Katherine Monk, senior producer at Kids Industries, explains why, as well as being fun, there are some major benefits and skills that preschoolers can learn from playing with dinosaurs.
My five year old boy has an obsession with dinosaurs. Growing up, he’s always loved creatures more than anything else. Anything that’s big and loud and fierce he will imitate – from your classic shark, lion and crocodile to the more obscure komodo dragon, scorpion and hooded cobra. But the one thing that has been a constant is dinosaurs.
Even though it was clear he was soaking up knowledge and enjoying dinosaurs, I’m ashamed to say that at one stage we thought it might be good to ignore his predictable birthday and Christmas dinosaur-related requests in place for something different, to ‘expand his horizons’ a bit. But when he started school I realised how much we have dinosaurs to be thankful for.
As an incredibly physical and active boy, he has never really been that interested in sitting down and writing, drawing, making things, though play dough was a bit of an exception. But he has always been very much into imaginative play and storytelling.
When we moved house at the same time as he started school, having just turned 4, we had hundreds of sheets of packing paper left over – and he suddenly started drawing. Over the course of a couple of months he used nearly every piece to draw a massive great dinosaur on. I stuck them up all over the walls and looked at them in awe. Up until this point it felt like we’d experienced his obsession verbally or through play, but this was the first time we saw the tangible application of something he loved, using a skill we had rarely seen. And I realised, the inspiration was real!
Experts seem to think an obsession for kids in general is good – because it gives them an opportunity to increase their knowledge, it can help them to persevere, and develop a better attention span and deeper information processing skills.
But what about dinosaurs specifically? After scouring the internet it seems there is agreement on several reasons why kids love them and there are some great benefits, too.
They can control a big bad beast safely – they’re the ones in charge of the biggest baddest beast they could ever know. It might also help them deal with other fears they have (harmless little spiders not included!).
They can explore science and nature – learning about dinosaurs and when they existed can encourage thinking about how life on earth began, the survival and adaptation of different species and their habitats, geology and scientific ideas.
They can expand their knowledge – there are so many facts to learn about dinosaurs. This kind of deep learning helps to develop memory and gives kids confidence (an all-important one-up on the grown-ups). As scientists themselves continue to make new discoveries all the time, so the opportunity never really ends.
They can be over-excited and that’s okay; behaving like a dinosaur takes skill, and pretending to be a hungry, rampaging dinosaur taps into all that youthful energy that needs burning. And, of course, active play is good for the body and the mind.
The element of fantasy is very important in early years and while we all know dinosaurs were real, it’s sometimes hard to believe isn’t it? Their fantastical nature gives my 5 year old a great opportunity to be creative and use his imagination. As he shares what he knows he is practicing language and communication skills, and he’s also having to make sense of a ton of information, so this is great to help develop critical thinking skills. How did dinosaurs go extinct? How do we know what colour they were? Why did sauropods live the longest? And why did the T-rex only have two fingers? Scientists still don’t really know the answer to that one!
What I think makes a dinosaur obsession different from other obsessions is that essentially dinosaurs are just characters. The biggest, baddest, fastest, toughest, most fierce – but they actually existed, they actually walked on this earth. That’s the best you’re going to get in the animal kingdom full stop.
These days we are surrounded by 3D dinosaur models that he has cut out and stuck together, LEGO models we’re not allowed to tidy away, collages and they feature on any birthday card he makes. I look at it now like a love story that I’ve been watching over the last few years. And without a doubt, I am going to be genuinely broken-hearted if and when it comes to an end.