Our childhood is filled with many wonders and, no matter who that kid is, dinosaurs are bound to be in there somewhere. Who can blame them either? Dinosaurs are frickin' cool.
Many kids will often outgrow their love for prehistoric life and find their passion elsewhere. The reverse can even happen, hell, I wanted to be a racing driver at one point. Some of these kids, however, hold onto that love, all the way into their adulthood (again, yours truly as an example). If your kid has ever looked at you wide-eyed and said, 'I want to be a paleontologist when I grow up!', I think you owe it them to nurture this passion in the best possible way, just in case they don't outgrow it and really do fulfil their promise.
How can you go about that though? Surely it's got to be more than sitting them in front of a dinosaur cartoon and buying them a colouring book right? Well, let's go into some ways you can nurture your kid's passion in paleontology, with both options of what to buy a kid that loves dinosaurs as well as completely free ways you can support them!
Cliché choice, I know, but books have incredible value and are often cited by many as helping to start their passion. It's very easy to assume that kids simply don't read anymore, mostly because devices that have been built to capitalise on short attention spans are in abundance nowadays, but you'd be amazed how much your children would want to get stuck into a book if it's on a subject they care so deeply about!
There are plenty of great books out there too! As a general rule of thumb, you'll want to get books that have been published as recently as possible. New discoveries are being made all the time, which means that a book that came out 20 years, whilst accurate for the time, is now horrendously outdated.
Here are some great options for the younger, more beginner kind of crowd:
Is your kid a little older or more advanced? Try these ones on for size:
These are just a few options, but be sure to explore! There are many great educational books out there once you start down the rabbit hole. Who knows? Maybe your kid will get so advanced that they just start reading scientific papers straight from the source, jargon and all!
There is nothing quite like a museum visit. Seeing these animals as close to in the flesh that you possibly can is awe-inspiring. Just standing there and imagining this giant coming to life, knowing that it once actually did is simply incredible. It's even better when they seem even bigger and more magical when you're only around 3-4 feet tall and have an extensive imagination!
Museums always showcase their best of the best. They are also experts in public communication, meaning you see the most exciting fossils presented by people who can explain the science to complete beginners. Chances are, there is a natural history museum near you, where you can see dinosaurs, ancient geological features, sparkling minerals and an almost infinite array of other weird and wonderful creatures! Most museums are also free to enter, so feeding your child's passion when that passion is dinosaurs is, thankfully, one of the cheapest loves to support your kids in!
Having said that, there is plenty of merchandise you can get to supplement that. What kid doesn't love a dinosaur toy, right? The next two on this list should be taken with caution due to the variability they can have in terms of actual education, since there are many misconceptions that are perpetuated, but (if my own experience as a kid is anything to go by) toys are one of the ways that can help kids get even more excited about dinosaurs so that they go out and educate themselves about scientific accuracies.
If your kid starts telling you everything incorrect about their toys, don't worry, they're on the right track.
Again, approach this one with caution. If my posts about the scientific inaccuracy of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park are anything to go by, films, TV shows and video games can often make dinosaurs out to be something they wasn't. As to why, I don't know, because the real animals never disappoint!
However, media influence is a very powerful thing. Again, part of my inspiration to become a paleontologist was how much I loved Jurassic Park as a kid. Media and toys, whilst often inaccurate, often serve as the stepping stone to inspire your child into the forever career that makes them look forward to a Monday.
I dare even say that there are plenty of educational video games and internet videos out there around dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures, so let them have fun with it! Kid's don't just read books anymore...
Always Learn With Them
Maybe dinosaurs aren't your thing. If that's the case then thank you for giving this blog a chance! If that is the case, then odds are, it won't be long until your kid is teaching you about dinosaurs. Until then, be sure to make an effort to learn with them. Sharing your children's experience with something that they love is not only an incredibly bonding experience, but will also push them to learn more!
Making a start at learning about dinosaurs and paleontology in general will mean that you know which direction to guide your children in their educational journey. You can know what educational content to put them in front of (this blog for example, wink wink) as well as what they might need a little bit of help on.
Having someone share their passion can be this difference between having a passion blossom and your child feeling isolated in it, so always learn with them! You never know, you might find you build an interest yourself...
Ask Them to Teach You
I love an anecdote, so I'll give another one here. Ever since I was at school, learning another language has been extraordinarily difficult for me. I wish it wasn't, because learning another language is something I love the idea of, but nothing seems to stick!
Then I became a teacher at my old secondary (high) school. Here I primarily work as a supply teacher and I had to cover another teacher on her lessons indefinitely due to some time being taken off for personal issues...she was a French teacher. I felt up a certain creek without a paddle, especially when the kids were correcting me for the first few lessons. However, once the ball got rolling, I actually found French much easier. It sounds strange, but I found out that teaching something I didn't know about was the best way to learn it. This method was also incredibly useful in revising for my university exams.
This method of 'revision', it turns out, is a proven method of learning incredibly quickly. So, ask your kid to teach you what they know about dinosaurs! This is, again, a great bonding experience, but will also cement what they know and push them to learn more (since they probably quite like feeling as though they have intellectual authority)
Connect it to What They Learn in School
Furthering the educational side of things, we can look at what they learn in school. Paleontology is not taught at any point before college level (as far as I am aware), but paleontology is a mix of various disciplines, which are taught in school.
Again, going back to my experience as a teacher, in my particular school, we have what are known as 'golden threads'. This is when a teacher connects a their subject to a seemingly different subject when it is relevant, highlighting the importance and strengthening the kid's connections and memorisation. For example, a physics teacher may highlight the importance of maths equations in their subject or maybe a Spanish teacher will highlight the importance of knowing what a synonym is.
Teachers at school may not teach explicitly about dinosaurs (much to my dismay), but you can strengthen your kid's neural connections to subjects they might find normally boring and may be falling behind in. If they want to know how a dinosaur likely lived, they would have to learn about ecology, which is extensively taught in biology. If they want to know where to find a fossil, they will need to know about rocks and other Earth processes, so they'll need to listen in geography. Even maths is a necessary evil in paleontology! How do you think we come up with all those ecological graphs or can figure out how much a dinosaur weighed?
Junior Paleo Tools
Hopefully you've seen how cheap your kid's hobby can be (unlike my little sister's who's fleeced heaven only knows how much on ballroom dresses and dancing competitions in her time...sorry sis), so it isn't going to strain those purse strings quite as much to invest in something a kid that loves dinosaurs would absolutely love for Christmas or a birthday.
A fossil finding kit will be the first thing your child has that takes them out of the movies, books and museums and into the real world of paleontology. Sure you can buy them some toys or a T.rex notebook for school, but there will be nothing, and I mean nothing, quite like the look on your kid's face when they open a box filled with child-friendly hammers, goggles, brushes, hand lenses and field guides before they connect the dots and realise they have a chance to get out there and find some real fossils, just like their heroes!
Kits like this weren't around when I was a whippersnapper, certainly not of the quality they are at today. I've left some options which I think are excellent picks with everything they'll need (even a canvas satchel to keep their fossils in), along with an age range and a bargain price for everything you get! Earthlines also offer a wide variety of adult/professional tools if you feel confident that your child is advanced enough!
You're kid's got to put those tools to good use right? Well, now is the time they've been waiting for. They have the tools, they're expanding their knowledge and now they'll practically bite your hand off for the opportunity to turn their dreams into reality and find some real fossils!
If you can find information on a site that yields fossils near you, definitely take your kids out there for the day and see what you can find. If there is any bonding experience worth doing, it's this. Trust me, they'll remember this experience until they grow old.
Of course, how far you have to travel does depend on where you live and logistics could make this difficult. If you're struggling with finding or getting to a good enough area, don't lose hope. Google is a powerful thing. Finding areas near you as well as what you could potentially find couldn't be easier, so definitely do your research. If you're still struggling with an area or maybe you don't feel as confident leading something like this, get in touch with your local museum or university. They might be conducting excavations and, with ones that are very large in scale, volunteers are never in too much supply. You and your children can actually help with their research, you can give your kids the day out of their dreams and, chances are, such a big dig will probably put something exciting right in front of you and the family to marvel at, rather than wondering around looking at empty rocks.
If you are going to go out and lead a fossil hunting trip, I highly recommend you read our post on how to find your own fossils in the field. Such knowledge is vital and your kid may well be depending on you to help make it a successful trip!
I'll re-iterate once more that every child has loved dinosaurs to some degree at one point in their lives, but there are too many that 'grow up' and forget their dreams. Nurture their passion and they just might owe an amazing and fulfilling career to you!
This post contains affiliate links to the products shown. Should you make a purchase, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you.