Natural Selection Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Sarah Caughron

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

You've probably noticed that plants and animals are different shapes and sizes, but you might never have thought about how or why they are different. This lesson will teach you about natural selection and its effect on diversity in our world.

What Is Natural Selection?

Organisms, including plants, animals, and bacteria, come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. An organism's ability to survive in its environment is dependent on the process of natural selection and the passing on of favorable characteristics or traits to its babies or offspring. These favorable traits and characteristics are known as adaptations and contribute to the diversity that you observe in the world around you.

Think about bears. Imagine a polar bear and a black bear. Think about where these two types of bears live. Is their environment the same or different? Why do these bears look different from each other? The reason these two bear species look different is because of the process of natural selection.

Simply put, this means that organisms have adaptations that make them better able to live in their environment. Because of these favorable traits or characteristics, these organisms are better able to find food, shelter, and mates, making them better able to survive than other animals of the same species that do not have favorable adaptations.

These favorable traits and characteristics are then passed on to their babies through a process called inheritance. This means these babies will be able to better survive in the environment and eventually pass on the favorable trait or characteristic to their own offspring!

Polar Bear
Polar Bear

Black Bear
Black Bear

How Does Natural Selection Work?

Natural selection is driven by the environment in which an organism lives. Some examples of such environmental factors include temperature (hot, cold, etc.) and terrain (forest, desert, city, prairie, ocean, river, etc.). As the name indicates, this is a natural process that can be observed in the short term, with just a few generations of offspring, and over the long term, when the adaptations over time lead to a new species all together.

An animal's success at surviving in its environments is dependent on it adaptations. Animals that survive are able to have more babies, and that means that favorable traits are more available in a population to be passed down to future babies. Scales, beak length, and night vision are all examples of traits or characteristics that are influenced by the environment in which an organism lives.

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