Asking questions about the world around us is how many scientific theories begin, just like when Isaac Newton asked why the apple fell downwards and he ended up discovering gravity!
Learn a little about Charles Darwin with the children, find out more about Darwin’s ground-breaking ideas and use our collection of printable resources to test what you have learned!
Charles Darwin (1809–1882) was an English scientist best known for his theory of evolution, which helped to explain the similarities and differences found in the natural world. Charles spent his life researching species on earth and his findings revolutionised our view of nature. He challenged the idea that all beings were created when the world was made, suggesting instead that all life was descended from a common ancestor.
Fun facts: Charles Darwin has been honoured for his work in many ways. His portrait used to appear on the back of the British £10 note. His statue stands at London’s Natural History Museum, at Cambridge University and in his birthplace, Shrewsbury. More than 250 species have also been named after Darwin, such as the darwinilus sedarisi beetle, as well as places, including the city of Darwin in Australia and Darwin Island in the Galápagos Islands.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
A Short Biography of Charles Darwin
Charles was born in 1809 in Shrewsbury, England, the second youngest of six children. His father was a doctor and his grandfather a botanist, so it came as no surprise that Charles liked science, too.
Charles’ mother died when he was eight and he later went to boarding school. At 16, Charles fulfilled his father’s wish and went to Edinburgh University to study medicine, but he found the sight of blood and suffering too distressing. Two years later, again at his father’s suggestion, he went to Cambridge University to study to become a clergyman. But throughout this time, Charles was far more interested in natural history. He befriended a botany professor, John Henslow, and a geology professor, Adam Sedgwick, who both ignited his interest in the natural world.
When Charles left university in 1831, Henslow suggested that he join a survey trip around the world on a naval ship, the HMS Beagle. This gave Charles the opportunity of a lifetime. The voyage was supposed to take two years, but actually took five. During the expedition, Charles collected animal, plant and rock samples and used them for experimental research.
Charles was particularly interested in the Galápagos Islands, where he discovered many unique species. He noticed that some plants and creatures seemed to have adapted to suit their surroundings. Each island was home to a different type of tortoise, for example. Finches on the islands also had different beaks, depending on the particular seeds or insects they found to feed on.
When he returned in 1836, Charles began to develop a theory about the origin of living things. This went against what naturalists believed at the time – that living things were created when the world began and stayed similar with each generation. Instead, Darwin proposed that over time, species developed and changed to better suit their environment. He suggested that species survived through a process called ‘natural selection’ – which meant that individuals with characteristics most suited to their surroundings were more likely to survive and reproduce, passing these favourable traits on to new generations, while traits less suited to the environment would eventually die off. If the changes were large enough, a new species could also evolve.
Darwin also believed that all species evolved from a common ancestor. This explained the similarities between different mammals or between different insects, for example. Species that shared a more recent common ancestor were more closely related. This revolutionary idea suggested that humans shared a recent common ancestor with apes, for example.
Charles knew his ideas went against the religious belief that all nature comes from God. He continued his research until he was convinced, and in 1859, published his ideas in On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. An international bestseller, the book also caused controversy. Charles died in 1882 and for his life’s work he was honoured with a burial at Westminster Abbey in London. In the century that followed, evidence from DNA helped to validate his findings – although his ideas are still controversial today.
Our Charles Darwin Resources
Here's a simple colouring page featuring scientist Charles Darwin, great for the younger kids to colour in as part of topic work.
Here's a comprehension worksheet aimed at older kids. They need to read the text about Charles Darwin, then answer some questions at the end to demonstrate what they've understood.
This Charles Darwin factsheet is a great way to introduce children to this famous scientist and help them learn a little about him. It can be read on its own, and also be used alongside some of our other Charles Darwin activities.
Here's an interesting task for the children. Can they imagine they're a talk show host interviewing Charles Darwin? And can they use some good open questions to encourage him to give the best answers?
Ask the kids to put pen to paper with our Charles Darwin newspaper writing prompt. Maybe they can write about his famous trip to the Galapagos Islands, and what he discovered there?
Notebooking is a great way to encourage independent learning in older children. This notebooking page is for writing about Charles Darwin, and we have two pages to download - one with lines for notes, and another with a space for a picture or diagram.
Here's a cartoon style poster of Charles Darwin, teaching his theory of evolution. Print out and use for topic work and classroom displays.
"A man's friendships are one of the best measures of his worth." This scenic poster features one of Charles Darwin's famous quotes set against a beautiful backdrop.
"To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes even better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact." This simple worksheet asks the children to think about what this Charles Darwin quote means, and to rewrite it in their own words to show that they've understood the
Print out this blank timeline worksheet then ask the children to fill in the important events in Charles Darwin's life.
Here's a fact-finding worksheet all about the famous naturalist Charles Darwin. It's a great introduction to a project for younger children.
Here's a simple writing page for Charles Darwin, ideal for younger children and available in colour or black and white.
Darwin's visit to the Galapagos Islands had a huge impact on the formation of his Theory of Natural Selection. Use this writing prompt to get the kids imagining they are Charles Darwin in the Galapagos Islands. Can they describe what they see, and why this might be so interesting?