Learning With Dinosaurs
By Amy Kagey
My son Trevor (age five) has developed an
obsession that hits many children between the ages of four and seven
years of age: dinosaurs.
Coelophysis...these names are tossed around our house in the course of
normal conversation. I’m not sure if he was first introduced to
dinosaurs through TV or books or even Land Before Time videos, but they
are definitely now a part of our day-to-day life and I have learned far
more about dinosaurs than I ever wanted to know!
This interest has also shown me
how to trust that learning occurs when a child is allowed to explore his
or her passions without a parent disrupting the natural flow with
explanations or “teaching.” Here are some examples of natural learning
that have taken place during the dinosaur phase.
As Trevor approached the age of
five, I was beginning to be slightly concerned with my son’s “odd”
pencil grip and his utter lack of desire to write his letters. In my
mind, I knew that he was still very young but I could not help trying to
correct his pencil grip or demonstrating how to write “cat.” My efforts
were met with his justified refusal to write anything at all and I
decided to let him move at his own pace (which is what I should have
done in the first place.)
Months went by and he developed
the interest in dinosaurs. He spent many hours poring over picture books
and, being an early reader, reading them aloud to anyone who would
listen. After a while, we would find him lying on the floor drawing
pictures of the various species of dinosaurs. When he showed them to us,
he would proudly point out each type, “This is a Tyrannosaurus Rex, this
is a Stegosaurus, this is an Archaeopteryx” and so on. One day, he
brought me a picture he had drawn of a big, long-necked dinosaur and
under the drawing was the scrawled word “Brachiosaurus.” His passion for
dinosaurs had prompted him to write that long word better than all my
efforts to get him to write “cat”!
Trevor has also learned a lot
about science, of course, through this dinosaur phase. He has learned
what an omnivore, an herbivore, and a carnivore are and about predators,
scavengers, and prey. These concepts led to discussions about food
chains and life in the wild. We’ve also talked about the different
theories of the dinosaurs’ extinction and the evidence which makes
scientists support the different theories. We went to Fossil Park in
Sylvania, Ohio and learned about fossils and then we read about the tar
pits where dinosaurs would meet untimely deaths. This led to discussions
about the geographical locations of various dinosaurs and we located
them on a world map.
The questions about dinosaurs
soon exceeded my meager knowledge of them and Trevor learned ways to
find his own answers. I showed him how to search for information online,
how to look up specific names in glossaries and indexes of books, and how
to check his own books out of the library. These skills will aid him in
learning about any subject in which he will be interested in the future.
Just yesterday, he glanced up
from one of his books and exclaimed, “Hey, Mom, this says that
Dimetrodons were 29 feet long! How long is that?” We got out a 12-inch
ruler and marked off 29 feet across the house. “Wow, that’s really
long!” he said with his eyes wide. I think that was the first time he
really realized how big some of those creatures were. He spent the rest
of the afternoon mapping about the lengths of various other dinosaurs
and then measuring the lengths of items around the house, like books,
crayons, and his little sister’s ponytail.
Watching my son follow his
interests and learning about his world in the process has been an
enlightening experience for me. I have a new confidence in children’s
curiosity and their drive to learn and explore. As I write, Trevor is
developing a new interest in sharks and I can only anticipate what paths
we will follow and what we will learn. Who knows where it will take us?
Amy Kagey is a
life learning mom in Toledo, Ohio who enjoys experiencing life and
learning alongside her kids.
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