Anyone who has worked with children knows that they have many questions and faulty theories regarding living and non-living things. While much research has focused on determining what young children know about living things, few studies have been dedicated to understanding how we can help develop children’s living things concept. The present study investigated the influence of two instructional methods, pure discovery learning and systemic-theoretical instruction, on five-year-olds’ understanding of living and non-living things. Both instructional methods were designed to emphasize teleological movement, which has been shown to help children determine what is alive or not. Participants (22 five-year-olds) sorted flashcards of plants, animals, and objects into an “alive” or “not alive” pile. The children were then assigned to one of two groups and taught about teleological movement, one group taught through pure discovery learning and one group taught through systemic-theoretical instruction. Afterwards, the children completed the flashcard-sorting task again to assess what they had learned. It was predicted, based on previous literature, systemic-theoretical instruction would lead to a more developed understanding of living and non-living things. A 2 x 2 x 3 ANOVA analysis revealed that systemic-theoretical instruction did not improve children’s understanding of living and non-living things. Results are likely a product of instructional design flaw, small sample size, and miscommunication between researcher and participants regarding the meaning of the word “alive”.


Gillund, Gary




Child Psychology | Developmental Psychology | Early Childhood Education


children, teleological communication, living things concept, systemic-theoretical instruction, discovery learning

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



© Copyright 2017 Lydia E. Schwartz