It’s summer! Perhaps you’ve noticed? As a former classroom teacher, I experienced “summer break” well into adulthood. Many of my good friends are still classroom teachers; although my work schedule has not included a summer off in years, this season still takes on a busy, fun vibe that is notably different from much of the year.
A good friend of ours, a teacher, is visiting from out of town and mentioned she might like to go to The Field museum. We love the Field; B is enamored with Sue the Dinosaur so I knew she’d be game. Because of the pre-existing interest in Sue, I decided that we would focus on dinosaurs during this particular visit and I might as well make it the first museum visit of our curriculum.
The Field Mouse and the Dinosaur Named Sue by Jan Wahl
As you may have guessed from the title, this book is a story about The Field Museum. It begins in South Dakota where scientists are uncovering bones from Sue the Dinosaur. A mouse – who lives amongst the fossils – is inadvertently brought to The Field Museum along with Sue. This is a cute story that will be interesting to any dinosaur lover. Although it could be used in conjunction with a visit to another museum that features dinosaur fossils, my personal favorite parts of this book are the illustrations depicting The Field Museum.
Dinosaurs! By Gail Gibbons
There is a wealth of non-fiction children’s books about dinosaurs available but quality varies. When seeking out informational texts for young children, books by Gail Gibbons are a sure bet. This book gives a general overview of dinosaurs with eye-catching, well-labeled illustrations. The amount of text is appropriate for most preschoolers and the concepts are introduced in a way that is not overwhelming.
The Dinosaur Museum by JoAnn Early Maken
This is another informational text with simple language, appropriate to preschoolers. I was particularly interested in the museum focus of this choice, as this makes it much more relevant to young children who are able to have museum experiences – but can obviously not experience dinosaurs authentically otherwise. This particular book includes photos, rather than illustrations, mostly depicting scenes from museums.
Two other books that we read in preparation for our visit were Maisy Goes to the Museum by Lucy Cousins and Good Night Chicago by Adam Gamble and Joe Veno. As you’ve probably deduced, B just loves the Maisy series. This particular book describes a visit to a museum on a rainy day. Maisy and her friends visit a variety of exhibits, including looking at dinosaurs. I highly recommend this book… but feel like I may be sounding like a one-hit-wonder listing a Maisy book every week! Look for this one if your kiddo loves Maisy as much as mine, if not… see what other museum focused options you might find. Good Night Chicago lists a variety of Chicago attractions, including Sue the Dinosaur. This book is one from our personal collection that sparked B’s initial interest in Sue, we’ve enjoyed reading the book and visiting the various attractions pictured over the past several years.
Review Museum Resources: If you are visiting a museum, chances are there are existing resources available to help you plan your visit. Explore the website and seek out general information such as maps, hours, and et cetera. I also recommend perusing the education section of the website, as there are often helpful materials available. While exploring The Field Museum website I came across a .pdf document – “Family Adventures Highlights Tour.” One of the tours described in this document is the Dinosaur Trail, which we’ll explore using the map provided in the document during our visit.
Learning about Dinosaurs: Through reading books and play we’ll talk about the concept of dinosaurs in preparation for our trip to the museum. Embedded in this will be discussions of fossils, extinction, and meat-eaters and plant-eaters. Dinosaurs, as well as each of these related sub-topics, are very abstract concepts. Young children’s understanding will be limited by their related experiences and interest in the subject matter. As B’s teacher, I’ll make an effort to remain realistic in my expectations and to follow her lead as we discuss these topics.
Comparing Fossils: In addition to the main event – Sue – The Field Museum has a variety of other fossils, models and exhibits related to dinosaurs. We’ll observe these, noticing similarities and differences amongst the various dinosaur species. Observations and comparisons might focus on size, body shape, and body features such as teeth, horns, and et cetera.
Notes about your child’s learning:
Discussing dinosaurs that lived long ago is a part of understanding history. Keep in mind that dinosaurs are very abstract history for young children. Simply recognizing that dinosaurs lived a long time ago is appropriate at this point – no need to develop an understanding of millennia just yet!
Through exploring fossils and the work that uncovers them, students will begin to understand how some scientists work. At The Field Museum – and I’m sure some other museums as well – the fossil prep lab is on display and students may be able to observe scientist working. Additionally, students will practice the science process skill of observing while looking at the fossils in the museum. What can a fossil tell us about how an animal lived?
Museums are filled with signs and labels for visitors to explore! Looking at pictures together, reading the names of interesting dinosaurs, and reading portions of the aloud to your child when interest is piqued will demonstrate the usefulness of literacy.
Comparison of sizes and shapes of various fossils and models you explore provides opportunities to use rich math language. Ask questions and share observations using varied vocabulary and support your child’s use of math language if he or she attempts it.
If you have a sandbox or sensory table available, you might recreate the experience of digging for fossils. The Field Museum has this experience available as part of it’s Play Lab, and B and I will make a point to begin our museum experience there. Weather permitting, we’ll also bring some dinosaur digging tools to a local park with a sandbox and see what we find (hopefully sticks and leaves rather than dinosaur bones!).