London’s Natural History Museum has devoted so much attention and care to their dinosaur resources for teachers that there isn’t much point in deviating too much from it. I rely heavily on their excellent activities here, but since their lessons stick chiefly to paper, I’ve added in some games, crafts, and a paleontology experience, too. Despite all of that, what kids (and many adults) dream of is seeing an actual dinosaur, so it’s hard to beat Jurassic Park-style special effects. With that in mind, there are plenty of videos and some less-scary-than-Jurassic-Park options, too.
What Kids Will Do
In these explorations, kids might…
- compare their own bones to those of a diplodocus
- recreate a set of Glen Rose Trackway-style footprints
- sort and feed dinosaurs according to their diets
- play Dinosaur Math Battle!
- make salt dough fossils
- set up a paleontologist camp and go on a “fossil dig”
- and more
(Designed for kids preschool-1st/2nd grade, though many materials and activities might be of interest to older children and adults, too.)
- Dinosaurs: A Visual Encyclopedia, DK Smithsonian [Amazon | Bookshop] — An extremely comprehensive dinosaur book, with loads of impressive illustrations. It’s perfect for looking up dinosaurs you might be curious about. And it’s quite handy for finding dinosaurs that are the same size as your kids (should you want to know).
- My Very First Dinosaurs Book [Amazon] — As usual, these Usborne books are great, basic books for 3- and 4-year-olds (and not a bad basic reference for 5- and 6-year-olds, too).
- Flip Flap Dinosaurs, Axel Scheffler [Amazon | Bookshop] — A simple mix-and-match dinosaur book (by the illustrator of The Gruffalo) that also mixes and matches descriptions of the dinosaurs (so you get a custom description of your creation) in ways that explain, briefly and simply, the way their bodies are suited to their lifestyles.
- Dinosaur Lady: The Daring Discoveries of Mary Anning, the First Paleontologist, Linda Skeers and Marta Álvarez Miguéns [Amazon | Bookshop] — Mary Anning is having a moment with children’s books, with lots published recently and more to come soon. This one is good (though not great) and probably suited best to kindergarten+.
- Little People, Big Dreams: Mary Anning, Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara and Popy Matigot [Amazon | Bookshop] — The Little People, Big Dreams books keep things extremely simple and quite brief, so biographies like this will better hold a preschooler’s attention.
- Amazing Evolution: The Journey of Life, Anna Claybourne and Wesley Robbins [Amazon | Bookshop] — A very detailed and very good book about evolution. It’s useful here for talking about how dinosaurs’ bodies are similar to humans’ and other animals’, as well as where dinosaurs are in the evolutionary timeline. It’s a little complicated for a 4-year-old, but good for slightly older kids and useful, too, probably for any age at all.
- London’s Natural History Museum’s dinosaur activity guide for kids 4-7 is exceptional, and I’ve used and linked to it extensively below. Highly recommended. The NHM also has a guide for older children. Find them here. All activities marked “NHM” below are from this guide.
- Dino Dana, a lovely show about about dinosaurs for kids, with realistic-looking but not-too-scary dinosaurs.
Intro: What Are Dinosaurs, and When Did They Live?
Read: The Changing World of Dinosaurs (My Very First Dinosaurs Book, last page)
Activity: When Did Dinosaurs Live? (Body Timeline, Activity 1 NHM)
Children (and adults) can use their bodies as timelines to help visualize how long ago dinosaurs lived.
Read: In the Time of Dinosaurs, Big and Small, Where Did Dinosaurs Come From? (My Very First 1-6)
What Are Dinosaurs?
Activity: Is It a Dinosaur? quiz
Activity: The Longest Bone (Activity 4 NHM)
Print out this template and tape it together to build a life-sized diplodocus femur. If you’d like to print out a femur the sized of a human 5-year-old, too, for comparison, you can use this template.
Activity: Dinosaur Feet (Activity 5 NHM)
Print out a life-sized Allosaurus foot and compare to feet of other animals.
Look: A 3D diplodocus skull
Animal and Dinosaur Diets: Herbivore, Omnivore, and Carnivore
The goal here is to talk about evolution and how animals’ bodies can tell you about their diet and habitats.
Read: What Is Evolution?, Amazing Evolution: The Journey of Life, Anna Claybourne and Wesley Robbins [Amazon | Bookshop] 8-11
Flip Flap Dinosaurs, Axel Scheffler [Amazon | Bookshop]
Or Flip-o-saurus, Britta Drehsen and Sara Ball [Amazon | Bookshop]
Activity: Build a Bird (Activity 9 NHM)
Design your own bird, keeping in mind how animals’ bodies are suited to their habitats and diets.
Activity: Dinosaur Dinners (Activity 6 NHM)
Although this activity asks kids to use paper cards to feed paper dinosaurs the correct foods, it’s more exciting if you use whatever dinosaur figurines you might happen to have. Have kids sort them into groups based on their diet (if you need to look some up, the DK Visual Encyclopedia is great, or just use Wikipedia!), and then feed the figurines, using the papers or felt food. Or kids could line the dinosaurs up randomly, and you could look for clues about a dinosaur’s diet as you move down the line, feeding each one.
Watch: Walking in the Steps of Dinosaurs
The video is set to play at a graduate student talking about what you can learn from studying dinosaur footprints. Watch simply that with the kids, but the following tutorial deals with the activity below and doesn’t need to be watched with children (watch that beforehand).
Activity: Glen Rose Trackway dinosaur footprint homage
Print out six or seven life-sized set of grallator-style footprints and a life-sized triceratops footprint or two. (These are not dinosaurs that would have lived at the same time, but any footprints for this will do. The point is to recreate a set of fossilized footprints that tells a story: a pack of carnivorous dinosaurs trailing an herbivore) Tape them to the floor, with the carnivorous dinosaurs’ footprints at the rear. Many kids will simply enjoy comparing the footprint sizes and walking over them.
Read: King of the Dinosaurs (My Very First), or a T. rex section from your dinosaur book of choice
Watch: Why Did T. rex Have Small Arms?
What Did a Baby T. rex Look Like?
What Sounds Did Dinosaurs Make?
Activity: Dinosaur Math Battle!
Take whatever dinosaur dinosaur figurines you have and collect some dice. You might tape a ring on the floor with washi or painter’s tape, too. Have each child choose a dinosaur for each round and 1 each of matching dice (this is great with dice with 12+ sides). There are two ways to play this game:
- For younger children, have them call out the number they roll, then identify which player rolled the bigger number. (You might consider adding in identifying odd and even numbers, too.) The dinosaur whose player rolled the biggest number wins. (And gets to knock down the other dinosaur.)
- For older children, consider giving them each 2 or more dice. After they roll, they each have to add up their scores to find out who won. The player with the biggest total wins. (And gets to knock down the other dinosaur.)
Some other variations: Each player gets only one die, and the one with the biggest number wins. But players must then add both totals together to find out the repercussions of the fight: whether they were friends again after the fight (total > x, they’re friends again, total < x, they’re enemies forever, or total=x, they fall in love) or even/odd to decide if the losing player was seriously injured — anything to make the adding have an exciting result.
It helps if the referee yells things like, “CHOOSE YOUR COMPETITOR!” and “THE COMPETITORS HAVE ENTERED THE RING!” and “TRICERATOPS VERSUS T. REX!” As the winning dinosaur prepares to knock over the losing dinosaur, you might chant, “KNOCK IT DOWN! KNOCK IT DOWN!” This is all very exciting. The more it sounds like a wrestling match, the better.
What Happened to Dinosaurs?
Read: What Happened to Dinosaurs? (My Very First)
Watch: How a Single Asteroid Wiped Dinosaurs Off This Planet (caution: watch only if your children are not sensitive to peril)
Are Dinosaurs Still Alive Today?
Why Are Birds the Only Surviving Dinosaurs?
Fossils, Paleontology, and Mary Anning
Read: Bones and Fossils (My Very First)
Watch and Read: How Are Dinosaur Fossils Formed?
Watch: Journey Into Unexplored Dinosaur Country
Activity: Set up a paleontologist camp and go on a dinosaur dig
Watch the above video several times, pausing it to talk about what the paleontologists do each day in the field and how they uncover fossils. Then set up a paleontologist camp (perhaps with a blanket fort) and set out buried “fossils” (see below).
Here is the inspiration for a dinosaur dig with dried oobleck. Some added notes for this activity: For burying six dinosaurs in two small containers of oobleck, you’ll need about a full tub of cornstarch. The inspiration page advises waiting 2.5 days for the oobleck to dry, but I found that ours had molded over by then. A day and a half, or two days maximum, seemed right. You can leave the oobleck in the container you dry it in, if it’s plastic (and it helps contain the mess). The tools that worked best for us for excavation were large and fine brushes and nut picks (which were very satisfying for carefully removing “dirt” from small cracks and holes in the bones). If you don’t have nut picks, toothpicks will work, too. You might also set out dishes of water to clean the bones after they’ve been excavated. Here are the dinosaur bones we used. (You might be tempted to try this with regular sand or kinetic sand, and those are fine, but the experience with those materials is remarkably inferior. The oobleck is a clear winner.)
Following the dig, return to the camp for lunch.
Read: Inside a Dinosaur (My Very First) or any text about a dinosaur’s skeleton
One Big Family (Amazing Evolution 46-7
Watch: Secrets of the Stegosaurus Skeleton
Activity: Make dinosaur “fossilized” footprints (adapted from Bravery Magazine’s good Mary Anning issue)
You can try making these with Sculpey or salt dough. To make salt dough, mix 2 cups of flour with 1 cup of salt and 3/4-1 of a cup of water. Break off pieces of salt dough, flatten them, then stamp dinosaur figurines’ feet into the dough to make “fossilized” footprints. Bake them at a low heat (200-250F) for over an hour. Scramble them up later and try to match the footprints to the dinosaurs that made them.
Watch: The True Story of Mary Anning
Read: Dinosaur Lady: The Daring Discoveries of Mary Anning, the First Paleontologist, Linda Skeers and Marta Álvarez Miguéns [Amazon | Bookshop]
Or Little People, Big Dreams: Mary Anning, Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara and Popy Matigot [Amazon | Bookshop] (best for the youngest of readers)
Activity: What-dinosaur-are-you quizzes
From the Natural History Museum
From National Geographic
And then look up and read about your dinosaur.
Watch: SciArts: I’m Not a Dinosaur, I Just Play One on Stage
Watch: Toy Figurines: How It’s Made
Watch: CGI dinosaur videos that aren’t too frightening for younger viewers (Dino Dana is also excellent for this very reason)
- Gigantoraptor (mating dance)
- Ankylosaur (in terrible peril and having a Very Bad Day, but it survives)
- Stegosaurus (in a battle)
Read On, Grown-Ups
This site uses affiliate links. I might earn a small commission if you click through on these links to buy a product. I only recommend things I have used and love.