The Timeline of Life: Upper Elementary


“The Timeline of Life provides the child with a vision of all the life that comes on Earth before the human being.  In Upper Elementary, children enter the room having explored the timeline through retelling the story, animal research, and memorization of time periods and of species introduction.  Around the age of nine, the elementary child experiences a deeper passage into abstraction and therefore experiences the Timeline of Life on a new level, much like how when climbing a circular staircase, you can see the same visual information below, but from a new vantage point as you spiral around.  The same Timeline of Life story is told, but new information is emphasized.” Upper Elementary Directress Rebecca Callander shares what is special about the study of life through the timeline, below. All words are her own!


Our focus revolves on an in-depth look of several tents of life.  We explore how water is crucial for all life and how the egg is really a container with the ocean inside it.  This then sets the stage for cellular biology and vertebrate study.  We consider how while complexity of a species may enhance survival, it may also increase fragility within a species—there are more moving parts with more things to go wrong.  We discuss species collapse and adaptations, touching upon the rise and fall of the trilobite.  We look at the immense variety of life on earth and research classification and etymology.  The cephalopod is a relative of the squid that swims backwards, whose name derives from two Greek words: cephal, meaning head and pod, meaning foot—a creature with its head on its feet!  We discuss the changing geography of the Earth, taking a look at plate tectonics and climate change.  Finally, we discuss the field of paleontology.


While its graphic beauty is compelling, and its breadth of information offers a good introduction to the diversity of species, the Timeline of Life is also purposely incomplete—not all species are represented. This allows children to do their own research, make their own connections.  Years ago, I was accosted by a young first year child:

Indignant, a child demands, “But, where are the spiders?”

“Hmm.  Did they not make it on the timeline? Maybe they just appeared on Earth when the Human Being did.”

“No! They must have come on during the middle of the timeline.  I see other bugs and creatures like spiders then.”

“Oh, that seems logical.  Would you like to find out? And, then, if your hunch is right, you could add a spider to our timeline?”

Just recently, I was delighted by another heated conversation:

Horrified, a fourth year exclaims, “Ms. Rebecca, just look at what someone did to your timeline!  They taped a spider to it!”

“Yes.  That was Celene, thirteen years ago.  She wanted to remind us all of when the spiders came on Earth.  It has been on there a while.  Should we take it off?”


“Are there any creature that you think are missing?”



Time goes on, the universal pull of the Coming of Life and the Timeline of Life attracts another generation of students, adding their own indelible marks, following their rules to life, to eat, grow, and create/multiply!

Thank you, Rebecca, for sharing such a broad and fascinating topic! Be sure to check back for a post on the Upper Elementary fossil hike…