Geological timeline: even preschoolers can learn it with this fun activity

by Alenka

Geological Timeline is one of our favorite activities. My kids just love pulling out the strings, the little objects, competing whose turn it is to place the next card over the ribbons. The whole geological history of the Earth becomes more tangible and easy to comprehend – and a lot more fun too.

Geological Earth Creation Timeline

Supplies:

  • 6 different colored ribbons
  • some objects to place on it
  • Era Name Cards 

IMG_15971. Prepare cards

Print out or just write a few cards with information about each of the most commonly recognized geological Eras. I did mine by hand, using different color notepad paper, listing basic facts right on them, letting my kids do their own illustrations on the back. I included each Era Information below. Now that I typed it all out, I might as well take advantage of my own work and print it out for my kids as well!

Hadean Era
- means “Hades-like” (after Greek mythology)
- 4600-3800 mya (4.6 billion years ago)
- Begins with formation of the Earth from dust and gas orbiting the Sun
- Earth is covered with oceans of liquid rock, boiling sulfur, impact craters everywhere, volcanic eruptions, neverending rain of rocks and asteroids from space (just like visions of Hades)
- No air: just carbon dioxide, water vapor, sulfur and nitrogen
- 4527 mya: possibly an asteroid as big as Mars hit the Earth and broke off a piece that became our moon.
Archean Era
- means “Ancient” or “Primitive”
- 3800-2500 mya
- 1 billion years after the formation of the Earth.
- everything cooled down, though some volcanic eruptions are still a lot more frequent than nowadays
- Most water vapor cooled and condensed to form global ocean, but it is called “poisonous seas” – they are not livable yet
- no continents yet, but little islands appear from volcanic activity; occasionally colliding and forming larger landmasses.
- first life: probably simple, non-nucleated, single-celled algae-like tiny organisms start the photosynthesis (Prokaryotes)
Proterozoic Era
- means “Early Life”
- ~700 million years ago, 2 billion years after the formation of the earth
- 2500-570 mya (lasted 2 billion years)
- In the oceans the cyanobacteria and algae appear, releasing oxygen into the air and slowly forming our atmosphere
- two supercontinents are formed by collisions of many-many little islands
- Life: ~1.7 billion years ago, single-celled creatures appeared that had nucleus (eukaryote – animals, plants, mushrooms are all later examples of eukaryote, but at this point they were limited to different forms of algae).
- 30 million years before the end of the Proterozoic: multi-celled creatures appear. They have no shells, no teeth, so fossils are really hard to find.
- Earth is very cold, with huge bluish glacial ice sheets across the supercontinent, even around equator
Paleozoic Era
- 570-245 mya
- In the beginning: an explosion of life in the water: multicellular organisms develop into trilobites, shellfish, corals followed by the first fish, sharks, other underwater creatures
- Plants and insects start appearing on the land; in the end: primitive conifers, ferns spread
- often called “The Age of Invertebrates”: animals with no backbone, like shellfish, insects, spiders are most common both on land and at sea
- In the end: mysterious largest underwater extinction wiped out 90% of marine animal species.
- 380 mya: first vertebrate land animals appear! Some amphibians can already be found.
mountains are formed on the continents
- break up of world-continent Pannotia and in the end of the period a single continent Pangaea is formed
Mesozoic Era
- 245-65 mya (Triassic 245-208 mya; Jurassic 208-146 mya; Cretaceous 146-65 ya)
- means “middle animals”
- Era of the Dinosaurs
- first birds and mammals appear
- first flowers start blooming
- the climate is so warm, that there are no ice caps even on the poles!
- continent Pangaea is breaking apart.
Cenozoic Era
- 65 mya to present
- means “New Life”
- Pangaea is broken into modern day continents
- climate turned colder, with giant glaciers forming in the poles, covering some North America, Eurasia, Antarctica.
- called “The Age of the Mammals”, but could be called “Age of Flowering Plants” or the “Age of Insects” or the “Age of Teleost Fish” or even “The Age of Birds”.
- Mammals rule the Earth, the seas, and share the sky with dinos distant cousins: birds
- only 2 million years ago finally appeared humans. 10,000 years ago(blink of the eye in geologic time!) they spread across the lands of the Earth.

Cut the ribbon

Geology Timeline with Ribbons

Geology Timeline with Ribbons

I spent quite some time calculating the measurements. Honestly, after all these years, I don’t even remember what formulas I came up with to calculate this. The measurements can still be only approximate, but it gives kids a good visual reference how long each stage lasted. Honestly, I find it shocking. My kids find it a bit odd, that humans exist on such a tiny stretch compared to every other period… even comparing to dinosaurs!

  • 5 inches – Cenozoic Era (65 million years ago [mya] to present)
  • 17 inches – Mesozoic (Triassic 245-208 mya, Jurassic 208-146 mya, and Cretaceous 146-65 mya)
  • 23 inches – Paleozoic Era (570-245 mya)
  • 13 feet – Proterozoic Era (2500-570 mya)
  • 8 f 5 inches – Archaean Era (3800-2500 mya)
  • 55 inches – Hadean Era (4600-3800 mya)

Roll out the ribbon of time!

Yep, time to roll out your ribbon and lay it on the floor. We prefer to lay it in a more condensed, side to side stair-like fashion, since there is so little activity in the early periods.
We read/discuss/place cards with information about each era.
We add little symbolic objects as we go. They really help to associate what happened in that period. Like mental markers, memory-road street-name signs. Some of the things we use:
Hadean Era: a little volcano (found in $1 section of our local craft store)
Archaean Era (some tiny green dots to mark off the algae)
Proterozoic Era (little cat-toy pom-pom that reminds me of bacteria)
Paleozoic (we have some fossils of crinoid lilies, couple of shells, a shark)
Mesozoic (frogs and dinosaurs)
Cenozoic Era (couple of tiny animal figurines, birds, humans at the very edge of the last ribbon)

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Storage

The cards and little objects get packed into a zip-lock bag or a little container. The ribbon – rolled along the empty bounty cardboard roll.

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We like to finish it off with a movie: “Origins by BBC is our top-favorite for this topic. “Walking with Dinosaurs comes next, but I like to rewind especially gruesome parts, or skip the monotonous-grave-pessimistic commentaries. Common, this is not such a sad story! These reptilian-guys outlived us (mammals) by millions and millions of years! They are no longer here to tell the story, but where will humans be in 175 million years from now?

Not sure about the future, but thanks to our ribbons, the past looks a lot more clear now.