Growing Up With Dinosaurs
This page documents Ethan's interests in
dinosaurs in much greater detail than was possible in the article,
"Islands of expertise: Why do children become such
specialists?" published in the September, 2002,
issue of Chicago Parent. The article
condenses six years into a few sentences:
Turtle Island started at 18 months of
age. Dinosaur Island at age two. At two-and-a-half, Ethan built Train
Island and then returned to Dinosaur Island. Then, in succession, Ethan
worked on islands of bugs, Pokémon, rocks, bugs again, Pokémon again,
gems, dinosaurs again, and so on.
If you want to read some of the details of
Ethan's interests, just scroll down this page. You can read the
complete "Islands of Expertise" article
Age 1: Before the Dinosaurs
- When turtles ruled our home, we first discovered
Ethan's capacity for intensely passionate interests.
- Ethan collected plastic turtles and learned their names
and habits. He began to play out modest fantasies with his
- Ethan chose non-fiction books and videos about turtles
on our weekly visits to the library.
- Our family traditions of bathtime toys and bedtime stories
began, with turtles at the center of both activities.
Age 2: Ethan's Dinosaurs
- Dinosaurs began their reign in our home.
- Ethan's collection of plastic dinosaurs began to
grow. Maiasaura, the "good mother" dinosaur,
inspired nurturing play.
- We relived the storybook, Patrick's Dinosaurs,
seeing dinosaurs everywhere we looked.
- Ethan finally allowed dinosaurs in his bath
- Daddy told
"Dinosaur Juice" bedtime stories, about kids turning into dinosaurs.
Age 3: Living in the Land Before Time
- The Land Before Time™ video series set the
tone for Ethan's fantasy play. "Sharpteeth" and "earthshakes"
threatened Ethan's baby dinosaurs.
- Non-fiction books about dinosaurs helped inspire
Ethan's growing interest in the alphabet and reading.
- Ethan learned the name of every dinosaur --
even the new species from Africa and China.
- Daddy told dinosaur stories at bathtime, and Mommy
told bedtime stories about "Dinosaur Forest."
Age 4: Bugs and Pokémon
- Shortly after his fourth birthday, Ethan's dinosaur interest was eclipsed, first by a
passion for bugs and worms, then by Pokémon™, and then by bugs again.
- However, toy dinosaurs still littered the floor of our house
some days, and we sometimes lugged dinosaur books home from the library.
- Toy dinosaurs still ruled the bathtub some nights -- at
least until Burger King™ ran a Pokémon promotion. At bedtime,
Ethan studied bug and Pokémon books with his Mom.
Age 5: The Age of Computer Dinosaurs
- After a summer of bugs, Ethan's dinosaur passion
re-emerged, inspired by computer games and Web pages about dinosaurs.
- Ethan's entire collection of dinosaur toys was
excavated from under his bed, and dinosaurs once again ruled
- The Magic School Bus Dinosaurs™ computer
game and non-fiction books about dinosaurs helped fuel Ethan's growing interest in life before and after dinosaur
times -- including learning the names of the geologic periods (and of
even more dinosaurs).
- At the dawn of the new year, Ethan's turned his
attention to ocean life, especially deep sea animals. Dinosaurs
disappeared from our lives for more than a year.
- Ethan and his best friend invented imaginary Golpher
Lake, where Ethan's real fish and John's imaginary animals could live
together in (relative) peace.
Age 6: Dinosaurs Go Extinct!
- Ethan's passion for sea life continued for most of
the year. He also developed an interest in rocks and minerals,
which evolved into a fascination with gems. He developed quite a
collection of semiprecious and (very inexpensive) precious gems.
- Over winter break, Ethan's passion for Pokémon
flared again--and this time he was tightly focused on Pokémon
cards. He built up a large collection of cards and learned to play his
own version of the game.
- By spring, Ethan was drawing his own Pokémon
cards and inventing new Pokémon to inhabit his
- Dinosaurs stayed extinct through most of the school
year. Ethan's 1st grade science fair project was a model of a
coral reef (not about dinosaurs).
Age 7: Prehistory Cards and Golpher Lake
- Just after his 7th birthday, Ethan's dinosaur passion
was once again revived. He started drawing prehistory cards with
real dinosaurs--but he gave them imaginary powers they could use in
- We hauled up huge stacks of dinosaur books from the
basement and brought home another stack of adult dinosaur books from
- Both real and imaginary dinosaurs inhabit Ethan's
fantasies, which mostly take place at Golpher Lake.