Enabling Environments: Let's explore ... dinosaurs

Marianne Sargent
Friday, May 31, 2013

Using these historic creatures to inspire games and activities can help to build curiousity and imagination, advises Marianne Sargent.

Dinosaurs fascinate young children. The mystery surrounding these gigantic monsters that once ruled the earth gives them a mythical quality that opens up children's imaginations, fires their curiosity and gets them thinking and exploring.


Leave a dinosaur egg for the children to find. Follow these steps:

  • Use a very large balloon as a basis for making a papier mache dinosaur egg.
  • When it is dry, use a knife to make a zigzag crack across the middle. Open the egg up and put a toy baby dinosaur inside.
  • Put the egg back together and seal the crack up with an additional single layer of papier mache.
  • Paint the egg any colour you like.
  • If you have a sand pit, create a shallow hole, making it look like a large claw has scraped it out. Place the egg in the hole.
  • Use a large cardboard cut-out in the shape of a dinosaur foot to create a trail of footprints in the sand leading to and from the egg.
  • If you don't have a sand pit, leave the egg in the sand tray instead. Scrape out the sand in the same way and make a mess as if the dinosaur has flicked the sand out of the tray. Leave a trail of muddy footprints to and from the tray.
  • Fence off the area so that the children cannot touch the egg. Put an official-looking sign up informing the children that it is a no-go area and the egg should not be touched or moved.


  • Stand back and observe the children's reactions to the egg and footprints as they arrive at the setting. Plead ignorance. You know just as much as they do.
  • Allow the children to take the lead. Listen in to their conversations and intervene to ask questions to stretch their thinking. What do they think laid this egg? Why? Have they ever seen anything like this before? What do they think might happen next? What do they think is inside?
  • Leave the egg fenced off for a couple of days then use a knife to cut open the crack you left just beneath the surface.
  • Stand back and observe the children's reactions. Can they offer any ideas for what is happening?
  • The next time the children are out, open the egg slightly. Continue to observe their reactions and facilitate discussion.
  • Finally, again when the children are away, open the egg completely to reveal the dinosaur baby inside. When the children return to the setting and see the creature let them take the lead and make decisions about what to do next.


CL: Child uses talk to organise, sequence and clarify thinking, ideas and feelings.

EAD: Child begins to make-believe by pretending.


Set up a role-play archaeological excavation site:

  • Bury 'dinosaur bones' and fossils in the sand pit, sand tray or vacant vegetable plot.
  • Provide small spades, trowels and brushes, magnifying glasses, digital cameras for photographing finds, and clipboards and pens for taking notes.


  • Show the children some video or pictures of an archaeological dig.
  • Refer to the video or pictures and talk with the children about digging for dinosaur bones. Examine the tools. Do they have any ideas what each tool is for?
  • Join in the dig. Examine each item found. Do the children know what it is that they have discovered?
  • Provide information books and help the children use them to make connections between the skeletons and fossils they have found and the creatures that once existed.


CL: Uses language to imagine and recreate roles and experiences in play situations.

PD: Handles tools with increasing control.

L: Knows that information can be retrieved from books.


Share Bumpus Jumpus Dinosaurumpus by Tony Mitton and Guy Parker-Rees or Stomp, Dinosaur, Stomp! by Margaret Mayo and Alex Ayliffe and invite the children to move and jump like dinosaurs.


  • Read the book with the children. Look at the pictures and ask the children to describe how they think the different dinosaurs are moving. Can the children imagine what it must be like to be enormous like a dinosaur? What would it feel and sound like if a group of dinosaurs were all stomping around at once?
  • Use information books and toy dinosaurs to compare the size and shape of different dinosaurs. Can the children imagine how each dinosaur might have moved? Which dinosaurs would have been heavier? Which would have had the loudest foot falls?
  • Challenge the children to explore the setting and find some instruments and objects that they can use to make the thunderous sounds of dinosaur movements. Point the children towards items that will make loud banging and booming sounds.
  • Gather the children in a large space to move like dinosaurs.


PD: Moves confidently in a range of ways, safely negotiating space.

EAD: Represents ideas and thoughts through music and dance.


Get the children junk modelling.


  • Look closely at a selection of toy dinosaurs and ask the children to describe their features and colouring.
  • Supply the craft materials needed for the children to make their own model dinosaurs.
  • Extend the activity by challenging the children to make a landscape for their dinosaurs to roam in.


PD: Handles construction and malleable materials with increased control.

EAD: Constructs with a purpose in mind using a variety of resources.


Sing the song 'Five dinosaurs stomping all around' to the tune of Five Little Men in a Flying Saucer using actions as follows:

Five dinosaurs stomping all around (stand up and stomp)

Stamping and tramping in mirth

The ground below them shook (shake bodies)

But they didn't stop to look (stomp)

And one fell through a crack in the earth (fall to the floor).

Repeat with four, three, two and one.

Stomp, Chomp, Big Roars! Here Come the Dinosaurs! Kaye Umansky and Nick Sharratt (Puffin) contains a great selection of action rhymes.


Twelve-piece Little Diplodocus and Little Triceratops puzzles, shapes and colours game Dotty Dinosaurs, and counting and matching game Dinosaur Race are available at www.orchardtoys.com.


  • Use Ten Terrible Dinosaurs by Paul Stickland (Ragged Bears Publishing) and a tub of mini dinosaurs (www.elc.co.uk) to develop the concept of subtraction.
  • Use the How Do Dinosaurs series of books by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague (HarperCollins) to support the development of personal, social and emotional skills.



To support the suggested activity ideas:
What's hatching?:
- newspaper
- fungicide-free cellulose paste
- paint
- sharp knife
- large toy baby dinosaur
- digital cameras
- clipboards and pens.

Dinosaur dig: - a Dino Dig Excavation Kit, £21.95, and Box of Bones, £124.95 (www.tts-group.co.uk)

- starter collection of fossils for children by Dinosaurs and Fossils, £9.99 (www.amazon.co.uk)

- information books featuring pictures of dinosaurs and their skeletons.

Mighty moves: items that can be beaten to make a heavy booming sound, for example

- drums
- tambourines
- storage boxes
- pots
- pans
- wooden spoons
- sticks.
- Information books about dinosaurs and realistic toy dinosaurs.
Model dinosaurs:
- junk
- Sellotape
- newspaper
- cellulose paste
- paint
- selection of realistic or colourful toy dinosaurs from Eduzone


  • Dinosaurs by Stephanie Turnbull (Usborne Beginners) and How Dinosaurs Really Work by Alan Snow - for information.
  • Dinosaurs Love Underpants by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort - funny rhyming book offering an alternative explanation for how the dinosaurs became extinct.
  • The Dirty Great Dinosaur by Martin Waddell and Leonie Lord - Hal and his dog have to stop the dinosaur before it eats everything in its path.
  • Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs Story Collection by Ian Whybrow and Adrian Reynolds, audio version read by Andrew Sachs - six stories from the popular series on CD or downloadable audio.
  • Dinosaur Roar! by Paul and Henrietta Stickland.
  • Dinosaurs Galore! By Giles Andreae and David Wojtowycz.
  • Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct by Mo Willems.
  • The Dance of the Dinosaurs by Colin and Jacqui Hawkins.

Marianne Sargent is a writer specialising in early years education and a former foundation stage teacher and primary and early years lecturer.

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