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.
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 two 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, 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 job,” 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 would call me and say, ‘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
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 from 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 have learned while creating an imaginary 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 parents are patiently willing to talk about dinosaurs until they feel nauseous, it’s very likely that others 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.
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.
Where to see fossils: