Growing Up





Ethan's Dinosaurs:  Activities

This page describes some of our favorite dinosaur-related activities. 

Dinosaur Fantasy Play

Sometimes I think that if all we did was play with dinosaurs, that would be enough.

Mother Maiasaura and her babies
1995 The Carnegie, Safari Ltd., Miami, Florida

Shortly after Ethan turned two, we visited a temporary exhibit called Dinosaur Families at the Field Museum in Chicago.  Ethan was both amazed and a bit frightened by the first thing we saw:  a life-sized mechanical Maiasaura dinosaur caring for a nest full of babies.

As we left the exhibit, we bought a plastic Maiasaura and nest.  After we got home, while I was unpacking the diaper bag, Ethan went over to a potted plant, pulled off a leaf, tore it into pieces, and fed it to the baby maiasaurs.  Feeding and caring for plastic dinosaurs became one of Ethan's favorite activities during the first stage of his passion for dinosaurs

During the first year of his passion for dinosaurs, Ethan developed three distinctly different styles of play:

As I see it, my role in all this is to provide a few props (and a willing actor) to help support Ethan's rich fantasy play. 

Dinosaurs in "Mud"

Perhaps inspired by the Land Before Time video series, 
Ethan's dinosaurs have spent a lot of time stuck in the "mud"
over the years.

Ethan making dinosaur footprints in green slime (also known as "green bubbly water").
We usually make the "mud" ourselves, rather than importing real mud from the outdoors.  Here are links to our two favorite kinds of "mud" for dinosaur play:

Play Dough.  This wonderful stuff can be used over and over, as mud or rock or almost anything else.  Here's a Web site with a bunch of play dough recipes:
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Slime.  Slime is a bit more complex to make, and it isn't appropriate for kids who still put things in their mouths.  Here are a couple of Web pages with recipes.  (The first site explains some of the science behind slime):
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Dinosaur Volcanoes 

Once you've made some slime, you can make a quick volcano
by draping a pancake of slime over the narrow end of an upside-
down plastic funnel.  Watch it slowly flow down the sides, 
swallowing anything in its path.

Dinosaurs threatened by a
"slime" volcano.
If you don't mind a bit of mess, Our Neighborhood Rocks Web site has two other ways to make volcanoes using baking soda and vinegar.  To see more, go here:
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Digging Dinosaurs

Although Ethan bought a few small pieces of real dinosaur 
bone in his fossil collection, they are much too valuable to 
play with.  So, when we want to play paleontologist and dig 
for fossil bones, we do one of three things:

Ethan excavating dinosaurs at the Children's Museum in Indianapolis.
(May, 1999)

The Children's Museum, Indianapolis, Indiana
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   Their current dinosaur dig is in the "What If...?" exhibit on the first floor:
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  They are working on an even bigger dinosaur exhibit to open in 2004:
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The Chicago Children's Museum, Chicago, Illinois
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   Here's the link to their "Dinosaur Expedition" exhibit:
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The Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, Fort Worth, Texas
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   They have a wonderful outdoor fossil dig:
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   You can even see a LiveCam view of the dig!

The Madison Children's Museum, Madison, Wisconsin
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   Here's a link to their "Dig Into Dinosaurs" exhibit, which 
   includes a fossil dig:
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The Orpheum Children's Science Museum, Champaign, Illinois
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   They have an outside dinosaur dig, described on this page:
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The Philadelphia Academy of Sciences, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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   Here's a link to their "Big Dig":
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The Utah Museum of Natural History, Salt Lake City, Utah
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   Their "Quinney Dinosaur Discovery Hall" includes quarry 
   where you can dig for simulated Allosaurus bones:
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Many museums set up temporary dinosaur digs for special programs
or for temporary exhibits.  Why not contact a natural history, science, 
or children's museum near you to see what they have planned for the 
coming year?


Dinosaur Baths

Even though true dinosaurs lived on land, toy plastic 
dinosaurs and water seem to be made for each other!

Ethan at the "beach" with his Elasmosaurus and dinosaur friends. (March, 1998)

Starting at age two and a half, Ethan loaded the bathtub with dinosaurs before every bath.  He had so much fun that we eventually found other ways to mix dinosaurs and water.

When Ethan was three, we sometimes survived the long winter days by:

  • Covering the kitchen floor with old towels
  • Placing plastic boxes of clean sand on the towels
  • Letting Ethan fill the boxes with water
  • Letting Ethan and his dinosaurs play in the boxes

Was it messy?  Of course!  But kids need to play with water, even in winter, and this was a great way to do it.

Dinosaurs at Bedtime

When Ethan was younger, we told him dinosaur stories at bedtime, making them up as we went along.  That's not as hard as it seems, because Ethan insisted we retell each story at least 100 times.

In Mommy's stories, Ethan and his friends visited Dinosaur Forest to meet the friendly dinosaurs and Ethan often saved the day when a hungry meat-eater attacked.  In Daddy's stories, Ethan and his friends became friendly dinosaurs by drinking small bottles of dinosaur juice purchased at the teacher store. 

These days, if we try to tell 7-year-old Ethan a bedtime story, he takes over after the first few lines.  He winds up telling the story that he wants to hear (which sometimes puts us to sleep).

Want to tell a dinosaur bedtime story to your child?  Here's some advice from a professional storyteller:
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Growing Up





Copyright 2002-2003 Eric D. Gyllenhaal

Ethan's Dinosaurs is part of the Salt the Sandbox Web. 
For more information visit the Salt the Sandbox home page.

This page was created on August 17, 2002, and it was last updated on March 31, 2003.