Explain life, the universe, and everything to a 5 year-old.
April 5, 2013 1:46 PM   Subscribe

What are some good resources to help explain the Big Bang, evolution and, the meaning of life to my delightful 5 year-old nephew? Fairly equal emphasis for each, but I am stumped most by "but why are all the things and people here, mayurasana?" than the rest.

I have checked out this question from several years ago, but new resources and new mefi-parents have probably emerged since 2005.

He's a bright and highly inquisitive kid, and I'm sure he'd love Cosmos for kindergarteners — but does that exist in any format (book / audio / video)? He loves to read — little dude practically lives at the library — and has very limited screen time, so reading material would be much appreciated.

I'm encouraged to honestly answer his questions whenever we are together so there are no issues there. We're close but I don't have kids, and I'm not familiar with elementary brain-aged teaching resources. Somewhat tangentially, what are good blogs or other sites concerning teaching science and philosophy in general to elementary school aged children?
posted by mayurasana to Education (10 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Oh man, when I was that age I had THE BEST book on the solar system. It was huge (3 feet tall, a board book) and I read it cover to cover many, many times. It had great pictures and once you were done reading you could make a fort out of it. (I'm sure much of the information is outdated, as this would have been late 80s/early 90s, but perhaps there's an updated version--I'm currently googling for this and will update with anything I find.)

A few years ago, I saw a clip from a video (it might have been with Richard Dawkins, I'm not sure) of some guy giving a talk, and he used his arms to illustrate the age of the universe, saying that over here on his left hand was the big bang, and then (at various points) the earth, life, the first multicellular creatures, dinosaurs, mammals, primates, and then how human time would be less than a fingernail width way over on his right hand. It was a good illustration, and one I think would translate well for a little kid.
posted by phunniemee at 1:58 PM on April 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My 2 and 4 year old girls really love this book "Our Universe"

Our Universe

It's made for older kids / adults but I find that even the 2 year old enjoys the explanations and pictures (though obviously I'm not quite sure what she makes of it). They ask for it by name a couple times a month.

It touches upon some mythology in the beginning and then has pictures of the planets, stars and moons. Some thoughts on alien life, etc..

Your mileage may vary, but I've found with my kids that adult level books with many-many pictures interpreted by the adult reading to a kid level really engages them.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 2:15 PM on April 5, 2013

Best answer: We have bill bryson's a really brief history of nearly everything. Its written exactly for this.
posted by saradarlin at 2:32 PM on April 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Richard Dawkins' The Magic of Reality is really, really good. It's aimed at kids older than your nephew (and is actually suitable for adults), but the explanations are so well-put and range of topics is so broad that it could very easily be a reading duet or just a springboard for you.
posted by houseofdanie at 2:44 PM on April 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I bought Big Questions from Little People and Simple Answers from Great Minds for mine and it's really a great book. Here are some sample questions: What are atoms? Why did dinosaurs go extinct and not other animals? Can a bee sting a bee? Why can't I tickle myself? Why does the moon shine? How does lightening happen?

Also, The Kids Should See This.

Also It's Okay To Be Smart
posted by biscuits at 3:15 PM on April 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You want Born with a bangthe universe tells the story about itself. This book is geared towards kids an is an interesting spiritual feel to evolution as a way of the universe growing and adapting until we as part of the universe reflect on our own selves. Deep, but totally written for kids. Apparently it also has some sequels which I haven't read.
posted by aetg at 5:52 PM on April 5, 2013

Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution by Steven Jenkins is terrific. All of his books are, and many of them address animal adaptation and diversity.
posted by Francolin at 6:39 PM on April 5, 2013

I learned it from The Cartoon History of the Universe. He might be too young for it, but I would view that as a feature!

(Maybe kids should hide their science as though it is pornography.)
posted by gregglind at 7:28 PM on April 5, 2013

I would second the picture edition of "The Magic of Reality" if, as you say, your nephew is pretty smart. Dawkins says the book is aimed at 12-year-olds and above but I've skimmed it and I think a smart five-year-old would be okay with at least some of it. It would certainly be a useful thought-provoker and conversation starter, even if he found it a little much to read by himself.
posted by Decani at 8:08 AM on April 6, 2013

Best answer: This might be a fun age to build a Toilet Paper Timeline next time you are there. I would scale it down to fit in a house instead of a school hallway and not use all 1000 sheets, though 1000 sheets might be the fun part of it.
posted by CathyG at 9:46 AM on April 6, 2013

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