For the little paleontologist

If you are a parent, chances are you have gone through, or are going through, or will be going through the “age of the dinosaurs.”  While G’s level of interest has not reached the great heights A’s and S’s did at his age, he still enjoys a good dinosaur story now and then.   I remember the pleasure in being able to recognize and rattle off their prehistoric and substantial names when I was young.  I see that same joy for large, multi-syllabic words in my boys as well.  They love being experts in their chosen field.

Below are a few of our favorite dinosaur books over the years.  I have limited these to a.)  the ones my own paleontologists genuinely loved, and b.) books which have increased our knowledge of the dinosaur world, whether the books were fiction or non-fiction.  In other words, I have not included any of the multitude of whimsical dinosaur stories out on the market.


The Children’s Dinosaur Encyclopedia has amazing artwork, detailed descriptions of each dinosaur family, as well as information on where the dinos were originally discovered.  My two oldest have literally memorized this entire volume.

T is for Terrible by Peter McCarty was an absolute favorite of S back in the preschool/kindergarten era. S checked this out of the library so many times I thought we actually owned a copy.   We still deeply love Peter McCarty for his gentle illustrations and sense of humor.  Although this is not an informative book, it helps us think about what it may feel like to be a dinosaur, and possibly understand our own feelings, too.

Sammy and the Dinosaurs by Ian Whybrow, as the cover shows, is about a little boy who carries his bucket full of dinosaurs with him wherever he goes.  Sammy loves to repeat the names of all his dinosaur friends.  Stegosaurus. Triceratops.  Apatosaurus.  And, of course, we do, too.

In Barnum Brown: Dinosaur Hunter by David Sheldon we learn some of  the tools of the trade, a little  history of paleontology, and about an amazing man who could “smell” dinosaur bones.  The unusual Barnum Brown discovered the now popular “tyrant lizard king,” Tyrannosaurus Rex!

Margaret and H.A. Rey’s Curious George and the Dinosaur Discovery is a fun way to introduce your little paleontologist to the tools of the trade.  George learns how to use a pick, a brush, a wheelbarrow, and also learns that patience is an important guide for a geologist and dino digger.

The very prolific Aliki provides us with one of the most informative books for 3-8 year olds on what it means to be a paleontologist.  From discovering a dig site, to carefully sifting through layers of rock and dirt, to hand wrapping each piece and reassembling it in museums, she gives little ones a taste of what really goes on.  Your reader will know how geologists, paleontologists, photographers and museum workers all work together to get the job done.


After all that reading I wanted G to get some hands-on experience and playtime.  We do have a purchased dinosaur excavation kit that he sometimes chips away at, but the real fun was when we made our own dinsoaur dig sensory bin.


Coffee makes wonderful dirt if you buy an inexpensive brand, and don’t mind the additional mess.  Children love the gritty texture.   We always have rocks about the house.  I threw in a few wooden beads and, of course, plastic dinosaurs from a dollar store.  Notice the dinosaur skeleton?


G has had a great time digging and sifting and brushing, re-discovering his dinosaurs.


S was even tempted to join him for a bit.  Of course, by this time, it was all about digging their hands in the coffee.

My hope is they never outgrow playing together.

Of Holly, Rice and the Winter Bin

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Holly, with its beautiful red berries, is a brilliant reminder that nature, and the God who created it, does not die off in the winter.  Instead, it is ever new, ever nourishing, ever green.  Admittedly, the evergreen, the oak tree, and the holly berries are all derived from pagan traditions, and yet, they inform our current traditions on the birth of Christ.  Holly gives us the red and green colors of the Christmas season, and inevitably reminds me of a Christmas wreath or a candy cane.  Besides, doesn’t the photo above just fill you with joy at its cheerfulness and beauty?  Better yet is viewing this in person.

Seeing this tree the other day inspired me to create yet another sensory bin for G.  Yes, I know, it is a bit of a stretch as a segue, but really, sensory bins seem to be one of G’s few go-to activities. I think about them way too much.  Last year my husband teased me mercilessly about my obsession with sensory bins.  Rightfully so, however, when one day I could not find a vacant plastic container in the entire house to transport muffins.  They were all occupied with diversely-themed objects.  Note: since then, I have become wiser, and only keep a couple going at a time.  The rest of the bin items are stored in large ziploc bags. I especially store dry goods like rice and beans, or small toys and figures.

Here is last year’s winter bin.

Gabriel's winter box

Ingredients: cotton balls, rice, toy penguin figures,a wooden Eskimo figure,  a plastic scoop, star and tree cookie cutters and craft jewels.  We kept this bin out until mid-spring, he enjoyed it so much.  I saved the cotton balls (always good for an indoor snowball fight) and the rice to re-use.

Here is this year’s winter bin.

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I kept it even simpler, adding the old rice, cotton balls and tree cookie cutters.  Instead of a star we used a tiny gingerbread man.  G has been reading the classic tale “The Gingerbread Man.”  Our favorite versions are Jan Brett’s “Gingerbread Baby” and Usborne’s “The Gingerbread Man.”  The latter has the added bonus of repetitive, words for emerging readers and an introduction to the meaning of fractions.  The fox SNAPS one-fourth of the gingerbread man, then one-half, and then three-fourths, etc. I smiled as he immediately began to reenact the story, quoting directly from our favorite books.  Finally, I added some inexpensive candy cane ornaments we intend to eventually hang on our tree.  G added the horse.  Apparently, it is actually “Aslan, the good lion, and he is roaring through Narnia.”  Well, that just demonstrates another reason I love these bins – they are a great way to showcase your little one’s imagination.

I probably shouldn’t tell you since it is politically incorrect, but the candy canes quickly became “candy cane guns” to my cowboy-loving guy.  Anyone who knows G is not surprised.  Besides, I have not yet explained to him what political correctness is.

May your family love every green holly leaf still on the tree.  May you have winter cheer.  May you take the time to pause and enjoy your little one’s imagination at this time of the year.

Farm Tales

Soups and stews. Pumpkin pie and muffins. Cardigans and scarves. It’s autumn in the Midwest. How does this translate into preschool literature? Farm stories! For the last couple of weeks G and I have been reading a collection of Golden Books all with farm themes – “A Day on the Farm,” “The Little Red Hen” and “Two Little Gardeners,” by Margaret Wise Brown but mostly we have delved into Richard Scarry’s “The Animals of Farmer Jones.”

This sweet story introduces preschoolers to typical animals on the farm and the various grains they might eat. The animals patiently wait for Farmer Jones to leave his tractor at the end of the day to provide them with their dinner.  G enjoyed all the supplemental activities that we created for this story, but I don’t think there was enough substance to the tale for the multiple readings we did as with “Lentil” and others. Nevertheless, our weather vane still adorns the kitchen table.


Science – Every barn has a weather vane. We stuck to creating one with the traditional rooster. G already knows his compass points, so he helped me label them, and we stuck them on the lid to an empty plastic fruit container. We placed rocks in the bottom to weight it down and poked a hole in the lid large enough to set a straw through, which was stabilized by the rocks. We placed another straw in the first and secured them with tape.


While G was coloring a print out template of a rooster, I cut out an arrow from cardstock and fastened it with a paperclip in the middle of the straw. G taped the rooster to the top of the straw, and we were ready to observe the wind. G learned that meteorologists observe and study the weather.

Crafts – Our craft project was having fun with scarecrows. Every farm story incorporated the scarecrow at some point, even if he was silently taking his place in the background. For this craft we used a paper plate, felt bits, construction paper, origami and tissue papers, glue and crayons. Basically, it was whatever materials I had on hand. I got this great idea from notimeforflashcards.  Allison McDonald always seems to be full of preschool craft ideas – an area where I seriously struggle.

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Telling Time – G has had a little green clock in his room ever since he was born, so I often show him what time it is, namely at bedtime. We noticed Farmer Jones fed the animals at six o’clock, so we played with the hands on our clock as we talked about what we did at seven o’clock, twelve o’clock or eight o’clock.


G knows the minute hand and the hour hand, so we learned how to change the time for the hour and the half hour.

G showing what six o'clock looks like.
G showing what six o’clock looks like.

Farm Sensory Bin – These homemade bins seem to be our go to activity regardless what we are learning.  I usually have two or three different themes going at one time, and am finally starting to store extras in large ziploc bags. This saves on having to purchase many different plastic containers.


This one was created with a combination of rice, beans and popcorn I had leftover from another bin. We added a few plastic scoops, craft leaves leftover from a church luncheon and, of course, the Fisher Price farm figures. Sensory bins are really the most fun when the play is child-led. We don’t have a particular agenda when playing with these. I mostly liked burying my hands in all of it and sifting the popcorn through my fingers. G has spent most of his time so far throwing the leaves in the air and quoting, “The leaves are turning red and brown.  The leaves are falling to the ground.”

Word Cards– From such a young age G has been focused on text in his books. He follows along with his finger as we read, so at three he already has quite a few sight words in his repertoire. I wanted to boost his confidence with his familiarity with some of these words. G helped me look through the illustrations and text as he chose which words to create into word cards. He spelled them aloud for me as I wrote. Pig, cow, horse, farmer, thank you were a few. I think we made 10-12 altogether.


First I scrambled them up while he read them to me. Perfect. The next day I gave him dot paints and called out a word while he put a dot on the correct card. This was fun for him for a few minutes, and he was proud of himself for being able to “read.” A couple of days later we got out the play dough and wooden letters. G used his word cards to spell the words by pressing the wooden letter into the play dough. Not only did this reinforce his knowledge of the sight words, but it was good fine motor practice for his little fingers.

Field trips – I always like to give G a field trip opportunity with the stories we read. The most obvious choices were a trip to our very local organic dairy farm, which of course, meant milkshakes afterward, and a visit to the pumpkin festival.


Picking a pumpkin, pony rides, the corn maze, and eating apple donuts are all a highlight of our fall season.