"We Are All Cousins"
(a.k.a. "River of Life" / "Ancestor's Tale")

celebrating the evolutionary journey
of life and our own ancestry

written and assembled by Connie Barlow (2009)
based on Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins (2004)


Two distinct experiential scripts have been assembled, based on the 2004 science book by Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale. Dawkins characterizes his book as "an epic pilgrimage from the present to the past", and he suggests that in this journey "We shall be pilgrims, then, sharing fellowship ever more inclusively with other pilgrim bands, which also have been swelling on their own way to their rendezvous with us."

     1-minute VIDEO PREVIEW of the book by the author, Richard Dawkins.

Amazingly, it takes ONLY 40 such rendezvous points along the timeline of life for humans to meet chimpanzees, other apes, monkeys, other primates, other placental mammals, and so on back through the entire journey of life. Both versions of the group experience below have this 40-part structure, and can easily be adapted for groups ranging from 12 to 80 participants, and for virtually all age groups and mixed age groups.

  Highly recommended for CHILDREN . . .

 ♦ 1. "We Are All Cousins" - This is the easiest and most child-friendly of the activities within the "Ancestor's Tale" genre and the only one suitable for KIDS.

HERE IS HOW IT PLAYS OUT: Imagine every species alive on Earth today designating a single ambassador to journey back through time, following their evolutionary lineage. Group by group, the lineages of the ambassadors begin to merge, as they come upon shared ancestors. We can take this journey together by beginning as the human ambassador, who encounters other lineages merging on the same journey back in time.

This is the only version suitable for children and for families, but it is also delightful for adults. It is the only version that has been developed with a strong visual emphasis (digital slide show) and with a song.    WATCH CONNIE teach this program live . . .

    Click on image left to watch Part 1 of a (two-part) 90-minute VIDEO of Connie presenting this program for children in 2011 at a Unitarian Universalist church in Georgia, USA.

After the video starts playing, we recommend you read the long text caption that summarizes the highlights. On the YouTube page, click on the gray "Show more" directly below the truncated text.

Notice that the text summary includes a full TABLE OF CONTENTS with linked timestops (in blue), which you can click to advance instantly to that portion of the video.

The Part 2 VIDEO of Ancestor's Tale for Kids opens at confluence #11. Two minutes into that program a child asks why some people don't believe in evolution. Watch Connie's imaginative response!

All SLIDES and SCRIPTS Connie uses in the above video are freely available for download:

To download, right-click (PC) or control+click (Mac)

      Keynote for Mac (4.8 MB) or Powerpoint for PC (4.6 MB)

  • DOWNLOAD PARTICIPANT Scripts (40 total) in PDF (16.8 MB)
      Note: Be patient; it may take a long time to download.

  • DOWNLOAD LEADER Scripts (40 total) in PDF (16.8 MB)
      Note: Be patient; it may take a long time to download.

  • SUPPLEMENTARY TEACHER MATERIALS to help you prepare for class:

    To download, right-click (PC) or control+click (Mac)

  • DOWNLOAD "Guidelines for Teachers/Group Leaders" in PDF

  • DOWNLOAD SONG lyrics (23 verses) in PDF (88 kb)

  • LISTEN ONLINE to SONG MELODY in AUDIO mp3 or right-click to download (2.1 MB)

  • DOWNLOAD SONG SLIDES (to play all at once a day or so after you finish the program, to remind everyone of the full journey: Powerpoint (PC) (399 kb) or Keynote (Mac) (866 kb)

  • LISTEN ONLINE or DOWNLOAD "7-part AUDIO Instructions for Teachers/Group Leaders". NOTE: The title has changed since I recorded these audios; this program I used to call "River of Life".
    Part 1 (4 mins); Part 2 (9 mins); Part 3 (11 mins); Part 4 (16 mins);

    Part 5 was eliminated when title was changed to "We Are All Cousins"

    Part 6 (12 mins) Skip the first minute, as those earlier slides have been eliminated.

    Part 7 audio instruction has been eliminated. A better way for you to learn how to do and to introduce movement into the program is just watch how I introduce the dance in the video of me teaching the program. Click HERE to go directly to the DANCE portion of the Part 2 video.

  • Note: All 40 meeting places with the "cousins" in this journey back to the origin of life cannot be accomplished in one sitting. Connie highly recommends that teachers/parents who would like to present this program to kids break it into 3 to 5 sessions. It thus can be the ideal content component of a 3 to 5 day summer camp.

    After completion of the guessing-game slide (center) for one or more "meeting places" of relatives joining our time travel journey (# 18, 19, and 20) in the slide here, the leader invites children to sing another verse of a tunefully simple song (capitalized syllables get the 1-2-3 emphasis).       


    Above: Connie Barlow guiding "River of Life" in Sunday School at C3 Exchange, Spring Lake MI, 2010

    ♦ 2. "Greet the Concestors" - In this very early version of the same evolutionary material, the focus shifts from our fellow ambassadors (species alive today) to what the shared ancestor ("concestor") looked like whenever we merge with another stream of pilgrims taking their own journey back through time. We also focus on what body parts our lineage of life gains or loses at each of the 40 "rendezvous points." This is a very simple script with no visual component and no song. It is not intended for children. But it is excellent supplemental information for the teacher/leader to study in preparation for guiding "The River of Life" journey above, or for offering as a special project to a scientifically gifted student. You can download the simple program/scripts in PDF (420 kb)

    3. "Ancestors Meditation" - This reading (created to accompany a Samhain autumn ritual) by Jon Cleland-Host, is not derived from the science in Richard Dawkins's book. It is a much faster way to survey the flow of ancestral life forms and situations without focussing on the 40 points of confluence. Click here to view or download in PDF.

    4. "The Great Story BEADS" - A fabulous supplement to this experience, especially in a school setting, is to use the 40 confluence points as the basis for making GREAT STORY BEADS. For this purpose, the teacher would provide, in addition to colorful beads, alphabet beads, so that kids could choose the bead "C" for the confluence with chimpanzees, "G" for gorilla, and so on, if actual beads of those animals are not available. To learn about great story beads in general, click HERE.

        The 40 Confluences/Concestors: (1) chimpanzees; (2) gorilla; (3) orang utan; (4) gibbons; (5) Old World monkeys; (6) New World monkeys; (7) tarsiers; (8) lemurs; (9) tree shrews; (10) rodents & rabbits; (11) Laurasiathere mammals; (12) Xenarthran mammals; (13) Afrothere mammals; (14) Marsupial mammals; (15) Monotreme mammals; (16) reptiles & birds; (17) amphibian; (18) lungfish; (19) coelacanth; (20) ray-finned fishes; (21) sharks; (22) lampreys & hagfish; (23) lancelets; (24) sea squirts; (25) starfish; (26) mollusks, worms, crustaceans, insects & spiders; (27) primitive flatworms; (28) jellyfish; (29) placozoans; (30) sponges; (31) comb jellies; (32) single-cell eukaryotes; (33) drips; (34) fungus; (35) amoebozoan; (36) plants & algae; (37) Giardia, diatoms, forams, & brown algae; (38) Archaea; (39) Eubacteria; (40) Origin of Life

    Note: Yan Wong is an evolutionary biologist who helped Richard Dawkins write Ancestor's Tale. In 2014 he posted a blog that updates the original concestors list that is used in this "We Are All Cousins" curriculum. Periodically, Connie Barlow will adjust the curriculum itself to keep it up to date, by referring to such revisions.

  • Superb compendium of captioned Natural History ILLUSTRATIONS of the EVOLUTIONARY JOURNEY OF LIFE by world-class artists. Assembled by Ed Fisher (with an emphasis on what our own ancestors may have looked like) at http://evolution-involution.org/. A flash slideshow of the illustrations can be accessed at http://evolution-involution.org.

    Evogeneao website has terrific resources
    for teachers and parents.

    Kids choose a creature and then find out
    how far back in time they share a common
    ancestor, and their cousin count.


    REQUESTS: (1) If you use this curriculum, please contact the author and let her know what elements worked well and where improvements should be made. (2) If this curriculum has made a difference with your students, please ask your organization to make a donation.   

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