The present study employed a serial forced choice inductive inference paradigm to test whether rural and urban 5-year-olds varying in SES rely on the representation of living things in extending new knowledge. Sixty-five children learned that humans possess a novel internal property and, in a series of test trials, had to decide whether to attribute the property to an inanimate living thing or to an artifact. Additionally, the size of children’s receptive vocabulary was assessed. This study provides the first evidence that those 5-year-olds who have access to rich nature and who have acquired a high level of receptive vocabulary do rely on living kinds in induction in a forced choice task. The study further underscores the necessity to include children with diverse backgrounds in research on the development of biological knowledge. It also provides new evidence that general cognitive ability links to advances in children’s biological understanding.
There is a growing body of research on variability in the early development of biological knowledge. Most of the studies focus on the variability related to culture and direct exposure to nature, however, there is also data suggesting that parental input plays an important role. In children’s first years of life, parents play a key role in scaffolding development. It is therefore very important to provide a detailed account of how parents contribute to children’s understanding of living things, and how they convey biological knowledge through everyday conversations. The present article provides a review of the literature on variability in biological knowledge and parent-child conversations about biological kinds. It also presents original data from parent-child interactions while viewing picture books. Eighteen parent-child dyads who differed in the level of parental expertise within biology, talked while viewing books containing 24 photographs of animals and plants. The speech analysis specified labeling, perceptual and conceptual descriptions, relational, and mentalistic talk. Parents also completed a questionnaire on the child’s interests. The results showed that biology expert families produced more content overall, and a higher proportion of relational content than lay families. The findings help elucidate the specific role parents have in shaping children’s early biological understanding. In particular, I discuss the role of relational language in shaping children’s ontological commitments.