Joyce E. Combest - Daniel Dale Williams School

Can Young Children Distinguish Between Living and Non-living Things?  

Joyce E. Combest Daniel Dale Williams School
2710 S. Dearborn Street
(773) 534-9711


This science project has been designed for Head Start children (ages 3 and 4
years old) so that they will be able to identify living and non-living things
as a result of their learning through discovery from their observation of and
interaction with a set of natural phenomena in their community. Each
teaching/learning session lasts from 10-15 minutes which consists of large
groups (of 15-17 pupils) or small groups (of 3-6 pupils) who work in teacher
directed activities or child selected centers.

This science module is to be implemented through the integrated unit approach
while simultaneously relying heavily on a set of guide-lines referred to (in
the field of Early Childhood Education) as "Developmentally Appropriate"
practice. The concept provides a frame-work for program planning that embraces
age and individual appropriateness in all four (physical, emotional, social,
and cognitive) domains. The forthcoming strategy is to be implemented with
attention to different needs, interests, and developmental levels, via
behavior modification-techniques so that each child may realize a measure of

In terms of subject matter, what will be the focus of study? For organic or
living things, it will be various materials from plants. For inorganic or non-
living things, it will involve observing and collecting objects such as
rocks, gravel, pebbles, sand, concrete, and bricks; other non-living subject
matter will include items made of steel, brass, silver, copper, aluminum,
plastic, glass, and clay, such as nails, screws, coins, cups, glasses, etc.

Materials Needed:

-Two tables for displaying materials
-Two sheets of poster board for labeling centers
-Two 8"x11" comb binders
-Two Polaroid cameras
-Assorted construction paper, plastic plates, and tempera paints for art
-Brown paper lunch bags (approx. 7"x4")
-Glad cling wrap and miniature rubber bands
-An assortment of 10 fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, (organic or
living items)
-An assortment of 10 small safe household inorganic or non-living items as
described above
-One-half dozen oranges
-Childrens' safety scissors
-Stick glue
-Black yarn
-Multi-color felt tip markers
-Magazines (for cutting and tearing)
-A rock and soil collection
-A rock, mineral and crystal study set
-A rock and soil sample set
-Science picture concept cards
-1 globe


It is proposed that the following activities will enhance children's
understanding of the difference between living and non-living things.

(1) Nature walk: Divide class into groups "A" and "B" and go on a nature walk.
Group "A" will take pictures of Living Things; group "B" will take pictures of
non-living things. Later, arrange and place photos in a booklet for additional
observation and study. Alternate groups may recite related songs and poems
outside such as "We Need Trees", "I am Looking for a Rock", and "Boulders and

(2) "Feel and Find" Game: Place four items in each brown bag. In so doing,
select two different items from each category of "organic" and "inorganic"
objects; then choose ten pupils to play the game. Each student is asked to
take something out of the bag and name the item orally. Children are given
turns to answer in sequential order. All children have items that have been
carefully prepared and placed in plastic wrap for health purposes.

(3) Half Orange Art: Place a small amount of tempera paint in each of eight
plastic plates; use red, yellow, blue, brown, white, orange, purple, black,
green, pink. Take an orange cut in half across the sections. Give each child a
half. Pupils will dip the orange in paints and create artistic designs.
Children learn that an orange is considered a living object, but the paints
are not.

(4) "My Own Book": (A) Children will browse through magazines, select pictures
of living things, cut them out and use stick glue to arrange them on white
8"x10" construction paper. Punch three holes (in notebook fashion) in each
picture page and tie with black yarn. Each child draws a picture of himself on
the front cover of his booklet. (B) This activity can be repeated using non-
living items.

Teacher provides support and encouragement for the act of taking
responsibility for the completion of assigned tasks; for showing empathy and
concern; and, for responding to the needs of others. Teacher approval is
administered via immediate positive reinforcement for each successful
approximation of the desired behavior until it is shaped.

Performance Assessment:

Students should show that they have achieved the desired outcome behavior (and
the instructional objective) by distinguishing between the two concepts above
(living and non-living things) with 80% accuracy, by naming, selecting,
classifying, arranging, and matching in oral and written form.

The teacher will utilize a "six item" criterion referenced test or rubric
(based strictly on the conditions of the behavioral objective) to ascertain if
the student can differentiate between living and non-living things. The set of
"six competencies" will be accompanied by six boxes to check that will
indicate mastery of the concept.


Bredekamp, S. (1996). Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from birth through age 8 (Expanded) Washington, DC: NAEYC. Canizares, S. & Chanko, P. (1998). Look at this tree.
New York: Scholastic Inc.

Canizares, S. (1998). Evergreens are Green.
New York: Scholastic Inc.

Chessen, B., & Chanko, P. (1998) Orange Juice New York: Scholastic Inc. Chessen, B. (1998). Rainforest. New York: Scholastic Inc. Hackell, Jay K., Moyer, Richard H., & Adams, Donald K. (1989). Science: A Readiness Big Book (Plants pp.38-45). Ohio: Merrill Publishing Company

Harding, B.J. (1994) A New Planning Guide to the Preschool Curriculum Chapel Hill: Kaplan Corp. Hutchings, A. & Hutchings, R. (1994). Picking Apples & Pumpkins New York: Scholastic Inc. Ring a Ring O' Roses: Finger plays for PreSchool Children (1984).(9th Ed.)
Flint Michigan Board of Education

Warren, E. I Can Read About Trees and Plants.
New York: Troll Company
Return to Biology Index