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Sex, Death And Evolution ... Nursery Rhyme Style

Monday, July 14, 2014

Many children's books and songs double as mini-lessons in counting (One Elephant), letters (the alphabet song) or fine-motor skills (Thumbkin). It's less common to find such activities for young children infused with basic science.

Take evolution. Perhaps it hasn't made it into classic nursery rhymes because it's all about sex and death — not the easiest topics to discuss with little folks. It's also challenging for adults to understand and accept, in part because a solid understanding of evolution rests on some pretty sophisticated concepts, including deep time and probability.

So I have great admiration for recent efforts to make evolution more accessible to young, inquiring minds. Grandmother Fish, for example, is a Kickstarter campaign (on track to be funded next week) that aims to produce "a child's first book of evolution," with a focus on communicating the idea of common descent. Great Adaptations is a book targeting older children, with contributions from a variety of scientists and illustrators showcasing biological adaptations.

But as far as I can tell, the burning need for a nursery rhyme about natural selection remains to be met. And I'm here to rise to the challenge. I offer — only half in jest — alternative lyrics to the classic Five Little Monkeys, fully uncensored, sex-and-death style. Thanks to two co-conspirators, Elizabeth Bonawitz and Tom Griffiths, you can appreciate it in full audiovisual grandeur:

Five Violet Spiders

Five violet spiders on a purple tree
Some were dark and hard to see
A birdie ate the lightest for her morning tea
Poor little spiders on that purple tree!

Four violet spiders on a purple tree
Some were dark and hard to see
A birdie ate the lightest for his morning tea
Poor little spiders on that purple tree!

Three violet spiders on a purple tree
Some were dark and hard to see
A birdie ate the lightest for her morning tea
Poor little spiders on that purple tree!

Two violet spiders on a purple tree
Both were dark and hard to see
They had lots of babies in their family
And just like their parents, they were hard to see!

[Repeat from start a few hundred times]

Once there were spiders on a purple tree
The darker ones had babies more successfully
Now they need not fear becoming treats for tea
Unless the birds get spectacles to help them see!


You can keep up with more of what Tania Lombrozo is thinking on Twitter: @TaniaLombrozo

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Source: NPR

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