"Children have a great urge to learn about dinosaurs." - Jack Horner
Its almost a universal rule that children love dinosaurs. Some children even have an intense interest and can remember incredible names and details of each dinosaur. Some children are even able to identify them through images of the skeletons left behind. That intense interest in dinosaurs can be a fantastic confidence booster for children and improve cognitive development, according to Kelli Chen, a John Hopkins Pediatric Psychiatric Occupational Therapist. While most adults lose interest in the ancient creatures, it can be developmentally beneficial to help foster your child's interest.
One of my fondest memories as a child, was my first visit to the Dinosaur National Monument in Vernal, Utah. The wall-like cliff side, of excavated dinosaur bones was an incredible sight to behold. There are so many different species found in that same area. Some may say it is a goldmine of sorts. Not to date myself, but when I had my first visit, there were paleontologists still carefully working away on the other side of the fence, unearthing ancient history. I was around age six and still loved everything about dinosaurs. That trip solidified my intense interest, for life. Rocks and fossils are one of my favorite things to teach children, so our dinosaur theme has a special place in my heart.
The mural or wall decor will be one of the first things that students see as they enter the classroom, creating an atmosphere for their imaginations to thrive.
While some teachers like to create a volcano mural with flowing lava, I chose to make my own creation of the "Vernal wall", bringing the mural into the present and helping to set the stage for my Junior Paleontologists.
To make the mural, I used brown banner paper as the base. The 'Dinosaur Dig Site' sign, dinosaur bones, fossil plant and excavation tools, are blown up clipart images, cut and glued into position. I cut the greenery from green 12x12 scrapbook cardstock paper. Once everything was glued into place I drew in some extra details with brown and black permanent markers.
Since I like to reuse as much as I can, I had the panels laminated and attached them to the wall with Command Picture Hanging Strips. My murals and signs are stored in labeled art tubes, to keep them from becoming bent or torn.
The dinosaur skeletons are large enough to feel like
the real deal, to preschoolers.
This years dinosaur bones were made using three different large sand mold sets and Polyform Air Dry Sculpey Clay. I've had great success with the Sculpey Oven Baked Clay, made into math manipulatives and used in the classroom. I'm hopeful the new dinosaur bones will last through several uses, over the next few years. To make sure they hold up better, I sealed them with a Mod Podge matte sealer. To make one of each dinosaur set, I used two bricks of clay. Make sure you make them a few weeks in advance, so they have the opportunity to dry completely through and the Mod Podge has been able to provide a solid seal.
Excavation brushes in various handle lengths,
can help with motor skill development.
My scholars were very eager as I modeled how a paleontologist uses tools to carefully search through dirt and sand, for fragile fossils. The brushes I provide are in two lengths: regular long handled paint brushes and short handled craft brushes. The longer handled brushes can be easily held by the entire hand, while the short handled craft brushes give less grip area and help with more fine motor.
It is extremely important to model the entire process of preparation, excavation, research and clean-up. I review by modeling the process again, at the beginning of the second week.
The Dinosaur Dig Dramatic Play labels and various activities,
are from the incredible
Pocket of Preschool curriculum, found here on Teachers Pay Teachers.
The paleontology vests back decal adds the perfect touch to help my scholars feel like real paleontologists on a dig.
The dress-up props help students take on the part, so I made simple sewn vests with fat quarter pieces of fabric, that were sewn together using double-fold bias tape around the edges. The vest back decal is a simple clipart image, printed in black and yellow, on iron-on transfer paper. I have attached the vest back decal as a FREEBIE, at the bottom of this blog post.
Fossil research touched all the other subjects.
When my Junior Paleontologists dug up their fossils, they carefully researched their fossils through measurement, weight, sorting and even attempting to reconstruct the dinosaur skeleton, before drawing their findings. The scale is made by Learning Resources and can even hold the largest of fossils from our dig.
Dinosaur activities are placed in every center around the classroom, including STEM. These activities and more can be found in the Pocket of Preschool Dinosaur Dig Dramatic Play, and the Dinosaur Math and Literacy Pack.
Reading together as a class, to introduce the theme, can help students get excited and become more engaged in the activities.
Two of my favorite books to read during our dinosaur theme is the recently published picture book 'We Don't Eat Our Classmates', by Ryan T. Higgins and 'Groovy Joe: Ice Cream and Dinosaurs', by Eric Litwin. I have many of the books written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins, because they teach important life lessons to young and old alike. The illustrations alone are incredibly entertaining. If 'Pete the Cat' is a favorite in your classroom, you'll enjoy 'Groovy Joe'. The songs are just as catchy and my students like to sing a long.
A prehistoric small world sensory table adds to the dinosaur theme,
bringing the ancient creatures to life.
I don't always coordinate my bi-weekly sensory tables with the themes, but when studying dinosaurs, I make an exception. Plastic dinosaurs and fossils, along with plastic palm trees, make wonderful manipulatives for the imagination. The filler is blue glass vase gems and dried green split-peas (otherwise known as "green rocks" in our classroom).
Above the table is dinosaur picture cards from the Pocket of Preschool Dinosaur Dig pack. I laminated them and attached magnetic strips to the back, so they could be removed by my students and compared to the plastic dinosaurs.
The Junior Paleontology Vest decal image can be downloaded below:
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