What child wouldn’t love the chance to unearth the mysteries of dinosaurs? Here’s how I gave some preschoolers the chance to be paleontologists!
While talking about the ever fascinating topic of dinosaurs with a group of preschoolers, I introduced the term, paleontologist. During whole group or large group time, we talked about the fact that humans and dinosaurs never co-existed. So no person has ever seen a dinosaur. Everything we know about dinosaurs comes from the scientists who study dinosaurs, called paleontologists. Paleontologists find clues in the earth, like dinosaur bones and fossils,and from them, they can put those clues together to build their ideas about the dinosaurs. I show them examples of paleontologists digging and some of the tools they use in a book. (The Eyewitness books from Dorling Kindersley are a great line of reference books.) We talk about how they might find many different bones, and then put them all together to make the skeletons we can see in books and museums. I then let them know that they are each going to get to be paleontologists!
I remind the children that the paleontologists dig to find clues and then put those clues together. I tell them that they will have to dig for clues as well, and see if they can figure out what dinosaur we are uncovering.
The day before, I make sand clay (recipe at bottom) and cover plastic bones with it for the children to uncover. One at a time (or two or three at a time, depending on the size of your group) I have the children uncover a dinosaur bone using things like craft sticks and paintbrushes as their tools. As each bone is uncovered, I give them a clue about the dinosaur we are uncovering. Here are examples of clues:
This dinosaur was 20 feet tall!
This dinosaur had very sharp teeth!
This dinosaur had a strong tail!
This dinosaur was a meat-eater!
This dinosaur had little arms!
This dinosaur was very fierce!
This dinosaur starts with a T!
It is, of course, a Tyrannosaurus Rex, or T-Rex, as the kids seem to prefer. Pull out a picture or a plastic replica to give a visual. Just like paleontologists, the children have put together clues, to discover a dinosaur!
Dinosaur DigLater in the week, in the sensory table, I used the sand clay again, to prepare several “fossilized” dinosaurs. I covered small plastic dinosaurs with the sand clay, forming several small “rocks”. When they were hard, I put them in the sensory bin with some regular sand and scoops, as well as the paint brushes and craft sticks they had used as tools earlier. The children uncover the fossils in the sand and then break them open with the tools to find the dinosaurs inside! I did make the mistake of putting all of the “fossils” out at once, and they were quickly opened by the same two children. To spread the joy, consider putting out a few “fossils” every so often, so that different children can discover them throughout your free-choice time.
Combine either of these activities with a book like, Digging up Dinosaurs, by Aliki, for a great book activity!
These activities introduce the scientific concept of how information is gathered for studying dinosaurs. Language skills are built as the children learn the word, paleontologist, and discuss what paleontologists do. Fine motor skills are developed as the children break open the “fossils”. Manipulating the sand is also a sensory activity.
Sand Clay Recipe
(Use an old cooking pot for this project. The sand is obviously abrasive, and can damage the finish on the inside of your pot.)
Combine all in a pot:
1 cup sand
1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup water
Mix with an old spoon and place on a medium-hot stove. Stir and cook until the ingredients liquefy a bit, and then begin to thicken. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Mold or cover objects, and allow to harden overnight!