Animatronic Dinosaurs

I teach a STEM enrichment class called Family Inventors’ Lab, so we always want to make sure that each week has a “challenge” activity which encourages kids to try tinkering around to create something interesting. (i.e. not just craft projects with a picture of something science-y)

We were struggling to come up with an engineering activity for our Dinosaurs theme. We were also figuring out how to do a good job explaining that dinosaurs are extinct, which might be hard for young children to really grasp when they’ve all seen movies of realistic looking dinosaurs walking around (often in anachronistic scenes mixing humans and dinosaurs.)

We realized that a way to address this would be to a) show them how movies make dinosaur props (it’s a combination of puppetry, robotics, costuming and digital animation) and b) have them build something related to this idea.

So, we decided to make a “robotic dinosaur finger / claw” (like this cardboard finger or  a straw finger:

We also told the parents to consider showing their kids one of these videos:

  • Building an Animatronic Dinosaur for Jurassic Park – 4  minutes … the words are aimed at adults, but the kids can follow the images
  • The Making of Walking with Dinosaurs. Part 1 is here: and you’ll find links to the rest in the “related videos”. There are 6 parts – it’s probably 30ish minutes. Does a nice job of really looking at the SCIENCE of what we know about dinosaurs (and mistakes we made in the past when we had less fossil evidence to work with) and how that guides their work in recreating the dinosaurs for the show. A good documentary for a 6 or 7 year old.
  • Creating the Dinosaurs of Jurassic World 16 minutes – contains scenes from the movie which might be too scary for some kids

You could also make more dinosaur parts or a dinosaur costume from cardboard: here’s some inspiration, from easier to hard and hardest.


  1. […] This is a fun, easy, hands-on project for kids, and it fits both our tinkering aesthetic and our pulling materials from the recycling bin approach. We could use it in either our “Skeletons” class or our “Robots” class, but we typically do it when we study dinosaurs as we talk about how modern film-makers might build animatronic dinos. […]


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