Hello, readers! This week our Paleo-Profile series features Isabelle and her mom Joy, who scoured the internet for resources in paleontology and came across our Society. We’re so glad you found us! Isabelle is an 8-year-old girl who dreams of being a paleontologist. Let’s encourage one another, and our entire community, to support and mentor everyone who wants to pursue science as an interest or career!
About a month ago I decided to introduce my 8-year-old daughter Isabelle to one of my most beloved movies as a child – the 1988 animated film The Land Before Time. We had a fantastic time meeting Littlefoot (an Apatosaurus), Ducky (a Parasaurolophus), Petrie (a Pteranodon), and Cera (a Triceratops). To my delight, she found the movie riveting, and it sparked a budding enchantment with dinosaurs and the prehistoric world. She wants to learn as much as she could as fast as she could, and what better time to gather knowledge than during quarantine? It helps her stay proactive, playful, and engaged. I was more than happy to encourage her curious fire by providing resources on paleontology, gathering websites to explore (such as the the Paleontological Society’s website), fossil sorting kits, and promises to visit museums in the future when it is safe to do so! She now insists that she will be an adventurous paleontologist when she grows up, and who am I to doubt her? Even if her interest wanders in time, I believe that paleontology is an excellent realm for children to dive into.
Why is paleontology such a rewarding subject for children to explore?
Many children will experience a period of being captivated by dinosaurs, fossils, and the earth’s ancient mysteries. I remember my dinosaur phase vividly – my favorite dinosaur was the herbivorous Diplodocus; perhaps it influenced my desire to be a vegetarian! Denver Museum of Natural History curator Dr. Richard K. Stucky (with a PhD in paleontology) stated that “Dinosaurs and fossils are the window through which most kids and many adults now get their first introduction to science. Paleontology is art, science, and imagination; it inspires a wealth of curiosity by students about ancient life and helps all of us to know about our origins and how our world with humans came to be.”
Paleontology offers many opportunities for children to learn about biology, scientific thinking, evolution, and the scientific method. Dinosaurs naturally spark curiosity, and curiosity is the first step towards learning. In fact, a 2008 study by Indiana University found that “sustained intense interests, particularly in a conceptual domain like dinosaurs” can boost children’s knowledge and determination, strengthen their attention span, and cultivate information-processing skills. Joyce M. Alexander, a researcher who worked on the study, stated that conceptual domain interests like dinosaurs “enhance perseverance, improve attention and enhance skills of complex thinking as the processing of information.” This is far from the only study that has concluded intense interests sow the seeds of intelligence.
Still not convinced? Here is a summary of ways that the study of paleontology (or even just a childlike enchantment with dinosaurs) benefits children:
- Critical thinking skills.
- Exploration and understanding of the scientific process.
- Curiosity primes the brain for knowledge retention and learning.
- Drawing, daydreaming, and playing with dinosaurs feeds imagination and creativity.
- Conceptual topics are not passively absorbed, encouraging children to ask questions, read, and engage with the material to satisfy their curiosity. This builds persistence.
- Enhanced verbal and vocab skills – prehistoric and dinosaur names are challenging!
- Confidence. Through learning and discovery, children will feel more capable and prepared for more complex challenges.
- Through dinosaurs, children will grasp the concept of classification and categorization (meat eater, plant eater, etc.) This type of systematic thinking can lead to a more organized approach to learning and studying.
Why Dinosaurs and Paleontology Belongs to Everyone (Girls and Boys!)
A wonderful side effect of my daughter’s fascination with dinosaurs is that she is introducing her friends to the prehistoric world – both boys and girls. She loves to show off her dinosaur figurines and fossils to her classmates on Zoom! I plan to make sure she never feels discouraged just because of her gender. After all, society benefits from more women in STEM fields – it maximizes creativity, innovation, competitiveness, and intellectual diversity. All minds, regardless of background or gender, can offer priceless kindle to scientific progress. In the wise words of astronaut Mae Jemison, ““Don’t let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live.” This gem of wisdom can resonate with anyone from anywhere in the world.
Here is a collection of child-friendly paleontology resources to explore (and ones that Isabelle recommends):
- The American Museum of Natural History’s “The Big Dig” is a top-notch collection of paleontology stories, hands-on activities, videos, and games.
- Scholastic offers an smorgasbord of books, articles, games, teaching guides, unit plans, and activities. Your kids will find answers to burning questions such as “What Colors Were Dinosaurs?” and beyond.
- This infographic by Main Street Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics visualizes the size and shape of dinosaur teeth and other prehistoric creatures. It offers bite-sized tidbits of knowledge on the dental function of these colossal creatures.
- When it is safe to do so, go on a family fossil dig. In the meantime, try National Geographic’s Super Fossil Finder.
- For teachers, here is a collection of guides and outreach kits on dinosaurs, geologic time, and fossil education from the Museum of the Rockies.
- Here is a list of 23 favorite dinosaur books chosen by educators.
- Dinosaur games from PBS Kids, because play matters! My daughter recommends “Roarin’ Relay”.
- A kid-friendly video on the origin of fossils from the Natural History Museum.
My daughter was particularly thrilled by this infographic, and we hope your children do as well! She loves the bright colors, bite-sized information, and easy-to-follow visualization. It has even doubled as inspiration to brush her teeth! She wants paleontologists in the future to find her chompers in mint condition.
Do you have any suggestions for how best to reach those who are interested in fossils or paleontology? Contact the Communications Officer, Tara Lepore, at [email protected]!