following is where I try to explain Evolution by Natural Selection the best I could.

Since we evolved from monkeys, we still have  a tail bone but no tail. Because Nature figured out that we don’t need a tail. Remind me to show you where your tail bone is when we get home. Its right above your booty-butt.
This last sentence elicited not quite a laugh but somewhat of a chuckle. This kid is hard to make laugh, he’s the funny one in the family.

So millions of years from now humans probably won’t even look like humans do today.
For example, Nana has a beard correct?

SYO: Yes.

Yes: A long time ago, beards on a male human were considered attractive to female humans. Nature made sure that all male humans could have beards.

Me: But what does Nana do to his beard all the time?

SYO: Shave it?

Me: Yes, because beards today are more nuisance than attraction, most men shave it off. Which means that millions of years from now male humans may not have beards. Which means male humans may not look like what male humans look like now.
This was an admittedly poor way to explain sexual selection. If any readers that have made it thus far have other ideas, please feel free to share them in the comments. This also led into a small segue on him correcting me that Nana doesn’t always shave his beard, he sometimes grows it.

Me: That in a nutshell is evolution kid. You get it?

SYO: Yes?

Right about this time we reached our destination (his best friend’s house) and he could barely let the car come to a full stop before unbuckling his seat belt, flinging the car door open and jumping out. Evolution and such thoughts were about as far from his mind as the sun is from the earth.

If you’ve read thus far thank you for reading and indulging me.

Lakshman Hariharan
Prosper, TX

1 thought on “Evolution As Explained to a Six Year Old”

  1. Lucky!!! I enjoyed it. I couldn’t stop picturing Arjun the whole time. Its always a pleasure when you are breaking down things for your kids and basking in the beautiful conversation…. These are the ones we will be cherishing.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s