Children have a wonderful talent for easily slipping into a world of make-believe, inventing characters and storylines as they go along. However, imaginative play isn’t just loads of fun, it’s an important learning tool. Playing pretend helps children develop creativity, language, and social and emotional skills.
As parents and carers, we can foster this development by providing fun and engaging play spaces that spark the imagination and offer unstructured, open scenarios for children to explore and implement their own ideas.
Dinosaurs make excellent material for the young imagination, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a kid who doesn’t have at least a passing interest in the ancient beasts. From fossils to graphic representations, imagining what they might have looked like and the very different world they lived in really draws on the creative parts of the brain. Children may like to play with dinosaur toys and figurines, or even dress up and pretend to be a dinosaur!
Here are some awesome ways you can spark your child’s imagination with dinosaur fun.
Create a dino sensory bin
This idea works well for younger children, kids with extra sensory needs, and anyone who enjoys getting a bit messy. Sensory play helps build pathways in the brain, develops motor skills, and encourages ‘scientific thinking’ as they experiment with the properties of different materials.
Start with a tub, tray or other medium-sized container. You can use materials such as sand, rice, water, playdough, or even scrunched up tissue paper as the base. Add tools for scooping, digging and sculpting, depending on what material you use. Then add decorative elements, such as real or toy plants, rocks and other scene-setting items. Finally, pop in some dinosaurs and let your little one enjoy engaging their senses while they explore story-based play.
Build a mini world
Build on your child’s natural wonder and curiosity by surprising them with a prehistoric dino wonderland right in your house. Scale it for either toy play or a slightly bigger version for your little dinosaur to romp around in. Bring out your own creativity as you repurpose blankets, boxes, tissue paper, cardboard tubes, household objects and items from nature to bring your primeval world to life. Go as simple or as detailed as you like – your child’s imagination will fill in the rest.
Got a kid who loves playing with Lego? Dinosaur-themed Lego and Duplo kits let your child exercise their fine motor skills, practice following instructions, and explore limitless possibilities as they build and rebuild. Building bricks give children the ability to easily adapt the setting as the characters move through the story, reconstructing different parts to match the action.
For the child who loves to dress up, costume pieces ranging from simple homemade accessories constructed from coloured cardboard all the way to whole body outfits can take their role play to the next level. As they stomp and roar and explore an imagined prehistoric environment, they will exercise gross motor skills, narrative creation and creativity. It is also a great way to develop the skill of empathy as they imagine themselves in another’s situation.
Get handy with dino puppets
Puppets are another wonderful way to let your child express their inner thoughts and practice building worlds, creating characters and exploring different social scenarios. Ranging from finger and hand puppets to marionnettes, they work well for solo or group play. They can also be used to help boost your child’s confidence by setting up a little puppet theater for them to perform in. Have fun constructing your own puppets and theater with paper, cardboard and craft materials.
Make your own dinosaur fossils
Salt dough can be quickly whipped up by combining two cups of plain flour, one cup of salt and one cup of water. Knead the dough for about two minutes until it forms a firm ball, then roll it out. Have your child cut fossil shapes from the dough, then bake in the oven at 325°F (160°C) for around 30 minutes per inch (2.5cm) of thickness. Once the fossils have cooled, bury them in a sensory bin filled with kinetic sand, flour or playdough. Give your child a stiff-bristle paint brush and let them get to work ‘excavating’ and cleaning the salt dough fossils from the sensory bin.
This activity offers a range of benefits, from the satisfaction that comes with shaping and baking dough and the tactile experience of the sensory bin, to imagining what it would be like as a real archeologist on a dig site. Working together with a parent or carer on projects such as craft and cooking helps build a sense of connection and belonging, while increasing the child’s confidence, gross and fine motor skills.
Try some of these activities and watch your little dinosaur lover blossom!