Science: Why Do Kids Love Dinosaurs?

Science: Why Do Kids Love Dinosaurs?

And why it’s okay to be an adult who still loves them.

By Marcos Stafne

From Sept. 24, 2016, to Jan. 1, 2017, the Montshire Museum of Science is hosting Dinosaur Revolution, a unique experience that merges two awesome things: dinosaurs and mazes! This visiting exhibition gets kids to explore new dinosaur discoveries, experience dinosaur movement through full-body activities and imagine themselves as paleontologists.

I love dinosaurs. Always have. Always will. I flirted once with being a paleontologist (a scientist who studies dinosaurs), but an internship at a dinosaur lab in Arizona taught me that I was much better at appreciating and talking about dinosaurs than performing technical research on dinosaur footprints.

My enthusiasm for dinosaurs started with the smallest type of dinosaur that currently exists: dinosaur erasers. Each time I visited my local museum with my dad, he would purchase one small dinosaur eraser for me as a memento of our trip. This collection grew into my own veritable Jurassic Park, complete with reference books that I pored over for countless hours. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t quite quench my thirst for dino-knowledge.

So what was it about dinosaurs that make kids so passionate about prehistory? I asked a few other adults who know a thing or two about ancient life why they thought dinosaurs + kids = a perfect match.

Dustin Growick, team lead for science at Museum Hack and known to the world as @DinosaurWhisperer on Instagram, finds creative ways to imagine what would happen if dinosaurs were still living today:

“Dinosaurs are the stuff of which dreams are made,” says Growick. “They’re huge, incredibly crazy looking, and new ones are discovered all the time. They inspire awe. Any child who is curious and observant can dream up their own ideas about what these extinct creatures looked like and how they may have acted. In this sense, this child is ‘doing’ science.”

A paleoanthropologist and associate professor of anthropology at Dartmouth College, Jeremy DeSilva spends a lot of time thinking about ancient human ancestors and apes, but is no stranger to the wonder of dinosaurs — especially through the eyes of his children. “I think kids take their love of dinosaurs to a new level when they have this realization that dinosaurs are different from some of the other magical creatures they may have met in books and movies during childhood. Dinosaurs actually existed,” he says. “Science often gives us a world even more spectacular and amazing than our imagination can ever create.”

So, how can you keep up with your budding young scientist when exploring dinosaurs in a museum? As Growick notes, “Kids know WAY more about dinosaurs than their parents. How often are 6 year olds the ultimate experts on something?!”

DeSilva offers a few key questions that we can think about together with our kids. “Because we only have their bones, kids feel welcome and empowered to wonder what dinosaurs looked like and how they behaved when they were alive. Some great questions to ask are:

What color were they? How did they interact with one another? What did they eat? How did they move? Did they take care of their babies? Some of these questions we have decent answers to, but others we don’t and kids may feel like they can contribute to our understanding of dinosaurs as much as anyone else and imagine what they were like.”

And what about the “E” word: extinction?

“Extinction can be upsetting, but it is an important topic to discuss with children given the impact that humans are having on the Earth,” says DeSilva. “But, it is not all doom and gloom. As my daughter said to me the other day after I said the dinosaurs were extinct: ‘Dad, dinosaurs didn’t completely go extinct. Some of them had feathers and they changed into birds!’”

Experience your own Dinosaur Revolution this fall at the Montshire Museum to learn more about dinosaurs — and just try to keep up with your 6 year old! And remember, it’s okay to keep loving dinosaurs, no matter your age.

Marcos Stafne, Ph.D., is the executive director for the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, Vt. His three favorite dinosaurs are Deinonychus, Triceratops and Stegosaurus.

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