It’s no surprise preschool kids develop an intense interest in a particular type of play (dress-up), a concept (knock-knock jokes), or an object (insert your kid’s fixation here).
But while vehicles tend to top the list of obsessions, dinos are a close second. Many pint-size paleontologists can reel off the multi-syllabled names of dozens of these fantastic prehistoric creatures, and then follow up with endless facts about their diet, habitat, and date of extinction. They’ll talk about dinosaurs anywhere they are, with anyone they are with.
Researchers have looked into the kids-love-dinos connection and have come up with several theories about the appeal.
- First, they suggest, dinosaurs are big and powerful—but they’re also extinct. So kids can admire the animals without worrying about bumping into a hungry one in the park, zoo, or around the house.
- Also, the dinos kids encounter are all safely one step removed from reality: they’re on videos and in books, they show up as small toys, and so on. Even a realistic reproduction in a museum is stuck in a stationary setting for all time.
- Finally, there’s a feel-good factor. Dinos offer a learning opportunity—and a chance for little kids to show off their stuff. It’s pretty cool to know more about something than all the adults in their life!
Big Beasts, Big Gains
But should you as a parent play along with your kid—and even encourage intense interests?
Usually, yes, experts say. Your child is accumulating an impressive amount of information, an interest in learning, and solid skills along the way. Consider the following:
- With any intense interest, kids are motivated to dig for more new info. They’ll want to look at books that challenge them, for example, without giving up quickly. And yes, this may mean they’ll want to read the same books or watch the same shows over and over again. While it’s boring to you, it isn’t to them. Allow the favorites—while also using the power of dinosaurs to expand your child’s horizons into other, still related sources of information, or fictional stories starring dinosaurs.
- Most preschoolers have an attention span of just a few minutes. But give a dino lover a set of dinosaur figurines or a documentary on prehistoric times, and she’ll stay hooked for much longer, building those powers of attention (which she can eventually apply in other situations).
- When young kids learn about dinosaurs, they also learn about classification. They grasp the idea that within the category of dinosaurs, there are subcategories. They can sort their dino favorites into, say, meat eaters and plant eaters—each with different types of teeth, traveling speed, and so on. (Research shows that this is one reason why boys tend to be more dino obsessed than girls: They are more likely to be systematic thinkers.)
- It feels good to master all that knowledge! So when they do it, kids gain confidence in their brainpower and ability to learn.
Typically, dinosaur obsession starts to taper off when a child reaches kindergarten or first grade. At that point, he may have less time and opportunity to focus on his once-beloved creatures. And he may find that he’s making friends who don’t share his interest, so he moves on to something they have in common. What lasts? All those thinking skills he gained during his dino-loving years. They never go extinct!
Keep up with the latest parenting content from Highlights. Sign up for our free Your Child and You Newsletter.