A score of common misconceptions

B R Sitaram

When I look at the way children think, I am constantly amazed at the number of misconceptions that they seem to harbour. Many of these misconceptions persist until later in life and if the child becomes a teacher, she reinforces these misconceptions in a new generation of children. Many of these misconceptions arise because of the way biology is taught, especially in primary and middle school. In this article, I will take a look at a score of such misconceptions that are common among children.


  1. What are animals?
  2. Most children consider only mammals as animals. Fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians are occasionally considered to be animals, insects rarely so. What is not clarified to children by teachers is that as we grow older, we change the meaning that we ascribe to some terms. For example, for a young child, day is different from night and lasts for about 12 hours. In grade 3, the child is told that a day is 24 hours long! The teacher is never conscious about the contradiction and that it is necessary for the child to realize that the meaning of the word “day” has been modified. A similar change takes place in the meaning of the word “animal”. The child’s first introduction to animals is through charts. Very few animal charts show anything other than cows, buffaloes, lions and tigers. They certainly do not show starfish or earthworms as animals. As a result, the mental picture that a child forms of animals is one of a quadruped, typically the ones it would find in a zoo (where, by the way, it is likely to find two sections: one for animals and one for birds!)

    Dr B R Sitaram was earlier a scientist at the Physical Research Laboratory and then the Director of the Vikram A. Sarabhai Community Science Centre, both at Ahmedabad. Currently, he is the Director of Zeal Educational Services Pvt Ltd, Ahmedabad. He can be reached at b[email protected].

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