How could you teach a kids’ science class and NOT include dinosaurs??
This was our week to cover this topic – a perennial favorite class topic for preschool and elementary age kids. (Most of these activities are also great for a dinosaur themed birthday party!)
Here’s what we have done in our class over the past three years. Note: There are more activities in this blog post than you can fit into one two hour class!
Dress-Up / Imaginary Play: Most of our STEM topics don’t lend themselves to dress-up, so this was a chance to bring that in: we had dinosaur tails we made (like these), dino hood and gloves, and masks, plus roaring dinosaur hobby horses from the dollar store.
We also read the book I Am a Tyrannosaurus by Hines, and encouraged the children to act out different dinosaurs as the book describes. And we set out a collection of toy dinosaurs, toy trees, and wooden blocks for kids to build scenes with.
Dino Dig: Take a BIG cardboard box (or plastic tub or kiddie pool). Fill it with shredded paper (or pompoms, or ball pit balls, or whatever.) Toss in a bunch of big plastic dinosaurs. (Party Ideas by a Pro recommends casting plaster dinos and burying them in sand.) Bury them. Kids dig them up. (Encourage them to keep all the filler material in the tub as much as possible!) When they’ve found them all, they can re-bury and repeat to their hearts’ content. This is a great large motor activity, especially popular with 3 and 4 year olds.
Fossils or “Dino Bones”: Fill a sensory table (or shallow plastic tub) with sand (or other sensory material, such as rice, beans, popcorn, etc.) Bury “bones”. Add paint brushes. Kids find the bones, and clean them.
What to use for “bones” –
Pasta in a variety of shapes. After they dig them up, they can use them to assemble a pasta skeleton. (see below). Note on the picture below… we put in too many noodles – they were too easy for the kids to find – it would have been more fun if they’d had to hunt for them. Also, they were a lot of work to get OUT of the sand at clean-up time.
Dog Treats. The milk-bone brand dog treats.
Make your own. Search online for “Make dinosaur bones” for tips on how to make them using a wide variety of materials. (Salt dough, model magic, plaster, chicken bones.)
Making fossil impressions: You can make play-dough or use an air dry clay like Model Magic for making impressions. You can press noodles, or shells, or leaves, or pine needles, or fossils into it to make an impression. Interestingly, we had planned this as a take home project, and kids ended up turning it into a process play activity instead. They would roll a ball of clay, press in an object, admire it for a moment, then roll the clay back into a ball, and do it again.
Building: A Dino Skeleton from TP Rolls. Give them a large box of toilet paper and paper towel rolls, and a poster with a few sample ideas. See what they build. Sample ideas from: A Day in First Grade and Your Modern Family. We had multiple attempts, including one attempt at a three dimensional T-rex.
Building / Art: A Dino Skeleton from Pasta. Give them cardstock, lots of shapes of noodles, glue, and pictures of dinosaur skeletons and pasta dino skeletons for inspiration.
Make salt dough bones: For an ambitious project, try making your own set of dinosaur bones out of salt dough. Children can use them to assemble skeletons. We haven’t tried this. http://kitchenfloorcrafts.blogspot.com/2014/07/homemade-dinosaur-bones.html
Ice Excavation: You can make frozen “dinosaur eggs” by putting a small plastic dinosaur inside a balloon, then filling the balloon with water and freezing it. Once it’s frozen, cut off the balloon. Put out the ice eggs with salt to sprinkle and water to squirt on / pour on, and let the kids excavate the dinosaurs. This is similar to an ice excavation we do in our states of matter session. Learn more, and see pictures at Teaching Mama and Parenting Chaos.
Footprints: We cut out large dinosaur footprints. Then we had kids trace their own footprints and cut them out and compare them to the size of the big footprint. Then they could decorate the footprints. (We also had in the room a paper tracing of a real triceratops footprint, that was about 3 foot by 3 foot.)
Molded Dinosaurs: We’ve used plastic molds of dinosaurs that kids pressed Model Magic air drying clay in to make take-home dinosaurs. (On Amazon, search for “dinosaur molds” and you’ll find several options.)
Rubbings: We’ve used plastic rubbing plates that kids lay paper over and use crayons to make rubbings of birds and reptiles. You can also find Dinosaur Rubbing Plates.
Make a Triceratops Mask: With a paper plate, paper triangles, and popsicle sticks.
Color a Dinosaur Mask: There are LOTS of free printable dinosaur masks online. You can get some that are already colored in, and some that are black and white line drawings the kids can color in. Then they cut them out, add elastic ties, and wear. Here are some options: Mother Natured, Itsy Bitsy Fun, DIY Fashion, and Mask Spot. Interestingly, in the morning class, this station was pretty much ignored – one child made a half-hearted attempt at it. But in the afternoon class, with a sample mask on the table to try on, we had a lot more interest.
I also really like this 3-D dinosaur mask based on Paul Strickland’s art in the book Dinosaur Roar – it would be too difficult for this age group to assemble one, but I made one for them to try on.
Assemble a paper skeleton / add pasta bones: We printed out materials from Prekinders. We cut some out in advance, so the younger kids could just assemble a skeleton, while the older kids were encouraged to use their scissor skills cutting out the pieces and assembling them on a paper. After gluing together the paper skeleton, kids were given the option of adding noodle “bones” to their picture.
Sorting Activity: I made up a dinosaur family tree, plus 10 cards describing categories of dinosaurs. (See my sample cards. Note: I do not have copyright permission to the images included, so you should find your own images to use for your cards.) We set them out on a table, along with a big pile of plastic dinosaurs and encouraged kids to sort them into categories.
Flying Pterodactyl: Just for the fun of it, we tied a string up near the ceiling with a straw mounted on it, then taped a plastic pterodactyl to it. We could hold the kids up and let them push the toy to make it fly.
Excavate a dinosaur from ice: Freeze big blocks of ice with plastic dinos embedded in them. Use ice, water, and tools to excavate. We didn’t do this activity in our dinosaur class because we had a similar project in States of Matter week.
Snack: There are dinosaur shaped cheese puffs, chicken nuggets, and more. Or there’s Dinosaur Egg oatmeal.
We had multiple displays to illustrate how big some dinosaurs were.
Walking Footprints: We took the stegosaurus feet illustration from this image then blew each one up to fill a full sheet of paper (i.e. about 11″ long) and printed several pairs. Then we taped them on the floor from the front door to the table, to show the stride length of a stegosaurus – 6 feet. (source)
Big Footprint: Draw a t-rex footprint that is 3 feet long. Ask kids to guess how many kids’ footprints fit inside a T-rex footprint. Then have them take off their shoes and set them on the big footprint to compare. (Idea from Mrs. Lee and 4.bp.blogspot)
Rope to show length: Take a long rope and stretch it across the room. Tell kids it’s as long as [pick a dinosaur that’s about the length of the rope you happen to have.]
Posters: I printed a collection of posters – some about how big a footprint was, how big dinosaurs were, and one showing a life-size picture of how big a t-rex tooth was. You can see the posters here.
Nature Activity – Tracking: Print this puzzle on 11 x 17 paper and laminate it, then let children use white board markers to trace the path of footprints to see which dinosaur made the tracks. Note: children of all ages (3 and up) enjoyed this activity. But it was only the 6 – 8 year olds who were able to trace all the lines back accurately.
Outdoor Activity: Search for Signs of Wildlife: Once a month, our class meets at a park with nature trails, and we do a nature-based activity. This month, we talked about how you could tell an animal had been in the woods: if you saw tracks, scat, signs that animals had been eating (like stripped bark or chewed leaves), homes (spider webs, nests, etc.) and eggs. We looked for signs of real animals (mostly dogs and rodents in this suburban park, although we did find a tree stripped of bark, so it’s possible a deer has also been there – I’ve seen them a mile away from this park), but also “signs that a dinosaur had been in our woods”.
I found pictures of items online, printed and laminated them, and hid them in the woods. We found t-rex footprints, sauropod footprints, dinosaur poop (really a picture of crocodile dung), dinosaur eggs (a photo of an alligator nest), a photo of chewed up leaves, and a photo of stripped bark. (Here’s a pdf of the photos I used, but again, I don’t have copyright privileges for these images, so would encourage you to find your own.)
I wanted to take the kids to a clearing in the woods, but when I checked it before class, I found that there was a lot of trash there. I took the kids there anyway, and used it as an opportunity to talk about the fact that animals sometimes leave waste behind, because they can’t help it. But, we as humans can choose to leave no trace – picking up and carrying out all our trash. We cleaned up the clearing before returning to the classroom.
In circle time, you’ll discover that you have some kids who know next to nothing about dinosaurs, and others that know more than most adults! There’s a few messages that should be made clear to all.
- First, dinosaurs are extinct. They lived a really long time ago, but they are not alive now. The closest thing we really will see is a crocodile or an alligator, although birds are also descendants of dinosaurs.
- They weren’t ALL really big. Some dinosaurs were the size of a chicken.
- The way we know about dinosaurs is by finding and digging up bones and fossil evidence, and then attempting to assemble them into full skeletons and gather data about things like what they ate, how they walked, and so on.
- When talking about dinosaurs, it’s pretty hard to avoid the idea that some dinosaurs lived by eating other dinosaurs. Parents can sometimes get skittish about the “violence” of dinosaurs, especially since movies make millions of dollars by showcasing this violence. But you can also be pretty matter of fact about it. Just as we can say “frogs eat bugs” or “eagles eat mice”, we can address that carnivorous dinosaurs ate other dinosaurs.
Rhythm Game: We asked kids to tell us the name of a kind of dinosaur, then we clapped the syllables, from t-rex to pach-y-ceph-a-lo-saur-us.
We talked about the big ideas (above) and read Digging Up Dinosaurs (see below)
In closing circle, we read When Dinosaurs Came with Everything.
There must be hundreds of children’s books about dinosaurs! Believe me, I read most of them when my son was three… we’d walk to the library twice a week and bring home a giant stack of nothing but dinosaur books. (If you live in King County, and you don’t know how to go online and put books on hold for pick up at your local library, go to the library now and learn how!!! It’s just as easy as ordering from Amazon… go online to www.kcls.org, search for any book you want, place a hold on it, and in about 2 – 4 days, you’ll get an email saying it’s ready for pick-up at the library branch you chose. In the library, they’re set aside on special shelves, and it takes just minutes to pick them up. We get literally 100’s of books a year this way, including almost every single book I’ve talked about on this blog. If you prefer ebooks, you can also check out plenty at ebooks.kcls.org.)
Here’s photos of just a few dinosaur books.
Here’s some good overviews that I would recommend for varying age groups. They cover basic ideas like what dinosaurs are and how scientists know about them.
Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs by Barton. The best dinosaur book for toddlers, age 2 – 4. Simple primary color illustrations and simple text.
Let’s Talk About Dinosaurs by Teckentrup. Good for ages 3 – 6, although we skipped some pages when we read it in circle.
Digging Up Dinosaurs by Aliki. A nice overview of both dinosaurs and paleontology: now how bones are excavated and transported to museums. We’ve used it as a read-aloud for ages 3 – 7, but we skip over or shorten parts of it. (And it’s probably over the heads of our youngest kids.)
Dinosaurs! by Gibbons. A nice overview of dino facts, at a level preschoolers can follow but kids age 5 to 7 will also like.
Monster Bones: The Story of a Dinosaur Fossil by Bailey and Lilly. Good for 5 – 7 year old. Begins with a dino dying and sinking to the bottom of the river. Covers the fossilization process in detail, then the discovery, the dig process led by the paleontologist and preparing the skeleton for display. I may like this better than Aliki’s Digging Up, but it’s even longer – I would only read it aloud to first grade and up.
Fossils Tell of Long Ago by Aliki. Similar quality to Aliki’s other book – talks more about the fossilization process than Digging Up does.
In addition to all the non-fiction books, dinosaurs also feature prominently in LOTS of story books. Dinosaur Roar! by Strickland is not educational, but it’s one of my very favorite books to read aloud. Captain Raptor by O’Malley is entertaining space opera with dinosaurs. Also check out When Dinosaurs Came with Everything.
Again, there are LOTS of TV shows and movies that incorporate dinosaurs. Many kids love Dinosaur Train on PBS, and the Land Before Time series of movies. When my son was four, he loved Walking with Dinosaurs from the BBC. It’s done like a nature documentary, and it doesn’t shy away from the fact that some dinosaurs eat other dinosaurs, so it might be frightening for some little ones, but will work well for others, and they definitely did their research to get things as scientifically correct as possible. On YouTube, you can find “Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures” from cbeebies, which is also documentary style, but a little sillier / kid-friendly. (Both these shows do a good job of animating dinosaurs, and it might make your child think that dinosaurs are actually living somewhere on the planet now, so you may need to clarify that they’re extinct.)
There are also countless videos on YouTube if you search for “dinosaur songs for kids.” I have some of the ones we liked on a playlist here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLsMLXfBPSxoH237JM_1fC_VKrMgwNVqLf
And be sure to check out a Psychological Explanation for Kids’ Love of Dinosaurs