Dwelling With the Dinosaurs
What would it be like to live with the dinosaurs?
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8
Begin your dinosaur unit by introducing students to some of the different dinosaurs to be included in your studies. Ask them to name dinosaurs they know. Begin a list on the board or a piece of chart paper. Then, introduce your students to more prehistoric creatures with this dinosaur-themed book list or Scholastic's online student activity Dinosaurs!.
Invite your students to imagine they are hatching from dinosaur eggs. What kind of dinosaur will each child choose to be? After they decide, give each child a half sheet of paper and a plastic egg. Have them write descriptions of their dinosaurs and then fold and roll their papers to fit inside the plastic eggs. Place the eggs in a straw-lined dinosaur nest (basket). Display the basket with pictures representing your students' dinosaur choices. As an exercise, have children "hatch" the eggs and match the enclosed description to the corresponding dinosaur picture. Extend this activity by encouraging children to research the nesting/parenting habits of their dinosaur families.
Living in the Dinosaur Age, your dinosaurs must observe many wondrous and scary sights! Have students create journals in which they record their first-hand observations and experiences as growing dinosaurs. To make covers, children can illustrate a sheet of construction paper with their dinosaur and a full-page prehistoric landscape. Help them fold their covers into thirds, picture side out. Then have them cut a stack of pages to staple into the middle section of the inside cover. Throughout your unit, encourage students to record their imaginary dinosaur experiences in the journals. When the journals are not in use, stand them open on a flat surface to display the prehistoric scenes. To extend this activity, challenge students to find out which period of the Dinosaur Age (Mesozoic Era) their dinosaur families lived in: Triassic, Jurassic, or Cretaceous, and arrange the displays accordingly.
What prehistoric delicacies suit your student's dinosaur diets? Explain that dinosaurs were either herbivorous (plant-eaters) or carnivorous meat-eaters). Then have students research the food preferences of their dinosaur's family. Ask them to draw or cut out pictures of appropriate foods for their dinosaurs. Have them glue the pictures inside hinged Styrofoam food trays, close the lids, and label them with their dinosaur names. Then challenge students to sort all the trays into two groups: herbivores and carnivores. Afterward, have them open the trays to check for correct groupings. You can extend this activity by having students describe the teeth/jaws of their dinosaur families.
Because their fossils have been found on almost every continent, we know that dinosaurs roamed much of the earth. Have children research the countries where their dinosaur families lived. Ask them to find these locations on a large world map and label the countries with their dinosaur names. Later, use the map to create a class chart showing the homeland(s) for each of your dinosaurs. Extend this activity by Including the size of each dinosaur on its label. Then have students find and graph which countries hosted the largest and smallest dinosaurs.
Celebrate your dinosaur unit with a Mesozoic Museum for parents and other classes to tour. Display the various projects from this unit, dinosaur pictures, and the labeled world map. If desired, add props such as plastic trees, greenery, and rocks to create a prehistoric setting. Then schedule tours for your museum guests, which will give students the chance to share their newfound expertise and show off their creations.
Extend this activity by having students prepare theme-related treats, such as Triassic trail mix, Cretaceous crunchies (cookies), and Jurassic juice (apple juice) for the museum visitors to enjoy.
The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins
Barbara Kerley's The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins (Scholastic Press, 2001) tells the story of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, an artist who lived in the 19th century-millions of years after dinosaurs roamed the earth. Waterhouse created the first life-size models of dinosaurs. With a few fossils and great vision, knowledge of animals, and artistic talents, Waterhouse Hawkins filled in the missing pieces, bringing dinosaurs to life for the first time in human history! Although we now realize that many of his models were inaccurate, Waterhouse's legacy continues to inspire today's dinosaur novice and expert alike.
Imagine trying to follow a recipe that included only a partial list of the ingredients and no directions on how to make the dish. These were the circumstances under which Waterhouse Hawkins was working when he began to create his dinosaurs. Invite children to take the Waterhouse challenge with this idea. First, briefly describe a few characteristics of a specific dinosaur, without revealing its identity. Ask children to use the information to create a picture, and then a small clay model, of a dinosaur (just as Waterhouse did in his dinosaur-building process). After they complete their creations, show students an illustration of the described dinosaur. How closely do their creations resemble the real thing?
Waterhouse Hawkins used his knowledge of animals to fill in the blanks for his dinosaur models. For instance, his iguanadon was patterned after the present-day iguana. Over time, scientists have discovered that many dinosaurs resemble animals of today. Ask children to invent imaginary dinosaurs related to animals of today, such as the "dogosaurus" and "parakeetadon" above. Invite them to make drawings of and write stories about their imagined creatures.
Dear Mr. Hawkins
What would people-past and present-say to Waterhouse Hawkins about his accomplishments in the field of paleontology? Have students write letters to Mr. Hawkins from their choice of the following perspectives: a guest of Hawkins's spectacular dinner inside a dinosaur model, a 19th-century or present-day child, a visitor to his Crystal Palace dinosaur display, a modern-day paleontologist, a teacher, or an artist. Assemble the letters into a scrapbook to use as a companion to The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins.
Mackie Rhodes is the author of two professional development books for teachers, Teaching With Favorite Kevin Henkes Books (Scholastic, 2002) and Teaching with Favorite Patricia Polacco Books (Scholastic, 2002).