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Why dinosaurs are a great tool for teaching in the early years

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Dinosaurs are a popular topic for children of all ages. These incredible creatures spark children’s imagination and curiosity, and they offer endless learning opportunities.

We speak to Fiona Brell of the Australian Museum about what makes them a great teaching tool and provide 6 ideas for dinosaur play to inspire you.


When children follow their interests they are more likely to maintain attention and ask questions.

And dinosaurs provoke so many questions!

  • Dinosaurs can be used to spark conversions around difficult and complex topics such as time/history, death/extinction, evolution, and environmental issues.
  • They teach children that we don’t know everything about our world – humans are still learning and exploring.
  • Because adults don’t have all the answers about dinosaurs, children can confidently offer their own theories.
  • Dinosaurs encourage research, reflection and creative ideas. Educators can follow children’s interest in dinosaurs and take advantage of teachable moments.

“Palaeontologists learn about the behaviours of dinosaurs through studying their fossilised features (adaptations) and comparing them with those of animals living today,” says Fiona Brell, Education Project Officer at the Australian Museum. “So, through dinosaur fossils, children also learn about living animals. The often-larger features of dinosaurs can mean that it is a more practical way to understand the features of smaller living animals.”

Connections to The Early Years Learning Framework

Outcome 1: Children are connected with and contribute to their world

Dinosaurs teach children about nature, different landscapes, and the importance of a sustainable environment. Educators can talk about where dinosaurs lived and what they needed to survive.

Dinosaurs are often associated with rough play, which presents opportunities for discussions about fairness and respect. Not all dinosaurs were ferocious meat-eaters, many only ate plants. Dinosaurs were diverse, just like people are.

“Dinosaurs present an exciting challenge for young children,” says Fiona. “Through dinosaurs they investigate their own ideas, feel confident to get up close to them (as they are not alive) and through evidence ponder on how the world might have been.”

Outcome 2: Children are confident and involved learners

Dinosaurs encourage children’s dispositions for learning. They were magnificent and it is almost impossible not to be curious about them. Children will want to know more about them and will facilitate their own discovery.

Dinosaurs is an excellent topic for project work that can be guided by the children’s interests. Children can find answers to their questions by researching and investigating. They will connect with the places where dinosaurs lived and the natural materials that were in their environment.

Outcome 3: Children are effective communicators

The story of dinosaurs is almost unbelievable – it is better than fiction! When children hear and tell their own stories they strengthen their oral communication and listening skills. Dinosaurs provoke conversations and social interactions.

Project work helps children engage with a wide range of texts. The answers to their questions can be found in books, from picture books to encyclopaedias. Children can also use videos and the Internet to access information and investigate ideas.

6 Ideas for Dinosaur Play

“There are plenty of dinosaur activities that can implemented with young children to develop scientific and creative skills, language skills and more,” says Fiona. “Dinosaurs existed in all shapes and sizes and moved in a variety of ways. Through small world and role-play children can re-enact ideas about how they moved and behaved, and create new stories and ideas, a creative skill important for a scientist today.”

1. Make your own bones
These dino bones look like the real thing! Mold them out of salt dough: two cups of flour, one cup of salt, one cup of water. Bake in an oven at 120 degrees Celsius. The bones will become hard and can be played with.

2. Cave construction
Use large blocks to build caves for dinosaurs to live in. The dinos can even smash them into pieces. Large block construction is a physical activity that develops problem-solving and STEM skills. Children can work individually or collaborate in groups.

3. Dinosaur dramatic play
Think beyond small world play and help children imagine they are real-life dinosaurs. What type of dinosaur does each child want to be? What will they look like and how will they move? Provide recycled props to instigate play.

4. Dinosaur treasure hunt
Hide toy dinosaurs around the classroom or outside area. This treasure hunt will delight children of all ages. Hide them in visible places for toddlers and in challenging locations for preschoolers. Encourage small groups of children to hide dinosaurs for each other.

5. Dinosaur songs
Children can expand their vocabulary and knowledge about dinosaurs through music. Incorporate instruments or provide a space for dancing and stomping. Try these dinosaur-themed songs:

6. Dig into facts about Australian dinosaurs

Australia had a unique and diverse range of dinosaurs. Most Australian dinosaurs come from the eastern half of Australia (Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria) although isolated dinosaur bones have been found in Western Australia and South Australia.

Share some exciting facts about Australian dinosaurs using material from the Australian Museum’s Australian Dinosaurs fact sheets.

 

Tyrannosaurs – Meet the Family

This summer, the Australian Museum in Sydney features the world’s most feared dinosaur, Tyrannosaurus rex. The exhibition features a collection of tyrannosaur skeletons, skulls, fossil eggs and coprolites (fossilised dinosaur dung – the key to understanding dinosaurs’ diets!).

“At the Museum, we have created learning journeys to help educators teach certain topics, and a pre-school specific dinosaurs learning journey will be available very soon,” says Fiona.

More info about the Tyrannosaurus exhibition can be found via Australian Museum.

The museum’s January school holiday program features activities with an arts and science focus, including Prehistoric Playground (AM only) where children can help the Museum’s palaeontologists excavate and clean a real 75-million-year-old fossil, colour a dinosaur and see it come to life on the Museum’s 9m projector and discover the plants and animals that used to live in a Jurassic swamp only a few hours from Sydney.

Image via the Australian Museum.

 


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