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Homeschool History: Dinosaurs

After taking a long break to let Eva get used to full day school and Calvin get used to part-time preschool, I’m happy to announce that we’ve started back on a regular homeschool schedule. Both of the kids are staying in their other schools for now but we feel like there are some things missing that we were hoping to see and I also missed our time learning together so it’s nice to be planning lessons again.

We’re following a modified classical education schedule and part of that plan is to learn about the history of the world in a linear way, starting over again as the kids get older, so they can repeatedly get a sense of how events fit together. When we left off we were talking about ancient societies in Asia, Africa, and Europe but we took enough of a break that I wanted to touch base on the historical events we had covered before, which included the creation of the world, the first life forms, the arrival and extinction of the dinosaurs, the ice age, and the earliest men.

Dinosaurs are always a lot of fun because there are so many things to cover, but it’s also a little overwhelming because getting really into dinosaurs could fill up years of study. The nice thing is that under the classical education model, I know we’ll swing around again twice more so I don’t feel like I have to cover absolutely everything about dinosaurs right now. This is just to introduce them to the general timeline and really basic information.

When we first covered dinosaurs, we took field trips to the natural history museum and another dinosaur park here in Utah, where we’re blessed to be living in a hotbed of paleontology. I didn’t feel like that was necessary for the refresher, especially because we have a lot of holiday outings right now and we’re squishing our homeschool into just an hour and half in the afternoons these days. So, we focused on things we could do at home, relying on thrifted materials mainly and things we have around the house.

We’ve been collecting these vintage British Museum dinosaur figures so we had quite a few on hand to study. They used to sell them all over in museum shops during the eighties and nineties so they turn up in thrift stores pretty often, although it can be hard to find them in good condition and the look changed over time. You can tell if they’re authentic if you flip them over and look at the underside. You’ll see British Museum, likely a year of production, and the name of the dinosaur or other early animal. I had a whole set of these when I was younger, but I’m sad to say that I let them go so we’ve been working on building up our collection again.

To start our refresher, I had the kids pick dinosaur models and look up their names in one of our dinosaur reference books. Then they made information sheets with a picture of the dinosaur and basic things like what they ate and where they lived. Again, we super skimmed most of the heavy information, like the different periods, because this is just the introduction. I mostly wanted to bring home the idea that not all of the dinosaurs were exactly the same and let them practice using reference materials for research.

We also read a few dinosaur themed books, including some books about paleontologists. We were already planning to make gingerbread for the season so we added some dinosaur shapes and I used icing to make them look like fossil specimens. It gave us a fun moment to look at our thrifted fossil card and talk about dinosaur bones and how they don’t always look like dinosaurs when the scientists first find them.

That led into our paleontology activity, which was the big splurge for this lesson because I bought fossil kits for the kids to dig into. I like these kits, even with the expense, because they’re relatively quite activities but the kids get a big kick out of them. Plus, they take FOREVER and they aren’t limited to the dinosaurs, since we can keep talking about archeological digs as we refresh up through the Ice Age and early societies of man. Also, it’s a good idea for them to keep their hands busy if I add in too many books without pictures, because the four year old has a hard time sitting still through more than one chapter at a time.

We’ve pretty much wrapped up our dinosaur review at this point, although I did add in a game to take the place of a dinosaur-themed art project I no longer felt up for. This one is Dinosaur Escape from Peaceable Kingdom and it’s right on theme but I warn you that it’s probably my least favorite of the Peaceable Kingdom games. I really love their products, especially cooperative family games like this one, and I admit that Calvin likes this one a lot, but I find it kind of boring and there isn’t a huge learning element here. Still, if you’re looking for a reward to give brains a break at the end of the unit, or just a good present for a relatively new game player who gets excited by dinosaurs and volcanos, go ahead and pick this one up.

Hope this was helpful! Like I said, you could easily get lost in the land of dinosaurs for months because there’s so much to learn, but that just makes me excited to circle back in a few months. Plus, I’m looking forward to moving on and really getting into the Greeks and Romans. If Calvin thinks this game is exciting, he’s going to lose his mind over Pompeii!

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