Every time I think about dinosaurs I feel the need to reread one of my daughter’s favorite books: Oh My Oh My Oh DINOSAURS! by children’s writer and artist extraordinaire Sandra Boynton. With simple pictures and just a few words of text, Boynton has captured exactly what makes dinosaurs so interesting to kids: they’re big, they’re spiny, they’re good…or maybe they’re bad, it doesn’t really matter because for the many toddlers and preschoolers who obsess about them, there is nothing more exciting, interesting, or fun to pronounce.
Adult often like to humor a child’s fascination with dinosaurs. We think it’s “cute” that our 3-year-old memorizes the complicated names of these creatures or that our 5-year-old can quote facts about them that would make a dinosaur expert proud. But it’s not cute at all. It’s important learning. It’s perhaps a child’s first foray into thinking deeply about the natural world and it could spark a lifelong love of science that could lead to a career as a paleontologist, scientist, researcher, doctor, engineer, or any of a dozen other science-related fields.
So why do kids love dinosaurs so much? Some experts believe it is because while they may be big and scary, they are also extinct. To a child, this makes them akin to imaginary creatures such as unicorns or gryphons because you can paint them any way you want, give them any type of sound you want, and make them look any way you want and no one can say definitively that you are wrong.
Another benefit of being extinct may be that unlike tigers or hawks or gorillas, you can never see a real dinosaur in real life. This has the effect of making them feel “safer” to a child.
In my own experience with little kids and dinosaurs, I think the hugeness of their skeletons is a big selling point. You walk into that museum, you see that huge skeleton, and it is awe-inspiring. No wonder kids can’t take their eyes off of it. I feel the same way.
A few years ago I worked with dinosaur experts Carl Mehling and Jason Brougham at the American Museum of Natural History in New York to write a book called Inside Dinosaurs. These two gentlemen are the wide-eyed preschool dinosaur lovers who never grew up. To them, dinosaurs seem as real as elephants or rhinos. Books about dinosaurs are an important part of a child’s library. From the aforementioned board book by Sandra Boynton to the nonfiction, dino-name-heavy books like the one I helped write, every child should have a chance to learn about these amazing creatures. Another great source of dino magic for kids are magazines. Magazines like CLICK and ASK have covered dinosaurs in their own unique way. Check out our dinosaur theme pack or subscribe to your favorite magazine to make sure your child doesn’t miss a dinosaur-themed issue.
If your child is one of the millions who can’t get enough of these prehistoric creatures, count yourself lucky. Take this opportunity to go to a museum, read magazines or books about dinosaurs, and go fossil hunting right in your own town. But most of all, remember to not make light of your child’s fascination with these creatures. It could be the start of a lifelong love of science.