Toilet Paper Timeline of Earth
So, you've stockpiled toilet paper and are stuck at home, now what? Did you know that with one roll of toilet paper you could learn the history of our Earth?! And, don't worry, no toilet paper will be harmed during this activity. It can be rolled up after and returned to your reserves! So, unroll that TP and let's get learning!
Excerpt below from “The Big Book of Nature Activities”by Drew Monkman and Jacob Rodenburg, New Society Publishers
- You’ll learn: To visualize the massive time scale of life on Earth.
- You’ll need: Roll of toilet paper of 450 sheets (tear off 50 from a roll of 500), sticky notes, large open area or hall.
- Background: It is hard to believe but the Earth is over five billion years old. However, from a child’s perspective, there isn’t much difference between numbers like 1,000, one million or one billion; these are difficult concepts to grasp, even for adults. This activity helps children to imagine just how recent human existence is in the incredibly long history of life on
- Procedure: Find a large open space. If you are outside, choose a calm day. Unroll the entire roll of toilet paper. The beginning of the roll represents the ancient past 4.5 billion years ago. Each square of toilet paper represents about ten million years. Write down each stage on a sticky note. Place each of the sticky notes at the squares indicated along the roll of toilet paper. Take a walk along the timeline.
- Note: BYA = billion years ago; MYA = million years ago
- 4.5 BYA: The Earth is formed, along with the other planets (first square)
- 3.7 BYA: Earth’s crust solidifies (square 80)
- 3.5 BYA: first life appears in oceans (square 100)
- 3.25 BYA: photosynthesis begins in oceans (square 125)
- 2.4 BYA: oceans contain significant amounts of oxygen (square 260)
- 1.9 BYA: first cells with nuclei appear in oceans (square 260)
- 650 MYA: first multicellular organisms appear (square 385)
- 500 MYA: first land plants with inner vessels (square 400)
- 250 MYA: mass extinction of 99 percent of all life (square 425)
- 245 MYA: Age of Dinosaurs begins (square 425)
- 200 MYA: the first mammals appear (square 430)
- 150 MYA: supercontinent breaking up; continents drifting apart (square 435)
- 65 MYA: Age of Dinosaurs ends, with mass extinction of 70 percent of all living things (square 444)
- 3.5 MYA: first proto-humans appear, in what is now Africa (last square, 3.6 cm from the end)
- 100,000 years ago: first Homo sapiens, our species, appears (last square, 1 mm from end)
- 10,000 years ago: recorded human history begins (last square, 0.1 mm from end)
Questions to ponder
- What did you learn about how long life has existed?
- How long, relative to the Earth’s history, have humans inhabited the Earth?
- How might this timeline guide us in treating the Earth?
Activity shared with permission from New Society Publishers.
We enjoyed drawing a picture on the toilet paper at each of the major events on the timeline. Now who is going to be excited to get the dino when they use the bathroom?! We also looked up many different questions that the kids had while we made the timeline. It was a fun learning activity with a heavy visual on Earth's timeline and the very recent arrival of humans on the timescale!
We hope you enjoy this activity!