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young children focus on certain pronounced characteristics, and this becomes their
mental model of an animal. Young children may also believe that an animal has
changed into another type of animal if its appearance changes. For example, DeVries
(1969) allowed three-year-old children to play with a cat, after which she placed a
realistic-looking dog mask on it. Many of the children then believed that the cat had
changed into a ferocious dog, and they were afraid to play with it. By age five, children
no longer believed that a mask could transform the cat into another animal. Children
may, however, expect that animals grow larger between babyhood and adulthood. A
study by Rosengren et al. (1991) indicated that many three-year-old children expected
baby animals to grow larger; however, many of them also expected inanimate objects
to change in size over time. They may use their knowledge of humans, who grow
larger with age, and apply it to both animals and inanimate objects.
What are some common misconceptions that children have about
animals? Children’s perspective of what belongs in the category of animal is limited.
Many children do not regard humans as animals. Barman et al. (2000) found this
to be true for 80 percent of primary children. Also, many children regard only
mammals as animals. They put fish and invertebrates, such as insects, into paral-
lel categories rather than understanding that they are part of the animal kingdom.
Tunnicliffe et al. (2008) found that more than half of four- and five-year-olds did not
consider spiders, dolphins, and ladybugs to be animals. The organisms most likely
to be considered animals by the children were those that were relatively large, lived
on land, and were either pets, farm animals, or jungle animals.
What is the scientific definition of animals?
Scientifically, animals are multicellular members of the kingdom Animalia.
Their cells are complex, with a nucleus surrounded by a membrane. Most animals
have cells that are differentiated to form various types of tissue, with sponges being
a notable exception. Animals are capable of moving at some point in their lives. They
must ingest other organisms to survive. Most animals reproduce sexually. Based on
the scientific definition, humans are animals.
How do children learn best about animal life?
Children need a combination of careful observation, direct interactions, carefully
designed activities related to animals, and supporting materials to learn about animals
and animal products.
Much can be learned about animals by observing them. This can occur by looking
for animals on the playground or in the surrounding school area, bringing animal