Living and Nonliving things is a basic concept that most children pick up fairly quickly, so a ton of time need not be spent on it. Being able to differentiate between living and nonliving things lays a basic foundation for the study of biology, and why it is a commonly found in pre-school through first grade courses of study.
Most activities recommended are very simple and require no preparation but the time it takes you to read about the activity itself. They can be done almost anywhere and anytime, including while caring for an infant, cooking dinner, driving, or while out and about around town.
Remember! Learning can happen anywhere and should not require long hours of preparation.
A simple pre-assessment should be done to ascertain what your child already understands. If you find that they are able to zip through the pre-assessment easily, then skip this unit altogether. They have mastered the concept and can move on.
For kids who need practice, an explanation, story, and a couple of games should be sufficient for most. If you find that your child requires more practice mastering the differences between what is living versus nonliving, then read more stories and play more games. Multiple reading and activity options are provided so that you can use as much or as little as your child needs to be successful.
Remember, everyone learns at their own pace. Some concepts will be easier than others. Resist the temptation to compare your children with others.
Pre-Assessment: The "If-You-Give-A-Pre-schooler-A-Question" Pre-Assessment
Simply ask your child if they are alive.
If they look at you like your are crazy, ask them again.
If they answer yes, ask them how they know.
If you get the blank stare, you you might want to keep reading and apply some of the books and activities in this post.
However, if they answer that they are alive because they breathe, and eat, and run, etc, then ask them if their toy, book, or some other favorite inanimate object is alive.
If they say yes, then keep reading.
If they say no, ask them how they know.
If they say because they don't talk, or move, or grow, etc., then you can skip this concept altogether.
If you are unsure, then keep reading.
Books About Living and Nonliving Things
Games and Activities
The following activities are super simple, require no prep-time, are fun, and can be done during your next walk outside, trip to the park, or even in your home or yard.
The next time you are outside for a walk, or visit to the park, or nature trail, briefly play a quiz game. As you see the following items, ask them if the items are alive or not alive.
Tree, leaf, flower, plant, bird, insect or spider, sand or soil, rock, squirrel or other animal spotted.
As your child responds with alive or not alive, ask them how they know. One answer is good enough, the child need not list multiple examples.
Answers will vary and may include that they know it’s not alive because it does not move, it does not breathe, it does not grow, it does not have babies, etc.
Conversely, an item may be alive because it does move, it has babies, it breathes, it grows, etc. Be prepared for creative answers that you did not consider; they are often correct.
Around the house, play the same game, but instead of items found outdoors, use things found inside. For example: a sibling, other parent, a pet, toys, stuffed animals, and pictures of loved ones. Virtually anything will work as long as you have both alive and nonliving examples to use.
This is another simple activity that requires little to no preparation. Tell your child that you are going to play a game where they need to find things that are living and things that are not living. This can be done around the house, yard, park, or even while riding in the car.
Say, “can you find something that is alive?” Allow a little time for your child to locate something that is alive. Then ask, “how do you know it’s alive?” Again, allow plenty of time for them to think and respond. If they have difficulty offering an explanation, go ahead and help them. You may need to do this a few times until they begin to catch on to the patterns.
If your child is having trouble differentiating between alive and non-living, don’t worry. You can modify the game by asking them to find specific items. For example, you can ask them, “can you find the duck? Do you think it is living or not living?” If your child continues having trouble, begin to point out characteristics that will help your child figure it out. For example, “do ducks move? Do ducks have babies? Do they breathe? So, do you think they are living or not living?”
Remember, this activity should be fun. The quizzing should be like a game, not grilling. If it turns to grilling, then stop.
Extensions: The Quiz game can be extended to when you are reading a picture book, while watching tv, or anytime. Simply ask, “do you think that ________ is living or not living?”
“How do you know?” Answers should list features that indicate that something is alive, e.g. it grows, it reproduces, etc.