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Dinosaur-Themed Activities for 3-5 Year Olds

Use the below activities to ignite your child’s passion, nurture a weak area, or foster the advancement of a strength.
 

Learning Benefits

Knowing the process by which your child is growing gives you many opportunities to help support and advance development. Use the below activities to ignite your child’s passion, nurture a weak area, or foster the advancement of a strength.

 

Dinosaurs Unleashed Free! App

Dinosaur: What preschooler is not intrigued and fascinated by these massive, majestic, and treacherous creatures? There is something for everyone in a Dino unit! Note: some of these resources may be above the reading RI thinking level of 3-5 year olds. However, children with a passion are often interested in all sorts of materials, even ones that they just visually peruse, or that seem “beyond” their present abilities. Screen and support as appropriate. 

 

Dino Literacy: There are so many ways to enhance your child's language skills, his vocabulary, storytelling, reading, and syntax.

 

“Virtual Museum” Adventures: There is a wonderful array of adventures awaiting your child at these virtual interactives. Some require reading, so you may want to be a paleontologist’s assistant.

 

Fine Motor: Fine motor coordination, the strengthening of muscles in the fingers, hands, and wrist, is vital for children beginning to write. Having children use a variety of writing utensils is an obvious way to develop this skill, but there are many less obvious ways as well. For example, painting on an easel, building with LEGO® bricks, kneading play dough, and stringing beads will all develop children’s fine motor capabilities. For the Dino-obsessed child, try these fun additions:

  • Feed Me: Glue a Dino face on a small box and cut out a mouth. “Feed” the Dino leaves, sticks, or pasta “bones” with tweezers.
  • Dino-punching: Draw a stencil or silhouette of a Dino. Using a cork board or floral foam, “punch” out the outline using a push pin to poke around the stencil “cutting” it out. This will enhance not only fine motor, but also concentration and torpid grasp. Turn the cutout into a puppet with a tongue depressor. Let your child paint it with water colors, or add “bones” (e.g., small sticks or pasta) to show the skeleton. Check out free printables at http://www.paulstickland.co.uk/Free-Dinosaur-Downloads
  • Stegasaurus Patterns: Have your child cut out triangles from different colors of construction paper. Using a dinosaur silhouette (maybe the one from the “Dino punching” activity!), have your child add back plate scales in a pattern. How many different patterns can your child create? This is a great math activity as well!
  • Ice Eggs: Use Dixie® cups or blow out real eggs, leaving a small hole at the top to put a small Dino toy/bone in with water. Freeze (be mindful of water expansion). Have your child excavate with turkey basters or medicine droppers (great fine motor!), warm water, salt, kiddie knives (supervised), etc. Have your child hypothesize how he thinks the tools will cause change (e.g., the salt vs the warm water), to add more scientific thinking as well.
  • Dino Skeletons: Have your paleontologist flatten playdough, Model Magic®, etc. onto a plate (make sure it is at least 1/4 in thick). Create a Dino skeleton impression with pasta (spirals, rigatoni for legs, shells for feet, fettuccini for ribs, elbow macaroni for the neck, backbone, & tail). Make a hole at the top to hang once it hardens.
  • Dino Balancing: Balancing as a Dino was not easy! Help your child improve fine motor and learn first-hand about how the center of gravity works. Using different size marshmallows, straws, and toothpicks, can your child build a bipedal and quadrupedal Dino that can stand without being top-heavy (or having its head fall off)? Don’t forget the importance of the tail for balance! Compare how hard or easy this was. You can either follow up or lead with this online balancing opportunity: http://www.childrensmuseum.org/themuseum/dinosphere/games/buildadino/index.htm (be sure to check the modifications and stats at the bottom for balance!)

 

Dino Math and Thinking Skills: Preschoolers are learning not only how to count, but also how to identify each item as an individual amount. Some are even learning how to add and subtract. Support your child’s budding math skills with these activities:

  • Count and Create: Use stickers, stamps, or cutout shapes. Decide on a number of each kind (e.g., 3 green circles, 4 blue rectangles, etc.). Can your child construct a Dino?
  • Dino Sorting: Learn about carnivores and omnivores with this online game: http://www.childrensmuseum.org/themuseum/dinosphere/games/earlyreader/earlyReader_3.htm. Get a number of plastic Dino figures, use the clues you learn in the online game and sort by diet. How else might you sort? The goal is to support your child to think of categories beyond what tends to be their first option: color.
  • Dino Concentration: Put matching pairs of Dino figures under Dixie® cups. Let your child lift 2 as they look for a match, developing their strategy formation, memory, and matching skills.
  • Dino Egg Math: Take ½ of an Easter egg, along with a handful of beans (the amount will depend on your child’s skill). Have your child count the beans on the table. Without him looking, hide a few beans under the shell. Can he tell you how many are under the shell? You can also begin the game with hidden beans that you bring out. Can they figure out how many you added? Have your child write the equations.

 

Emotional Regulation:

  • Dramatic play is one wonderful release valve for children. They can create scenarios where they rule the world, and thus can act out frustrations and overcome incompetencies. To take advantage of what dramatic play has to offer, have your child enact the rage of a T-Rex, the fear of a Pterodactyl, etc.
  • Dino Play Scene: In a shoebox or plastic storage container, fill the bottom with terrarium rocks, plastic trees, Dino figures, etc. Encourage your child to act out scenes or situations between the figures.
  • Read the book Dinosaurumpus by Tony Mitton. Have your child notice the various emotions the different Dinos experience at various parts of the book. Have a Dinosaurumpus of your own! Have your child work on perspective taking by practicing taking on the emotions of the various Dinos at different points across the story. 
  • Puppet Play: Glue gun or sew button eyes on fleece mittens, along with a felt ridge for the boney backplates and create Dino puppets!

 

Dino Science: There are so many explorations and discoveries that await your child with these prehistoric beasts!:

  • Making Fossils: Making fossils is a cinch with this activity from the Magic School Bus!: http://www.scholastic.com/magicschoolbus/games/experiments/fossilfun.htm
  • Fossil Dig: Partially fill a large plastic storage container (shoe box size or larger) with sand or cornmeal. Give your child a magnifying glass, paintbrush (to dust off discoveries), a ruler, goggles, science journal (for recording observation or making drawings: http://www.seussville.com/activities/CITHLL Kit - science log_0.pdf), writing utensils, and specimen trays or bags. Hide Dino eggs, Dino figures (see if you can find the skeletal ones), cleaned and bleached chicken bones, or bone shaped dog treats in the sand or cornmeal. Have your child record his discovers with words, pictures, charts or graphs.
  • Jello® Excavation: An easy, but messy, dig. Using a greased Bundt® pan, make clear or light colored Jello® with small toy Dinos. Let your child explore how to excavate the site! More Paleontology activities: http://www.amnh.org/ology/index.php?channel=paleontology
  • Virtual Dig: Fun way to get to be a “real” paleontologist without having to slave in the hot sun on all fours! http://www.scholastic.com/play/dig.htm or http://www.sesamestreet.org/game_player/-/pgpv/gameplayer/0/a84724b6-9ddc-4602-b6d2-656e236c406f/dig_for_dinosaurs
  • Volcanic Eruption!: Fill toiletry caps (e.g. shaving cream cap) with ¼ c. baking soda and build a volcano with clay (good for fine motor in fingers and hand!) or upside down cupcake wrappers or coffee filters (depending on the size of your containers) with holes cut for the “eruption” to come out. Add ¼c vinegar (with food coloring) and watch the eruption (have a tray under to collect the mess)! More explorations:
    • Extend or enhance the science: Make it an experiment! Show your child three unnamed powders (baking powder, cornstarch, baking soda). Let your child explore the powders and take any notes they may like. Test the various powders and see which makes the best eruption.
    • Explore Colors: Give your child a tray with heaps of baking soda in it, as well as colored vinegar and medicine droppers. Let him explore color mixing and fizzing!
    • Make art: Put light colored paper under the “volcano” and see what art the “lava” makes.
    • See a virtual eruption online: http://kids.discovery.com/games/build-play/volcano-explorer. After entering the site, click “build your own volcano and watch it erupt.” Also check out: http://www.alaskamuseum.org/features/volcano/ and for gifted or motivated students, see if they can answer these questions correctly to make the volcano erupt: http://www.scholastic.com/play/volcano.htm.
       

For Gifted or Highly Motivated Children:

  • Stop-Motion Dinos!: This site is easy enough for your preschooler! Really! Next to the yellow question mark, click the “cars” choice for a drop-down menu of options. Select Dinosaurs and then choose which Dino you want on the screen. Drag the Dino(s) into position, take your first picture (the camera button on the screen), move the Dino(s), take your next picture, and so on. Hit play when you are done to see your movie played back! http://www.toytheater.com/stop-motion-animation.php Want to save it? Capture it with http://www.screenr.com/
  • Ancient Fossil Match: Very cool site that shows an ancient fossil. When you click on it, it shows what the animal it came from looked like long ago. http://www.fossilsforkids.com/Now_and_Then.html
  • Dino Dentist: For kids ready for more with addition and subtraction: http://www.ictgames.com/dinosaurDentist/index.html
  • “Research” some of these livable creatures with this child-friendly site: http://pbskids.org/dinosaurtrain//games/fieldguide.html
  • Dino Graphs: Put a Dino figure on one side of a standard balancing scale. Add pennies one-by-one until the sides balance. Chart how many pennies equal the weight of one toy Dino. What if you double the number of Dinos? Triple?
  • Aging Dino Bones: From the PBS series Newton’s Apple, learn how scientists were able to date Dino bones. http://www.newtonsapple.tv/video.php?id=905
  • Dino Comparisons: Stretch your child’s categorization skills by helping him realize how things can be categorized by more than one criteria. For example, try this: “A dinosaur is bigger than a ___ but smaller than a ____.” “A volcano is more deadly than a ____ but less deadly than a _______.”
  • Real or Make Believe: Expand your child’s knowledge of Dinos while challenging her understanding of real and make-believe. http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/dinosaurs/realormakebelieve/
  • Dino Quiz: Give it go! http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/kids/games/puzzlesquizzes/brainteaserdinosaurs/
  • Linguistic Dinos: Using the Dino Roots chart (http://www.britannica.com/dinosaurs/dinosaurs/study/act01.htm), write out the root word and its meaning in word or picture form, one word per card (e.g., the word ‘diplo’ with ‘2’). Have your child choose the characteristics of their Dino to name (e.g., a 2 horned lizard king might be a Diplocerosaurus Rex). Have your child draw their creation. Upload this photo to http://www.fotobabble.com/ and have him narrate a story about his newfound species. For a fun online version of the game (Save a screen shot and upload that to Footbabble as well): http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/dinosaurs/buildadino/
  • Cookie Excavations: Have a hard and soft chocolate chip cookie, and a hard and soft raisin cookie. Give your child 6 toothpicks and one of each type of hard cookie. Tell him the cookies must stay on the table (archaeologists can’t lift up their dig sites!). Using only their tools, he must try and excavate the chips/raisins without breaking them, while still separating as much of the “dirt” (i.e., cookie) from the chip/raisin as he can. After a few minutes, see how successful he is with the hard cookies. Repeat with the soft cookies. After another few minutes, see if he is more or less successful, and ask your child why. Examine the condition of the items extracted—were they whole or broken? Clean or “dirty” (with bits of cookie)? Was there a difference between the hard and soft cookies? Make a graph of the different cookies, and the differences between chips and raisins. 

 

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