Charles Darwin Lesson for Kids: Biography & Facts

Instructor: Sarah Caughron

Sarah has a master's degree in Applied Anthropology/Archaeology and has worked in formal and informal education since 2006.

Imagine taking a 5-year journey to observe and document people, animals, and plants on the other side of the globe. Charles Darwin had such an experience, and this lesson will teach you about how his expedition shaped modern scientific thought.

Who Was Charles Darwin?

Charles Darwin was a British naturalist, a scientist who studies the natural world by observing it directly. He is known for his important contributions to science, including his findings regarding natural selection as it relates to evolution (we'll discuss this in more detail below).

Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, England, on February 12, 1809, which is the exact date of President Abraham Lincoln's birth! Darwin was born into a family of open thinkers and established scientists. Darwin was fascinated with the natural world around him and liked to ask how and why the world works.

Charles Darwin started college pursuing a medical degree at the University of Edinburgh, but his interests in nature and a queasiness around blood led him to finishing a bachelor's degree from Christ's College in Cambridge with the career path of being a church parson.

Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin

The HMS Beagle & Darwin's Discoveries

While at Christ's College, Darwin became consumed with the latest social craze: collecting beetles! His cousin introduced him to the hobby and also introduced Darwin to his mentor: botanist and professor Reverend John Stevens Henslow. Later, Henslow connected Darwin to Robert FitzRoy, the captain of a scientific survey ship, the HMS Beagle, on which Darwin would be named the ship's naturalist. What an incredible opportunity!

The Beagle set sail in 1831. Darwin was 22 years old.

During the five years of the expedition, Darwin spent most of the time exploring on land, collecting and documenting specimens, and observing nature. The Beagle visited Australia, South Africa, and South America. Darwin observed similarities in species no matter where they lived, but he observed very slight variations in species, including plants and animals, which he theorized were related to the environment in which the organism lived.

His observations would fuel his most important scientific discovery: evolution by natural selection. This means that organisms change because they have favorable traits or behaviors, also known as adaptations that allow them to survive. They pass these traits or behaviors down to their offspring through inheritance, and small changes over time lead to big changes like creating new species altogether. He also referred to this process as descent with modification.

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