This article talks about living and nonliving things for kids in an easy to understand manner. Learn about living and nonliving things, the characteristics of each, and how living and nonliving things are classified.

What are living and nonliving things?

Living and nonliving things are a way we classify the things around us. Living things are things which are alive and non-living things are things which are not alive, or were once alive.

Characteristics of living things

In general:

  • All living things need air, water, and food to stay alive
    • Without air, we die in a matter of minutes
    • We cannot survive without water for a few days
    • We cannot survive without food for a longer time than air or water
  • Living things can grow
    • As living things grow, their appearances may change
    • For example, puppies eventually grow into dogs and tadpoles into frogs
    • Plants also grow from seeds to seedlings and adult plants
  • Living things will eventually die
    • Living things die when they become old and their body stops working
    • They can also die without air, food and water
    • Other ways that living things can die are from accidents, from being eaten by predators, and from disease
    • The lifepsan of different living things are different. For example, hamsters live for 1 to 3 years, dogs can live for 10 to 12 years, and some trees live for thousands of years.
  • Living things can move by themselves
    • Animals move away from predators and to find food, water, and shelter
    • Although it is not obvious, plants move by themselves too. Plants normally move too slowly for us to notice.
    • In a time-lapse video, many photos are taken and these photos are then played back at a much faster speed. You can see the movement and growth of plants if you look at a time-lapse video. Here's a time-lapse video of some bean plants
  • Living things respond to changes
    • For example, in the video above, plants move towards sunlight
    • Some plants can respond much quickly. A mimosa plant closes its leaves when touched and a Venus fly-trap plant is able to close its trap when an insect crawls into it.
    • In winter, some animals such as bears respond to the cold by hibernating
    • Other animals like the winter-white dwarf hamster changes its coat to a white color in winter
  • Living things can reproduce or have young
    • Dogs give birth to puppies
    • Hens lay eggs that hatch into chicks
    • Plants produce seeds that grow into seedlings

How are living things grouped?

Here are some ways that living things can be grouped or classified.

  • Animals can be classified into the following groups: Mammals, fish, birds, amphibians, insects, and reptiles
  • Plants can be classified into flowering and non-flowering plants
  • Other groups of living things are fungi and bacteria
  • Living things can also be classified by their appearances:
    • They can be classified by their body coverings such as feathers, scales, fur, shells, and so on
    • They can be classified by their number of legs
    • They can be classified by whether they have a backbone (vetebrate) or no backbone (invertebrate)
  • Living things can also be classified by their movement 
    • Do they crawl, swim, fly, hop, walk, or slither?
  • They can also be grouped by nutrition
    • Green plants make their own food
    • Animals can feed on plants only (herbivores), other animals only (carnivores) or feed on both plants and animals (omnivores)
Explore Life Cycles!: 25 Great Projects, Activities, Experiments (Explore Your World)
Amazon Price: $12.95 $6.92 Buy Now
(price as of Jun 18, 2015)
With this book of activities, kids learn not just about how to classify living things but also the life cycles of insects and frogs. Activities and information are illustrated with cute diagrams to keep things interesting. Instructions are also simple and easy for kids to follow. This activity book is a great read for kids 7 to 9 years old to get started with biology and science.

Characteristics of non-living things

In general:

  • Non-living things can be classified into things that were never alive and things that were once alive
  • Non-living things do not need to breathe air, nor do they need water or food
  • Non-living things do not grow
    • They may change in shape or size if you do something to them, but they do not grow by themselves
  • Non-living things do not die
  • Non-living things cannot move on their own
    • Unlike living things, non-living things do not move on their own unless a force is applied to them.
    • Non-living things can also move when they are powered by batteries, electricity or other sources of energy but will stop moving without these energy sources
  • Non-living things do not respond to change
  • Non-living things do not reproduce

Examples of living and nonliving things

Examples of living things:

  • Animals such as cats, dogs, dwarf hamsters, turtles, birds, butterflies
  • Plants such as sunflowers, bean plants, ferns, and venus fly traps
  • Fungi such as mushrooms and molds
  • Very small organisms such as bacteria and yeast

Examples of non-living things:

  • Non-living things that were never alive, such as rocks, plastic toys and metal rulers
  • Non-living things that were once alive, such as books which contain paper made from trees, leather bags and shoes which are made from the skin of animals, and cotton which comes from the cotton plant 

Are corals living or non-living things?

Living and Nonliving Things - CoralsCredit: By U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - Pacific Region's [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Corals may look like colorful underwater rocks but they are actually a living organism. Even though corals contain plant-like algae and large structures made out of mineral, scientists have classified corals as animals.[1]

Unlike most animals which cannot make their own food, corals can make their own food as well as depend on other plants and animals for food.

More on Living and Nonliving Things

Classification of Living and Nonliving Things (Life Science Library (Powerkids Press))
Amazon Price: $155.06 Buy Now
(price as of Jun 18, 2015)
The Classification of Living and Nonliving Things is an excellent textbook on the topic for kids to learn the basics of classifying living and nonliving things. It gives kids information about plants and animals and how to group living things by their parts, by where they live, what they eat, and introduces the five kingdom classification of living things.