Thursday, June 27, 2019

Preschool Dinosaur Program - SRP

Preschool dinosaur activities

For whatever reason, my library system decided to go rogue a few years ago and break away from CSLP, so instead of doing "A Universe of Stories" like everyone else this summer, we are doing our own theme, "Dig Deep & Read".[Definitely one of my least favorite SRP themes, but I am getting to do some fun programs with it]. The children's librarians all voted on a slate of program ideas, then each programming staff member chose one or two of the ideas to write up a basic plan for, so we had a core collection of programs for each location to pick from.

I am all about paleontology, so when I was asked if I wanted to do the preschool dinosaur dig program, I of course gave an enthusiastic "yes!". Though someone else came up with the basic plan and provided info on where to get supplies, I made it my own and added some things and tweaked others.

Ages: 3-5
Time: 1 hour
Number: 30 kids, accompanied by 25 adults
Budget: ?? (most supplies we already had)

  • large tub or small kiddie pool
  • sand
  • items to dig for (real fossils, plastic fossils, small plastic dinosaurs or skeletons, etc.)
  • tarp
  • Lakeshore Dino-Dig Excavation Kit ($25), comes with 4 dirt sifters, 4 brushes, and 24 small soft plastic dino skeletons)
  • salt dough (several batches)
  • items to make impressions (large or small toy dinosaurs, skeletons from Lakeshore kit, shells, etc.)
  • paper plates
  • dinosaur rubbing plates ($11)
  • coloring sheets
  • paper
  • cardstock
  • crayons
  • markers
  • scissors
  • inflatable dinosaurs ($20), these hold up really well and are fairly sturdy
  • cut & fold dinosaur pattern from

Initially I had everyone gather and sit in the floor in the middle of the room, and I read Ten Little Dinosaurs by Pattie Schnetzler and Jim Harris. I love the artwork in this book and kids love the big googly eyes and silly rhyming text that counts down from 10-0, ending with "poor little dinosaurs, all extinct." 

It's fun and silly, but also introduces scientific names of dinosaurs, extinction, safety (don't play in the street), and a great segue into talking briefly about how there are no living dinosaurs today, but we know of their existence because of the fossilized remains they left behind: bones, eggs, trace fossils like footprints, and even poop! This was great to get everyone calmed down and listening, and nicely led into our different activities, which were set up as stations around the perimeter of the room.

Station 1 - Fossil Dig

We already had a large tub with sand and plastic casts of fossils and tiny plastic dino skulls left from a previous program by a former staff member, and I added the sifters, brushes, and a few of the skeletons from the Lakeshore excavation kit. I put a tarp down on the floor, and put the tub in the center of it, and let the kids have at it.

Dinosaur activities for preschoolers
(click on any image to see larger)

Station 2 - Make Your Own Trace Fossil

Trace fossils are signs of their existence left behind by living organisms that are not actually part of the organism, things like footprints, trails, burrows, nests, imprints and impressions, etc.

1. Get a ball of salt dough about the size of a golf ball or slightly larger and knead until smooth. (Salt dough: 2 C flour, 1 C salt, 1 C water. Makes enough for 10.)

2. Flatten until about 1/4" thick.

3. Use various objects to make impressions. I gave them tiny toy dinosaurs, the dino skeletons from the Lakeshore kit and large dinosaurs for footprints. (I meant to give them shells, too, but forgot to pack them).

4. Once you are happy with your trace fossil, gently transfer to a paper plate to take home.

5. At home, place on cookie sheet and bake at 250°F for about 1-1/2 hours, then let cool. Now your traces are preserved in "stone", just like a real trace fossil!

Dinosaur activities for preschool, preschool paleontology

Station 3 - Cut & Fold Dinosaur 

Prep - I downloaded the free file for the printable pattern for this simple 3-D cut & fold dinosaur and printed it on various colors of cardstock, including white. I provided markers, crayons, and scissors.

1. Color and add details to your dinosaur as desired.

2. Cut out along heavy black lines.

3. Fold on the dotted lines.

4. If desired, cut the short lines along the back, then fold back the little flaps for added detail.

Dinosaur craft for kids

Station 4 - Coloring

I provided regular printed coloring sheets, blank paper, dinosaur textured rubbing plates, and both thin and fat crayons, with some that were already "naked" set aside for the rubbings.

Dinosaur crafts for kids

Station 5 - Photo Opp

I brought my large dino skeletons (about 3' tall; purchased for $40 each from Home Depot at Halloween) for kids to pose with for photos. I also had a couple of safari hats from our dress-up collection, two plastic trowels, and several little signs for props. The dinos also posed for a PSA by themselves:

Dinosaurs didn't read, dinosaur activities for kids

Station 6 - Inflatables

I put out the inflatables in the middle for kids to play with, and/or to use in the photo opp. I highly recommend these, as they hold up pretty well. The ones I have were leftover from my son's 5th birthday, which was 11 years ago, and used for another library program 5 or so years ago. I store them deflated in a closet. They are super cute and the kids loved them.

Station 7 - Triceratops Footprint 

I have a pattern for a life-sized triceratops footprint, based on a real one. (Unfortunately, the original file is no longer available online and I did not save it.) I taped an outline of it on the floor so the kids could see how many of their feet could fit inside one triceratops footprint, or see if they could fit their whole body as one little girl decided to do.

How It Went

This took a long time to set up and clean up, but it went really well! I was initially worried about having too many people show up, but we had the perfect number for the space we had. Everyone seemed to be having a great time, and I got many compliments and thank you's from adults and kids, and one hug!

One little girl spent so much time coloring and designing her cut & fold dinosaur, she had not gotten around to doing the other stations except the sand pit, so I told her to go ahead and made a trace fossil while I started cleaning up the other stuff and I gave her some coloring sheets to take home. It's always interesting to see how different children approach each of the various activities, and which ones they spend the most time on.

Surprisingly little sand ended up on the floor, only two small spots (the salt dough ended up making more mess than the sand). I was a little surprised at how much people liked the cut & fold dinosaur craft, and one mom said she was having more fun making rubbings that her child (I noticed another mom really got into a colleague's leaf rubbing activity back in the fall, too. Maybe an idea for an adult or family program??).

It went so well that I honestly don't think I would change anything, except to permanently glue my big dino skeletons' hip and shoulder joints into position and attach them to some kind of a base so they will stay standing. They are not made that well and not that sturdy and people got frustrated with them falling over. I also wish I had remembered to take photos of each station before the program started. I love that it was a truly multi-disciplinary program, including elements of literacy, sensory activities, STEM, arts & crafts, and play. I would love to do it again!


  1. We did a dinosaur theme for our Kick-Off party, and our dino 'dig' was in a plastic pool full of shredded paper (we literally just raided the paper shredders around the library), and oh my goodness, the kids had a blast! Apparently it's every kid's dream to dive into a pool of shredded paper!

    1. Ha ha! I did think about that option; it would definitely be a lot lighter than lugging around a big tub of sand!