As a teacher, I have learned that certain subjects are irresistible to kids. Year after year, there were children in my classes obsessed with certain things: pirates, superheroes, worms, bears, space, etc. Sometimes one obsession would overtake the entire class at once and soon our classroom would be transformed into a secret pirate hideout, space shuttle, underground rabbit burrow, or coral reef. Beginning now, each month at Global Mama I will be sharing bundles of engaging project ideas and book recommendations tailored to specific interests. This month’s topic is for all of the budding palaeontologists out there: Dinosaurs!
“Tyrannosaurus at the Coffee Shop” by Schmetz Petz
*First Stop: The Library
Look for an assortment of factual books with great, clear pictures, a few silly picture books, and possibly a longer chapter book for reading aloud. I have put together a group of great dinosaur books to get you started in the Global Mama Shop, which you can browse by clicking here. When you get home with the books, be sure to keep a few good ones propped up in your child’s favorite art & play areas for inspiration.
*Make a DinoGarden
Set the stage for creative play by gathering up some props: fallen branches, leaves, vines trimmed from a climbing plant outside, and smooth stones can all become a “habitat” for toy dinosaurs to roam. If the items are small enough, you can gather them together on a tray; if they are larger, clear a space on a table or on the floor in a corner of your child’s room. Alternatively, if the weather is good in your neck of the woods, bring the dinosaur toys outside and let them tramp through the garden. This is meant to be an open-ended activity; just provide the space and materials and allow your child’s creativity to determine how it is used.
*Dino Footprints and Clay Play
In this photo, I had set out trays with toy dinosaurs, balls of clay, dishes of water, and a few handfuls of leaves and whatnot that I picked up in the yard. Each child approached the materials a little differently: some used the toy dinosaurs to stamp footprints in the clay, while others went to town spreading clay all over the dinosaurs. Yes, this is messy, and yes, kids love it. The four year olds in my class spent a good solid two hours working on their dinosaurs. And please don’t bother cleaning this up all by yourself: put the clay-covered toys in a dishpan of soapy water and give your child a scrubby brush to help clean them off. It may not sound like it to you, but this is just as much fun for kids as the original activity! You can pick up a nice big chunk of air-drying clay for under $10 at any craft or art supply store, and as long as you keep it damp in an air-tight container, it will last for a very long time.
*Dinosaur Inspiration Board
Clear off space on a bulletin board or a wall in your child’s room to devote to Dinosaur-Mania. You can tape up your child’s drawings and stories about dinosaurs, as well as pictures photocopied from library books and printed off the internet. As your child comes up with questions about dinosaurs, write them down and include them on the board as well. Also, be sure to take some photos of your child when she is playing or doing any of these dinosaur projects – then put the photos up on the wall, too. Kids love looking at pictures of themselves! Just make sure it is low enough that your child can see it easily.
*Make Volcanoes, Big and Small
To make volcanoes, all you really need is baking soda and vinegar. But if you want to make it a bit more exciting…
- For small volcanoes, take a film canister (if you don’t use film, just ask at the film counter in your local drugstore and they will be happy to give you some!) and squash some clay or play dough around it so it looks like a little mountain with an open top. Have your child help stick a few little bits of moss, grass, or leaves into the clay. Now put your little volcano on a tray with a deep rim (a casserole pan or baking sheet also works well). Add a few drops of red food coloring or liquid watercolor to a cup of vinegar to make it look like “hot lava”. Put some baking soda in a cup or bowl with a little spoon. Now you’re ready to go! Let your child alternately scoop baking soda and the colored vinegar into the hole in the “volcano” and watch it erupt. Repeat until bored or until you run out of baking soda and vinegar
- For a large volcano, follow the same steps as with a small volcano, but use a large jar or canister and lots more clay. For a big eruption, you may want to set this up outside on a nice day, so you can just hose everything off when it’s done. Making a large volcano can also be a fantastic project for a birthday party – just be sure to have a few other adults on hand to help the children wash up!
*Sandy Dinosaur Signs
The inspiration for this project comes from the lovely Jennifer of The Write Start, who gave a close-up look at how she makes sandpaper letters with her son to use as an alphabet learning tool (Jennifer’s sand letters are pictured at left). The basic technique involves using glue to write each letter, and then letting your child sprinkle the gluey letter with sand. When it is dry, you have a wonderfully textured alphabet.
For the dinosaur-obsessed, why not write out the name of their favorite dinosaur in glue? Provide a bowl of sand for sprinkling over the wet glue, and gently shake off the excess over a tray or garbage can. Once it’s dry, you can add it to the Dinosaur Inspiration board next to a picture of the dinosaur. If it is hung low enough on the wall, your child will enjoy tracing the sandy letters with her finger. And there is no need to stop at one!
In fact, you don’t need to limit yourself to dinosaur names at all. You can make signs to label the parts of a dinosaur, name other plants and creatures that lived at the same time, or get silly and make a sign for your child’s bedroom door that says something like “Office of Miss Lily: Dinosaur Expert”
Using a book illustration or an online template like this as a guide, draw several dinosaur footprints on poster board, cardboard, or large paper. Cut them out, and tape to the floor in your child’s room. Invite your child to stand inside the footprint and compare the size of his foot with the size of the dinosaur foot.
To make dinosaur “fossils”, fill a container (like a pie pan) with damp sand and press it so it’s smooth. You can use just about anything to make your fossils: cleaned chicken bones from dinner (a little gross, I know!), twigs (they will look like bones once they’ve been cast), toy dinosaurs to make fossilized footprints, seashells, or anything else you like.
Have your child press each item into the damp sand far enough to make a clear impression. Lift out the item carefully. Now mix up a batch of Plaster of Paris according to the package instructions. Pour the plaster carefully into each impression in the sand, and let dry somewhere safe.
*Make Dinosaur Eggs
Take a hunk of air-drying clay and have your child ball it up around a small toy dinosaur until it’s completely hidden. Make as many of these balls as you want, and set them somewhere to dry in the sun. When they are dry, you can paint the “eggs” if you like. Later on, you can use them in a dinosaur dig, or just let your child smash them open to get the dinosaurs out.
If you have a sandbox at home, that would be the obvious place for a dig. If not, no worries! You can also use a sand table, or several dishpans filled with sand. You could even do this in the sandbox of your local playground – but if that’s the case, prepare your child for the fact that other kids are going to want to try it, too!
If you have made “fossils” or “dinosaur eggs”, now is the time to bury them in the sand. If not, you can bury toy dinosaurs instead. Little things make a big difference in setting the mood: give your child plastic shovels, little paintbrushes, and trays or paper plates for collecting the specimens. If you have a magnifying glass, that wouldn’t hurt, either. Don’t forget to take pictures! You can put the photos up on the Dinosaur Inspiration Board or use them in a little homemade dinosaur book.
*Take a Field Trip
If your child loves dinosaurs, nothing beats seeing some truly gigantic dinosaur models in person. Natural History museums, and other Science Museums often have fabulous dinosaur exhibits. If you want to save money, do a little research online and find out if the museum has a “free day” (usually one day each month), and plan your trip accordingly.