Photosynthesis for Kids
Hey kids. Are you trying to understand what photosynthesis is? Here, we'll try and help you! It is a somewhat simple process that accounts for most of the oxygen in our atmosphere, allowing us to be able to breathe! We wouldn't ever have existed if it weren't for photosynthesis. We'll explain it here.
What is Photosynthesis?
Photosynthesis may sound like a big word, but it's actually pretty simple. You can divide it into two parts: "Photo" is the Greek word for "Light," and "synthesis," is the Greek word for "putting together," which explains what photosynthesis is. It is using light to put things together. You may have noticed that all animals and humans eat food, but plants don't eat anything. Photosynthesis is how plants eat. They use this process to make their own food. Since they don't have to move around to find food, plants stay in one place, since they can make their food anywhere as long as they have three things.
The three things are Carbon Dioxide, Water, and Light. You have probably heard of Carbon dioxide. It is a chemical that is in the air. Every time you breathe in, you breath in a bunch of chemicals in the air, including oxygen and carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is also one of the chemicals that causes global warming. But we'll get to that in a little bit. Here's what photosynthesis looks like:
Carbon Dioxide + Water + Light ----> Sugar + Oxygen
Plants breathe, just like us. They even have little openings that can look like mouths, but they are too small for us to see without a microscope. When we breathe in, we want to breath in oxygen. Plants want to breathe in Carbon Dioxide. Plants also drink. This is why you need to water plants or they will die. They use their roots to suck water up into their bodies, and their little mouths to breath in the carbon dioxide. Once they have both of these things, all they need is light. Leaves are made up of a bunch of tiny cells, where this happens. Inside the cells are tiny little things called chloroplasts. Chloroplasts are what makes leaves green, and they are also what takes the carbon dioxide, the water, and the light, and turns them into sugar and oxygen.
The sugar is then used by the plants for food, and the oxygen is breathed out into the atmosphere. This process as a whole is "photosynthesis."
Things You Need to Know About Photosynthesis
- This happens to EVERY plant, and to some bacteria and algae, too. Without photosynthesis, plants wouldn't exist.
- Humans and animals do the exact opposite of photosynthesis. They breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. This means that we give plants more carbon dioxide, and they give us more oxygen. Without plants we wouldn't be able to survive, but there is enough carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that plants would still exist without us!
- Before there was photosynthesis, there wasn't much oxygen in our atmosphere. So before plants evolved the ability to turn water and carbon dioxide into sugar and oxygen, there was no way for plants and animals to exist. Before photosynthesis, bacteria and other living things used other chemicals to make their food. But when photosynthesis started, it worked really well, so organisms (living things) that had photosynthesis thrived and evolved into plants and trees. As more plants grew across the planet, more and more oxygen went into the atmosphere, meaning that animals were able to start evolving! We would never have existed without photosynthesis.
- The atmosphere is full of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, meaning that if it is in the atmosphere, it holds heat close to the earth, which makes our planet warm. If we didn't have carbon dioxide, we wouldn't be a warm planet, we would be cold like the moon. If we had too much carbon dioxide, we would be like Venus, which is a really hot planet. Plants keep our atmosphere from getting too much carbon dioxide and heating up by turning a lot of it into oxygen.
Carbon dioxide isn't a bad thing if there isn't too much of it, it keeps the earth warm. But when there is a lot of it, our planet warms up. This is a natural process most of the time. There are a lot of changes in our climate (climate is weather over a long period of time) over millions of years, but THIS time, our climate is changing because of US! This doesn't happen much on our planet. But humans burn a lot of fuel. When your parents drive their car, it is releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. And when you turn on your lights, you are using electricity. If that electricity is powered by coal or other fossil fuels, then that puts carbon dioxide into the atmosphere too. Have you ever seen a smoke stack at a factory with smoke going into the air? A lot of that smoke is carbon dioxide!
When just a few cars and factories do this, it doesn't make much of a difference. But there are almost 7 billion people living on earth, and a lot of them are driving cars and using factories, so we are putting a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and the plants can't make up for how much carbon dioxide we are putting out there!
On top of all of this, we're cutting down trees and plants all over the world, making it even harder for them to replace our carbon dioxide with oxygen! Even with the amount of carbon dioxide we are putting into the atmosphere, the world will probably only increase in temperature by about 1 degree, but that is actually huge! It could melt our icecaps, which could make oceans rise, and it could cause rivers and lakes to disappear in some places and form in other places. We don't completely know what could happen, but it could be bad.
That's why you are always helping if you plant a tree or another plant, and it is why you are helping by not keeping your lights on when you walk out of your room, and by turning off the TV when you are done with it. Do what you can to help!