[This post is to accompany my online Family Inventors’ Class. There are even more dinosaur activities in my full post on Dinosaurs – Science Fun for Kids.]
Our vocabulary word for this class is excavate – to dig things up! Our tool of the week is a shovel. Our family fun activity is a great experience in sensory play, tool use, small motor and large motor skills. Here are just a few ideas for paleontology play:
Take a BIG cardboard box (or plastic tub or kiddie pool). Fill it with shredded paper (or pompoms, or ball pit balls, or laundry or whatever.) Toss in a bunch of large plastic dinosaurs. 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.
Fill a sensory table (or shallow plastic tub) with sand (or other sensory material, such as rice, beans, popcorn kernels, oatmeal, etc.) Bury small dinosaurs or “bones” cut from cardboard. Add shovels or spoons. Add paint brushes. Kids dig up the bones, and clean them by dusting them off with the paint brushes.
You could also use “non Newtonian fluid” colored black, to sink small plastic dinosaurs in the “tar pit” (see quicksand idea in States of Matter week.)
Freeze a large container of water with plastic dinos in it, then put the ice out on a tray with salt, water and pipettes and other tools for kids to help them excavate the dinos. 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.
Digging Up Bones
Instead of whole dinosaurs, you could bury “bones” that the child could dig up and then assemble a skeleton with. You could use bone-shaped dog treats, or search online for “Make dinosaur bones” for tips on how to make them using a wide variety of materials (e.g. model magic, plaster, chicken bones.) Here’s a salt dough option. Or just use a variety of pasta shapes, or cut bones out from cardboard in your recycling bin.
Assembling Dino Skeletons
Offer a variety of shapes of pasta (spaghetti, penne, bowtie, shells), glue and cardstock, and children can create a dinosaur skeleton. For ages 5 and up, they can look at pictures of dinosaur skeletons and try to re-create them on plain cardstock.
For younger children, 3 – 4 years old, it’s easier to have a picture of a dinosaur skeleton that they glue shapes onto. We printed out materials from Prekinders.
For our Challenge Activity, we used cardboard, straws and string to build a cardboard dinosaur finger, and talked about how scientists build models to understand how things work and modern film-makers might use animatronics to re-create these extinct creatures. Here’s the full tutorial on how to build an articulated finger.
Art Project – Masks
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, and Mask Spot.
Big Ideas to Talk About
- Dinosaurs are extinct. They lived a really long time ago, but they are not alive now. Reptiles, like a crocodile or an alligator are related; 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.
There must be hundreds of children’s books about dinosaurs! I list a few more favorites here. The three we read in class were:
Digging Up Dinosaurs by Aliki. A nice overview of both dinosaurs and paleontology: now how bones are excavated and transported to museums.
When Dinosaurs Came with Everything by Broach is a terribly silly story – when you buy a dozen donuts, you get a dinosaur for free! There’s a YouTube read-aloud of it. We also read the book I Am a Tyrannosaurus by Hines, and encouraged the children to act out different dinosaurs as the book describes. Here’s a YouTube read-aloud.
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 from 2006 (You can often find it on YouTube). It’s done like a nature documentary, and they 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. (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. Try searching for “dinosaur songs for kids.” I have some favorites on a playlist here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLsMLXfBPSxoH237JM_1fC_VKrMgwNVqLf
For Parents of Dino Lovers
If your kid is crazy for dinosaurs, be sure to check out a Psychological Explanation for Kids’ Love of Dinosaurs. Here’s a quote: “These kids can rattle off the scientific names of dozens… of dinosaurs. They can tell you what these creatures ate, what they looked like, and where they lived. They know the difference between the Mesozoic era and the Cretaceous period… For many of these children, that’s their first taste of mastery, of being an expert in something and having command of something their parent or coach or doctor doesn’t know. It makes them feel powerful.”
And, did you know that children with obsessions are actually smarter? “Intense interests” build knowledge and persistence, a better attention span, more in-depth information-processing skills, and linguistic skills. www.yourmodernfamily.com/obsessed-trucks-trains-cars-makes-kids-smarter