The enormity of dinosaurs is bewitching for preschoolers. They have a hard time wrapping their minds around just how big these beasts were, and yet it is that fact that drives their fascination! When I talk to children about the sizes of dinosaurs, here are a couple of ways I demonstrate it.
Scaling Down. Give the children a scale model. I like to use a Lego man. I believe they’re about 3 inches tall. So if you assume the average male is 6 feet tall (I said average, so don’t feel left out), that gives you a scale of 1 inch=2 feet. So figure out a few dinosaur sizes using this scale. I tell the children that dinosaurs were so huge, I had to shrink them down to bring them to large group. I show them the Lego man and tell them to imagine it’s a big, grown up dad, shrunk down, just like the dinosaurs I want to show them. Then I use a tape measure to show how tall or long some of the dinosaurs would be in comparison. We’ll talk about a dinosaur and look at pictures in a book. Then I’ll remind them that the Lego man is a grown up. “So, if we shrunk the dino down to stand by this grown up, how big do you think he’d be?” Then I stretch out my tape, and have the children call out where they think I’ll stop, until I reach the accurate length. If you’re a real over-achiever, you could actually make dinosaur pictures or cut outs to scale, though I’ve been impressed with how well the children can imagine the dinosaur!
Our Class Pet. Another thing I’ll do when talking about dinosaur size is to research and find a dinosaur that would fit in our room, lengthwise (I’ve used the stegosaurus). I’ll talk to the children about that dinosaur, maybe even play it up as though I’m thinking about getting one at the pet store, and ask if they think it would fit in here with us. Then we’ll talk about how long the dinosaur is in feet, and I’ll suggest, “Let’s measure our room to make sure it would fit.” With a tape measure, I’ll have a child or two hold one end and tell them all that that is where the head would go. Then I’ll walk out to measure to the tail. Of course, I always play it up as I keep going, and going, and going, and “oh no, are we going to run out of room?”
In addition to answering the math question about whether or not it would fit, engage in some creative thinking and talk about what the dinosaur would do in your class. Would it be a jungle gym? Could it read stories? Encourage some scientific discussion as well and talk about what it would eat, how much it would eat, and where you could find that much food! Of course the children know that dinosaurs are “extinct” (a word they will quickly pick up and use with flair), and that we’re just pretending, but their imaginations will run wild as they get a visual reference for the size of these beasts!
I once took a group of children out to a second floor landing, and told them that our pet T-Rex would stand on the first floor, and her head would come up to our toes! The children stood for quite some time, talking about the T-Rex they could “see” and describing it. One gal even pretended to paint the dinosaur’s toenails while she waited for her mom to pick her up later on the bottom floor!
These activities will help children begin to understand the size of dinosaurs in a more concrete way. They’ll begin to see that dinosaurs aren’t just all “big”, but some were much bigger than others, and some were actually quite small. They will begin to make comparisons and learn to use a measuring tool, both great math skills. These activities also feed creativity as the children imagine and describe these prehistoric wonders!
For more dinosaur ideas, click here.
Photo provided by gerard79.