There’s just something about preschoolers and dinosaurs. Maybe it’s the juxtaposition of tiny children that have been on this earth just a few years and the enormous specimen that left millions of years ago. In addition to being a fascinating topic of study, a look at dinosaurs serves as a vehicle for learning a variety of skills and concepts.
Get an old cheese grater (it’s a pain to clean wax, so use one you can devote to the arts) and let your little ones help you grate up those crayon cast-offs into a colorful assortment of shavings. (While you’re doing this, warm up your iron on a medium setting.) Next, fold a piece of wax paper in half, and have the children arrange the shavings inside the “paper sandwich”. Place the paper sandwich into an art towel sandwich (one on the bottom to protect your surface from wax leaks and heat, and a thin one on top to protect your iron from the same). Depending upon the age and maturity of your children, you may point out that they may hold the handle of the iron with you while you rub it across the towel covered wax paper, or, if that’s too risky, just put them in charge of counting. (Your total counting time will depend on the thickness of your top towel, but start with say 10-15 seconds.) Check to see if the wax has been satisfactorily melted. Add more time if needed.
After seeing an erosion table at a nearby museum, I decided to implement the same concept on a much smaller scale in my sensory table. There are three vital ingredients here: sand (you can buy a large bag for a little money at Home Depot), water filled spray bottles, and dinosaur figures. After placing the sand in the sensory table, add the dinosaurs and mix well. You want some to be buried, some to sit on top, and a few somewhere in between. Provide spray bottles filled with water so that the children can spray water to erode the sand and unearth the dinosaurs. Inevitably, they will incorporate some dramatic play as they create storylines involving storms, floods, or dinosaurs trapped in quicksand.
This type of activity gives children that time-honored sensory experience of mixing sand and water. That could be reason alone for doing this activity, but there’s more! Using spray bottles takes a great degree of fine motor strength and control, as well as hand-eye coordination for keeping aim while firing! Science and language skills come into play as the children notice and talk about the effects of the water on the sand; not only that it changes the texture and consistency of the sand pile, but that the sand can be moved by the force of water. This can also lead to discussions about the concept of erosion, or about how dinosaur fossils and remains are found as earth is moved, perhaps by erosion, exposing the prehistoric treasures!
A unit on dinosaurs hardly seems complete without talking a bit about fossils! The common way of using plaster of Paris to make hardened imprints seemed a bit daunting to me, particularly when I read through the warning label, not to mention the mixing, the mess, and a number of excited preschoolers involved in the process. For our dinosaur unit we made fossil imprints using baking soda clay. I simply made the clay the night before and left it in a sealed Ziplock bag. After reading our dinosaur book and talking about fossils in small group, each child was given a paper plate and a small ball of soda clay to flatten. Then they could choose from plastic dinosaurs to make footprints and/or large seashells to press in for a texture print. I also included a note explaining to parents that the clay needed to air dry at least overnight to harden to it’s “fossilized” state. (Hopefully, you can see the imprint in the picture above. If I had been thinking more about photography than preschool, I would have gone for a little more color interest here!)
The children enjoyed making their own fossil imprints, while they also gained science knowledge about dinosaurs, and the formation of the evidence of them that remains today. Language skills increased as they talked about their own creations and incoporated new terms, such as “imprint”, “fossil”, and “trace”. I enjoyed watching them experience all of this without having to chip plaster of Paris out of my carpet, or someone’s beautiful braid! Here’s the recipe so you can try it out for yourself!
Using a set of rhyming cards (you can find printable ones here or purchase a set at a teaching supply store) give your children one card each, and keep the rhyming pair yourself. Explain that this dinosaur is a rhyme-eater and loves rhyme sandwiches. Ask them to help you make a sandwich by putting two rhyming words together and feeding them to the dinosaur!
Try this activity in your sensory table for your dinosaur fans! In containers of various sizes, freeze sand, shells, plastic dinosaurs, and or plastic bones in water. (If your items tend to float, freeze the container half full with the water and the items. Once it’s frozen, and holding the items in place, you can fill the container the rest of the way with water and freeze again.)
Place these prehistoric ice cubes in your sensory bin alone or with sand. You can also bury them in the sand for even more fun! Add containers of warm water with droppers or larger containers with warm water that the ice cubes can be submerged in.
To create a dinosaur mural that involves all of your preschoolers, start with a piece of paper as large as you have room for. This art project on a grand scale gives the children just a taste of how big dinosaurs were. I covered my art table, but you may want to take it outside and use even more space! Draw the outline of a dinosaur with a Sharpie. If you’re not comfortable free-handing, use an overhead projector to transfer an outline you can trace. Provide a variety of painting tools with different textures. I used sponges, combs, texture rollers, brushes, print blocks, and paint brushes in a variety of widths. The children will often use their own fingers and whole hands to paint with as well. To accommodate all the different tools, I poured tempera paint thinly into the lids of plastic containers (sour cream, ice cream, etc.).
Photo courtesy scol22.
Here’s a simple game that children love to play! With a group of children in a large area, have one child stand, at least 10-20 feet back, facing the other children as they stand against a wall, fence, or other object that can serve as the “safe zone”. The children standing against the wall chant, “Dinosaur, dinosaur, what time is it?” The “dinosaur” replies with any “o’clock” time. The time serves as the number of steps forward the children take. So, if the “dinosaur” says, “5 o’clock”, the children take 5 steps forward. The children continue in this pattern until the “dinosaur” says, “Lunchtime!” At that point, the children run back to the safe zone with the “dinosaur” chasing after them. If the “dinosaur” touches one of the children, that child becomes the next “dinosaur”. (Reinforce to the children, that they only need to touch the child they catch, not push or tackle.)
Besides being a lot of fun, this game promotes health and physical development as the children run. Math skills are reinforced as the children realize that time is kept between 1 and 12 o’clock (you may want to have a clock handy to show them the numbers), and as they count their steps, using a one-to-one ratio. Social skills are supported as the children take turns, follow rules to a simple game, and work together with a group. This game can be adapted to meet other animal themes as the “Dinosaur” part of the chant can be changed to another predator type animal, such as “Alligator”, “Grizzly Bear”, or “Papa/Mama Shark”. [Read more…]
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!
To prepare for this song, I draw a picture of a dinosaur driving a car on five index cards. (The pictures don’t have to be perfect, the kids are generally easy critics in this department. Look at some dinosaur illustrations to give you inspiration.) I arrange the pictures on my pocket chart and ask the children if they think dinosaurs drove cars. We talk about this idea for a bit, and generally conclude that these are five silly dinosaurs. In fact, there’s a song about these five silly dinosaurs!
Five Silly Dinosaurs