James Kirkland bought his first dinosaur toy at the age of 5 in 1959. He remembers it like it was yesterday.
He did not know then that his love of dinosaurs would lead him to a career as a paleontologist. From the day his father brought home a special gift for him – a dinosaur set – after a business trip, Kirkland has spent nearly 50 years traveling the world digging up fossils.
“Every time I find something new, it’s just as exciting as the first time,” said Kirkland, Utah state paleontologist with the Utah Geological Survey.
Many children develop a love for dinosaurs from a young age, but most of the time they don’t become world-famous paleontologists. Instead, it is declining, said Dr. Arthur Lavin, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on psychosocial aspects of child and family health.
Creating the “self” through dinosaurs
Children between the ages of 3 and 4 go through a period of hyperfixation, which Lavin calls “fantasy-based play”, where they take a deep interest in subjects like fairies, monsters, or in some cases, fairies. dinosaurs.
When babies are born, they don’t know they exist for the first three months, he said. For the first year, there is no clearly defined meaning of “self,” Lavin noted.
Around the age of 18 months to 3 years, children begin to develop their self-esteem, but are still confused about the world around them, he said.
“That’s why we call them the terrible twos because they know things aren’t how they want them, but they don’t know how they want them,” or how to get them the way they want them, Lavin said. .
At the age of 3, they start to master this feeling of being in the world and they want to try out ideas, he said.
Children then embark on this journey of creating this thing called “self,” and one of the ways they do that is by inventing things in the world they have created, Lavin explained.
Dinosaurs are part of an imaginary game
Dinosaurs fit into their fantasy world because there aren’t any alive today, so they’re kind of like unicorns and fairies, he said.
“If you want to have a make-believe world, which is that very powerful sense of developing a sense of self, dinosaurs really do the trick,” Lavin said.
Some children with a keen interest in extinct animals can recite complicated dinosaur names and facts from memory, which was a hobby for Kirkland.
“I was walking down the street and a neighbor who was having a barbecue called me up and said, ‘You have to ask Jamie about dinosaurs,'” he said.
Learning advanced words at age 3 and 4 is part of the natural development process, said Eli Lebowitz, associate professor at the Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut.
While it can be a challenge for adults to remember the names of a dozen different dinosaur species, it is easier for young children as they develop their language skills and learn new words every day, a he declared.
The power of play
Playing like a young child is also extremely beneficial for a child’s development and should be encouraged by the adults in their lives, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Children who participate in play see improvements in a variety of areas, including language, social development, and early math skills.
Adults also benefit when playing with their child, according to AAP research.
When adults engage in activities with their children, they can see the world through a child’s eyes and therefore communicate with children more effectively. Parents may also experience less stress because of their parent-child relationship, research shows.
If parents have a child who loves dinosaurs, Lebowitz recommended that they embrace the interest. Visit a dinosaur museum, read dinosaur books, or explore a nearby park for fossils.
“Harness the best interests of the child as a launching pad for many types of experiences and learning, even in additional subjects,” said Lebowitz.
When reality sets in
Most children lose interest in dinosaurs and their fantasy world around the age of 5 or 6, Lavin said.
The fantastic attraction of dinosaurs fades and children turn to designing a reality they want using the skills they learned while creating a reality, he said.
Widening social circles may also contribute to a decline in interest, Lebowitz said.
At ages 3 and 4, children care about themselves and their immediate family, but as they grow older they are interested in others and how to get along with them. he declares.
“While their parent is patiently willing to talk about dinosaurs until they feel nauseous, it’s very likely that other people will be less so,” Lebowitz said.
The magic of dinosaurs fades for many, but not for all, Lavin said.
“Some kids love the taste of this fantasy dinosaur world, and they never give up on it,” he said.
This may lead to research into how dinosaurs get sick (just like us), breed (not quite like us), and fly (definitely not like us). As Kirkland grew into an adult, his love for dinosaurs only grew stronger.
He currently promotes dinosaur tourism in Utah, helps regulate fossil excavations, and works with other countries to identify dinosaur bones.
“Understanding the history of our planet is very helpful, but getting kids interested in science is priceless,” Kirkland said.
If your kids are passionate about dinosaurs, here are some resources to support their interest.
American Museum of Natural History – Dinosaurs
American Museum of Natural History – Paleontology for Children
American Museum of Natural History – Educational Activities
PBS Kids Dinosaur Train
Natural History Museum – Dinosaur activities for families
Paleontological educational resources compiled by Ashley Hall, Outreach Program Manager at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, MT.
Where to see fossils:
Colorado Dinosaur Ridge
Colorado and Utah National Dinosaur Monument
Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry in Utah
Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historic Park in Nebraska
Calvert Cliffs State Park in Maryland
Siebel Dinosaur Complex in Montana
Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park in Nevada
Ancient Odyssey – take part in a paleontological excavation of sites around the worldD
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