Preschool dinosaur activities:
Prehistoric zookeeper and other games
© 2008 Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., 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.
Toy creature(s), identifiable by species OR general type
For example, I've seen toy versions of the following creatures:
• Tyrannosaurus rex
• various sauropods, like Diplodicus
• pterosaurs (not dinosaurs, but very cool)
Objects for building a creature habitat
Use a variety of items from the toy box, nature, or the recycling bin:
• cardboard boxes
• toilet paper tubes
• oatmeal canisters
• egg cartons
• bowls (for ponds)
• cotton balls (for snow)
• raw broccoli “trees”
• leaves and conifer needles
To prepare for these preschool dinosaur activities, become should be familiar with 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?
How to play
These preschool dinosaur activities present kids with a basic problem:
“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 and demonstrating ways that building materials might be used to make creature habitats.
Questions to pose
Depending on the child’s age and interests, here are more detailed questions to consider:
• How much space does the creature need to move around?
• What should you feed it?
• Where will it sleep?
• How can you keep the creature happy and interested in its surroundings?
• What can you do if the creature gets hurt or becomes ill?
• What can the creature do for exercise?
• How can you keep the creature from escaping from its habitat?
• If the creature escaped anyway, how would you catch it and return it to its home?
• Where can the creature lay eggs or keep its babies safe and warm?
• What materials can the creature use to build a nest?
More preschool dinosaur actitivies
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.
Dinosaur veterinary clinic
preschool dinosaur activities by creating a dinosaur veterinary clinic.
Making 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.
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.
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.
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.