Preschool dinosaur activities

Ideas for inspiring pretend play

© 2008 Parenting Science, all rights reserved

These preschool dinosaur activities present kids with a thought experiment:

If you were given a living dinosaur (or other prehistoric animal) to take care of, what would you do?

There are no rules, and kids can use a variety of props to bring their ideas to life. The goal is to get kids to use their imaginations and practice problem-solving.

Materials

  • Toy creature(s), identifiable by species OR general type
  • Objects for building a creature habitat

Use a variety of items from the toy box, nature, or the recycling bin:

  • blocks
  • cardboard boxes, tubes, canisters, egg cartons
  • bowls (for ponds)
  • sand, clay, rocks, moss, leaves, conifer needles
  • cotton balls (for snow)

Preparation

Learn more about the creature(s) to be featured in the activity. What did they eat? How did they move? Do scientists think they lived alone or in groups? For recommended resources, click here.

Stimulating play

“What if you had a real (insert creature name here) to take care of?”

For younger kids, tackling this problem may consist of making a crude creature habitat, and, possibly, considering the animal’s needs for food and water.

Older kids might confront more complicated challenges, like figuring out how to subdue a dangerous, injured dinosaur so it can get medical treatment.

Leave kids free to develop their own scenarios, but be ready to participate.

You can stimulate play by asking questions.

  • What should you feed your creature?
  • Where will it sleep?
  • What materials can the creature use to build a nest?
  • Where can the creature lay eggs or keep its babies safe and warm?
  • What can the creature do for exercise?
  • How can you keep the creature from getting bored?

Other preschool dinosaur activities

Expand play to include other preschool dinosaur activities. Here are some examples:

Feeding herbivores: Preschool dinosaur activities using plants

Collect food specimens for your herbivorous animals.

You can prepare your child by discussing what kinds of plant foods your creature probably ate. Then, take an empty egg carton to the backyard or park.

Search for items that your creature might like to eat. Some of them might not have existed during the time your creature was alive. That’s okay—-maybe your creature will be willing to try something new.

Take a small sample of each discovered food type and store it in the egg carton. Items for collection might include broad leaves, grass blades, berries, conifer needles, nuts, and flower petals.

And don’t forget pebbles! Some dinosaurs swallowed “gizzard” stones--stones that remained in the dinosaurs’ stomach, where they helped grind up tough, fibrous foods. Have your child test the effectiveness of gizzard stones by placing several stones in a paper bag with a leaf of lettuce. Wad and twist the bag in your hands for a minute, then open it and see what has happened to the lettuce.

Make tracks: Preschool dinosaur activities using plastic toys

Make dino-tracks by dipping the toy's feet in fingerpaint and stamping them out onto paper.

Alternatively, roll out some clay and have kids make impressions.

Have children examine the toys’ feet, and ask these questions:

  • What do the feet look like?
  • What shape are they?
  • Do the dinosaur's feet remind you of the feet of any other animals? Which ones?

Kids can keep track of their observations in a zoo keeper’s log (below).

If you have several different toys, you can also work backwards--beginning with the footprints. Make footprints for each toy, then ask kids to examine the prints and the toys. Can they guess (predict) which toys made each set of prints? Have kids check their predictions by making their own prints.

Take measurements

Weigh and measure your creature (and make notes in your zookeeper’s log). Lie the creature down on a piece of graph paper and trace the creature’s length. How many squares long is it? If you have a balance or postal scale, you can help your child weight small, plastic toys.

Make comparisons

Compare the size of your creature with the size of other, living animals. If your toy were life-size, how big would it be? Help kids understand size differences by comparing their creature to animals and objects they are familiar with. Would the creature be the size of a chicken? An adult human? A school bus?

Record observations in a zookeeper's log

Keep a record of your preschool dinosaur activities with a zookeeper's log.

Encourage your child to draw his own pictures and help your him by taking dictation.

Include your creature's footprints and pictures of its habitat.

You can also include specimens (like leaves) that may represent your creature’s favorite food or nesting material). Flat specimens, like leaves, can be pasted directly onto paper. Other materials can be stored in sealable plastic sandwich bags and stapled in place.

More ideas

Looking for more? These teaching tips may inspire you to create more preschool dinosaur activities on your own.

And don't forget to check out my preschool science activities page. There you will find the instructions for several experiments and projects, as well as science-based tips for presenting science to young children.



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