and natural interests of children who ask questions such as: ''How do plants get food? How many different animals are there? Why do some animals eat other animals? What is the largest plant? Where did the dinosaurs go?" An understanding of the characteristics of organisms, life cycles of organisms, and of the complex interactions among all components of the natural environment begins with questions such as these and an understanding of how individual organisms maintain and continue life. Making sense of the way organisms live in their environments will develop some understanding of the diversity of life and how all living organisms depend on the living and nonliving environment for survival. Because the child's world at grades K-4 is closely associated with the home, school, and immediate environment, the study of organisms should include observations and interactions within the natural world of the child. The experiences and activities in grades K-4 provide a concrete foundation for the progressive development in the later grades of major biological concepts, such as evolution, heredity, the cell, the biosphere, interdependence, the behavior of organisms, and matter and energy in living systems.
Children's ideas about the characteristics of organisms develop from basic concepts of living and nonliving. Piaget noted, for instance, that young children give anthropomorphic explanations to organisms. In lower elementary grades, many children associate "life" with any objects that are active in any way. This view of life develops into one in which movement becomes the defining characteristic. Eventually children incorporate other concepts, such as eating, breathing, and reproducing to define life. As students have a variety of experiences with organisms, and subsequently develop a knowledge base in the life sciences, their anthropomorphic attributions should decline.
In classroom activities such as classification, younger elementary students generally use mutually exclusive rather than hierarchical categories. Young children, for example, will use two groups, but older children will use several groups at the same time. Students do not consistently use classification schemes similar to those used by biologists until the upper elementary grades.
As students investigate the life cycles of organisms, teachers might observe that young children do not understand the continuity of life from, for example, seed to seedling or larvae to pupae to adult. But teachers will notice that by second grade, most students know that children resemble their parents. Students can also differentiate learned from inherited characteristics. However, students might hold some naive thoughts about inheritance, including the belief that traits are inherited from only one parent, that certain traits are inherited exclusively from one parent or the other, or that all traits are simply a blend of characteristics from each parent.
Young children think concretely about individual organisms. For example, animals are associated with pets or with animals kept in a zoo. The idea that organisms depend on their environment (including other organisms in some cases) is not well developed in young children. In grades K-4, the focus should be on establishing the primary association of organisms with their environments and the secondary ideas of dependence on