In science, certain theories led to a paradigm shift in human being’s approach to explain nature, such as the theory of relativity, the quantum theory, and the theory of evolution. The latter explains the emergence of biodiversity on Earth and all living beings’ relatedness, including humans. Accordingly, evolutionary theory is a central part of scientific literacy. However, scholars have demonstrated that misconceptions emerging in childhood hinder learners from grasping evolutionary processes. Implementing evolution in early science education could enhance scientific ideas as a basis for subsequent learning at school. Currently, children’s literature that deals with evolution is increasing and may enable more children to encounter evolutionary theory before entering school. This explorative study aimed to analyze how children’s books about evolution approach explaining this complex topic to young children in terms of covered contents, underlying concepts and use of language. We conducted (1) a text-based qualitative content analysis of 31 children’s books in the categories of organismal context, evolutionary principles, and misconceptions, and (2) a computer-supported content analysis of 33 word labels concerning (a) scientific terms and (b) verbs expressing evolutionary change. Although evolution is a universal concept, children’s books seem to promote specific contexts such as animal and human evolution. Even though the principle of selection requires an understanding of complex interactions between individuals and environmental factors, this principle was more frequent than the principles variation and inheritance. Phylogenetic history was covered more often than basic evolutionary processes, and evolutionary change was mainly mentioned at the species level over long periods. Besides, most books conveyed misconceptions such as transformationist, teleological or anthropomorphic reasoning. Consequently, books covering evolution may bias children’s first ideas concerning this topic or introduce unscientific ideas. Based on our results, we propose implications for early evolution educators and education researchers.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0269197
JournalPLoS One
Issue number7
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - 13.07.2022
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    Research areas

  • Animals, Biological Evolution, Books, Child, Child, Preschool, Heredity, Humans, Learning, Literacy, Phylogeny

ID: 1424153