Dinosaur Jello-O Excavation

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We’ve played with Jell-O and we’ve excavated for dinosaurs, but never before have we excavated dinosaurs from Jell-O! This activity will appeal to kids of all ages. It was more of a sensory experience for my toddler, and a game full of imagination for my 6 year old!

The night before, I prepared one huge batch of vegan jel dessert from four packets. You can opt for a clear vegan jel but I didn’t have any on hand. Instead, I decided the yellow-orange of the peach flavor actually looked a bit like layers of rock and sediment.

Sprinkle the powder from all four packets over 1 and 1/3 cups cold water in a large Bundt pan, stirring to dissolve. Add any small plastic dinosaurs you have, then pour in 5 cups boiling water. Cool to room temperature before transferring to the fridge overnight.

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The next morning, I turned the Bundt pan upside down over a tray, and it wobbled right out. Now we had dinosaurs trapped in rock! For my future archaeologists, I set out a few plastic spoons and forks, a toy screwdriver to be a “chisel”, and pipettes. We also had a little dish of clean water to rinse the dinosaurs as they were unearthed.

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For Veronika this was mostly sensory play. She loved spooning up the dessert (and the water) with the spoons.

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But as she watched her big brother play, she began to take a few experimental pokes with a pipette.

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She also took it upon herself to be the dinosaur washer! Whenever one was freed from the mold, she rinsed it in the little dish of water. I gave her a cloth to set them on, and she was soon engaged in “dinosaur bath” play.

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Meanwhile, my older paleontologist was busy digging! Travis tried out all the tools. He loved stabbing at the mold with the screwdriver, or carefully using the pipette to pry layers of jel off a dinosaur.

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It was fun whenever one was halfway free but a tail or leg was still caught! He would then use the spoon or fork to scrape away the final layers.

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Then it was time to hand over his find to little Veronika on bath duty.

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This activity kept them both so happy and engaged. Even better, there’s bound to be some dinosaur play directly afterwards, once all those little toys are freed, leaving you time to clean up any resulting mess!

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Dinosaur Dig Sandbox

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Yesterday the kids were construction workers in the sand, today they were archaeologists on a dig!

For this version of an at-home sandbox, I added a few new elements to a big storage bin already filled with sand and small pebbles from outside. I added dried black beans for texture (perhaps these were fossils, or chunks of cooled lava from the dinosaurs demise!). Then I buried plastic dinosaur toys. You could also use plastic dinosaur skulls or bones, if you have toy parts like this.

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Finally, for my budding paleontologists, I added paint brushes to gently brush away the sand from their finds, and a magnifying glass.

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Both my kids loved it, each in their age-appropriate way! Veronika just loved all the sensory elements, including running the paintbrush through the sand.

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She also enjoyed the dinosaurs for play, roaring and marching them through the sand.

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“Ooh! Dinosaur!” she said, peering through the magnifying glass.

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Big brother Travis understood the imaginative element of being on a “dig” much better.

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He loved carefully using the paintbrush’s bristles to unearth dinosaurs, then named them (“This is the badabasaurus”) before moving them over to a “museum” on the side.

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The sandbox bin kept them entertained for ages!

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Cover your storage bin with the lid when you’re done and it’s ready to pull out soon for more adventures.

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Fun with Plastic Dinosaurs

 

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Over the years we seem to have accumulated a good-sized collection of tiny plastic dinosaur figurines. You can find these sold in tubes at toy stores, craft stores, and museum stores, and we’ve amassed quite a few duplicates as time has gone by. So it was time to have fun with a few of the extras!

First, Travis decided to cover them in sparkly glitter paint.

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This immediately made me think of sparkly Christmas ornaments, so we finished off the look with a little chenille stem collar for each one.

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If you loop thread or an ornament hook through each dinosaur’s collar, you can really hang them up on your tree next holiday season! We’re setting ours aside for Christmas.

Next up was dinosaur “egg” soap. If you truly want yours to look like eggs, you’ll need oval soap molds (available at craft stores). I only had square craft molds but hey, maybe there was a dinosaur somewhere who laid square eggs instead of oval ones.

Place a plastic dino in each empty mold.

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Meanwhile, melt a bar of glycerin soap in the microwave – you’ll need to heat it at 30 second to 1 minute intervals until completely melted, stirring after each interval.

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A word of caution: we first tried a bar of bath soap from the store, but it only puffed up in the microwave instead of melting. Although this led to endless amusement for Travis, it did not make great dino eggs! Turns out you really need to buy what’s called “melt and pour” soap or it simply won’t work.

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Once we had the right soap, it melted in a mere minute! Travis loved pressing the microwave buttons. Let your child carefully stir to remove any final lumps, then (adult step!) pour over the dinosaurs.

Here they are trapped in goo. Travis was gleeful!

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I was impressed with how quickly the soap sets, in under an hour, meaning kids won’t have to wait long for soapy fun. Bring your dinos into the tub, wrap them in cellophane for gifts, or place out as decoration.

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If you get soapy with your “eggs” in the tub, it won’t be long before your dinos hatch!

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Dinosaur Hat

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We’ve had so much fun with dinosaur projects lately that it was time to turn Travis into a dinosaur himself! Look for blank hats at the craft store, in whatever color your child prefers as the background. All you need is sheets of felt to complete the look. I recommend sticky-back felt for the easiest time putting this hat together, otherwise you’ll need to use hot glue or tacky glue.

First our dinosaur needed eyes. I cut two circles, as well as two smaller ones to be the irises.

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Next up was circles to make dots on the dinosaur’s head, two teardrop shapes for the nostrils, and fangs glued on to the brim.

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For the spikes, you’ll need to cut two pieces of felt for each size spike desired. Attach the pieces back to back, and then adhere the bottoms along the crown of the cap.

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Roar! What a ferocious dinosaur.

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Dinosaurs Were HOW Big?!

 

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We’ve been having dinosaur fun lately, which led to the question: How big were these giant reptiles, really? It’s hard for kids to have any sort of scale, since most dino toys are tot-sized. So we armed ourselves with a library book, yard stick, masking tape, and a marker, and set outside to find out.

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We started with a fairly mid-sized dinosaur, the Plateosaurus, who came in at a respectable 26 feet long. Already this was quite big!

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Next up was Stegosaurus, measuring a full 30 feet long. Travis couldn’t believe it and loved helping me press the tape down onto the sidewalk.

We added a Travis-sized piece of masking tape for a true comparison. Impressive!

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Now for the real mind-blower: Argentinosaurus was a whopping 100 feet. I was almost too tired to contemplate putting down that much tape. But we did it. Here’s Travis at the far end to show how big the dino was – look how far away he is!

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We labeled each piece of tape with the dinosaur’s name and size. Travis loved scribbling along his archaeological “notes” on the tape as well.

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Our neighbors thought we were adorable, and this was a blast!

Be a Play Dough Detective

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This is one of those neat ways to surprise your kids, a game you can set up while they are otherwise occupied, then greet them with a big mystery… Dinosaurs were in the house! But which ones?

I made circles from our play dough and flattened into discs. You’ll note that play dough colors don’t stay separate around this house!

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Next I took various examples of Travis’s toy dinosaurs – both little and big – and made tracks in the play dough. I called him over and exclaimed that we’d had a visit from dinosaurs!

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He was skeptical at first, but soon was peering eagerly with the magnifying glass I provided.

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Encourage your child to place the dinos over the separate play dough tracks and figure out who made which print; this turns the game into a neat puzzle.

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Travis loved pretending the dinosaurs were stuck and he was a real archaeologist having to cut them out.

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You can also flip the dinosaurs over and make prints of their backs and sides. This led to some interesting observations, like the bumps on ankylosaurs’ back.

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Then he loved the idea of making one big play dough surface that his dinos could stomp across. This went on for quite some time.

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If you don’t have plastic dinosaurs, any plastic bug or animal figurines would work great in this game.

Footprint Tec (3)One hour of a summer morning occupied? Mommy, for the win!

Early Explorers Dinosaurs

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Unlike many of his peers, Travis has never shown much interest in dinosaurs, but suddenly they seem to be everywhere in his world! His nursery school is doing a dinosaur unit, and we ventured to Dinosaur State Park as part of his Early Explorer’s world discovery unit. Little did we know that our next kit from “Max and Mia” at Little Passports would be all about dinos!

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Travis was very into some of the regular items in this month’s kit, adroitly sticking his dino sticker onto his suitcase, proudly matching up each sticker on his map (“Don’t do a thing, Mom!” he commanded me), and eager to check out this month’s flashlight game. He also took right to the activities in the monthly info booklet.

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Dinosaurs Craft:

There was no real art project with the dinosaur unit, but the booklet did include a suggestion to draw our own dinosaurs. Since Travis is still making scribbles, I presented him with a dinosaur coloring book instead. He was delighted, and is fast becoming familiar with names like pterodactyl and T. Rex.

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He was so proud of his coloring that he raced to hang up his artwork. Soon we had a dino gallery!

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Dinosaurs Science:

The booklet includes nifty info on fossils to give your child a quick science lesson: fossils aren’t actually the bones themselves, but a hard rock-like “cast” that forms around them. To approximate a fossil, we followed the booklet’s instructions. First, flatten air-dry clay into a circle, then press in a found object.

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We used leaves and rocks, but I wish we’d had a shell on hand! Sticks or twigs would work too.

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Carefully remove the object, leaving an imprint behind.

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Next, fill the cavity with glue. Let dry completely. Once dry, peel off the glue – this is your fossil “cast.”

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I was skeptical, but we were able to peel off our leaf and rock imprints quite well. In all honesty, I was probably more into the final result than Travis was!

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Dinosaurs Keepsake:

This month’s package came with an adorable stuffed stegosaurus.

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I also opted for the add-on pack of 4 additional plush dino friends, which included a poster describing where in the world dinos have been found. T. Rex now sleeps with Travis every night, of course.

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Dinosaurs Field Trip:

Whoops, we’d just been to a dinosaur footprint park, so needed a new field trip this time! The next obvious answer was to visit dinosaur fossils and skeletons at a Natural History Museum.

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If you’re also fortunate enough to live near a place where you child can see full skeletons assembled, do it! Nothing compares to seeing how huge these reptiles were in person.

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Dinosaurs Further Activities:

We wanted more dinosaur fun, so I poked around on Little Passport’s blog and dug up this dino excavating activity. It’s something we’ve done before, but not in ages! First, we needed to squeeze dinosaurs through the opening of uninflated balloons (always a stretchy endeavor).

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Fill the balloons with water (a funnel is helpful), and then tie off. Freeze overnight.

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The next morning I asked Travis if he wanted to excavate our dinosaur egg fossils, and he couldn’t wait! First he needed to hold and explore the frozen balloons.

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We started by using hot water and pipettes to thaw out the dinos…

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…and we loved whenever a bumpy limb or scale emerged through the ice.

LP Dino (9)Once they were exposed enough, we added tools into the equation. Travis did great chiseling, using a hammer while I supported a screwdriver.

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He was thrilled when the ice cracked away from the dinos in big chunks. Freed!

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In addition, we checked out a few dino books from the library, and Travis loved matching our plastic dino figures up to the book.

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The books were a great prompt to encourage him to imagine life in prehistoric times, asking if he thought it was hot or cold, or what sounds he might hear. He was amazed to learn there would be no noise from car engines or airplanes.

Travis latched on to ankylosaurs as a favorite, so we did some research online and even found cute videos about it!

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As a final suggestion, we headed outside to see if we could be archaeologists and find any animal prints or plant impressions left in the ground. We thought this trail might have been left by a slug!

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And even found paw prints.

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Looking forward to our next Explorer adventure!

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Early Explorers World Discoveries

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Welcome to our fourth journey with Little Passports‘ Early Explorers kit! This month we had goodies waiting in the mailbox about famous world discoveries.

This topic was a bit difficult for three-year-old Travis to grasp, so I worked on finding ways to make the information relatable and closer to home. The kit covers (literally) monumental moments in world history, from the caves of Lascaux to King Tut’s tomb to the terracotta warriors of China (which I didn’t learn about until college – Travis is officially 20 years ahead of me).

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I talked about each discovery as we found where they belonged on our world map, but could tell he wasn’t much interested yet. The activity booklet provided an overview that was largely lost on him, though he did enjoy the maze puzzles and games. Then we moved on to a few hands-on activities, which helped make things more relatable.

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World Discoveries Craft:

After reading to Travis from the booklet about the Lascaux caves, we made our own cave art! Cut a rectangle from a paper bag and crumple up (good fun), to make your cave “wall.”

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To capture the texture and materials of cave art, draw outlines of animals or figures in chalk. Travis said he was drawing a “cow”, but he found it difficult to make the chalk show up on the brown paper. I helped him with outlines and we ended up with something sort of resembling a deer and one more like a cow.

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We then used paint in cave-painty shades (brown, black, beige, and red) to fill in our drawings. I loved the way Travis’s cow turned out, clearly all his own! I made the deer with a few stick people as another example for him.

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World Discoveries Science:

The whole concept of discoveries was still a bit lost on Travis, so I brought it closer to home with a few tools a discoverer might use – a flashlight, binoculars, and a compass. Not only did we find a neat toy compass, but we also snagged this idea from Little Passports’ blog on how to make your own compass, if ever lost in the woods (or, er, on the playground).

Fill a small dish with water; set aside. Rub a magnet in one direction along a needle several times to “charge” the needle.

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Place the needle on a leaf, and carefully float the leaf in your dish of water. After the leaf settles, it should point north! We tested it against our real compass, and it seemed to be working pretty well.

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World Discoveries Keepsake:

The keepsake from this month’s kit was very clever; Travis had to be a “discoverer” and put together puzzle pieces before he could see the map of the world upon completion.

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As a small gripe, the puzzle didn’t lie flat, with some of the pieces popping apart, which frustrated Travis. Still, it was a great visual for where the discoveries occurred around the globe.

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World Discoveries Field Trip:

There was no suggested visit in this month’s booklet (which makes sense since most folks aren’t going to jet off to the Great Pyramids). One possible idea is to take your child to a local archaeological site or natural history museum and check out artifacts from ancient civilizations. We decided to go some place Travis could be an explorer… a dinosaur archaeology site! Conveniently located near family members, we made a weekend of it before spending the morning at Dinosaur State Park outside Hartford, CT.

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Yup, those are real dinosaur footprints that a man discovered in the 1960s while digging with a bulldozer.

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Travis went nuts checking out fossils with a magnifying glass.

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A great way to show that the most mundane day can lead to the next great discovery in archaeological history!

World Discoveries Further Activities:

Alas, without jetting off to those Great Pyramids, there wasn’t much more to do for this one, but we still had some fun. Setting off with our toy compass, we staged a treasure hunt around the house (we used a few missing puzzle pieces from our kit’s keepsake). I hid one piece each in roughly the east, north, south, and west sections of our apartment, which Travis found exciting.

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We also talked about which discovery we liked best. Travis settled on the Nazca Lines, so we dug up a few online video clips.

Finally, we headed to the library for intro to archaeology books, although the material was aimed at elementary schools kids rather than preschoolers.

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Excited to see where Early Explorers takes us next!

Engineering a Dinosaur

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This adorable suggestion from Little Passports allows kids to plan and construct – the basics of engineering! For my three-year-old, the activity was equally about the fun of squishing straws into marshmallows (and eating a couple along the way), as it was about building a dinosaur… But nothing wrong with that! It was a neat exercise in getting him to think more deliberately about how to build a structure.

We started by setting up two of our dinosaur toys as models (if you don’t have dino toys at home, consider looking at a picture online), and gathered our materials – Dandies marshmallows and straws.

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I asked Travis if he thought T-rex’s head should be a marshmallow or straw, to which he replied the former, and we went from there. As we added each piece, Travis loved helping decide what should come next, and was also fascinated by how we could shape the dinosaur by trimming the straws into smaller pieces (a grown-up or big kid job).

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He especially loved figuring out how tails, arms, and legs attached.

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The fun didn’t end when our dinosaurs were complete – we had lots of leftover marshmallows which he wanted to play with. This one became a “snowman” with a firefighter’s hose.

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It also turned into a neat lesson on fractions, since as I cut the straws into halves, thirds, or quarters, he helped me count the pieces. Overall, great STEM-based fun!

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Stomp with Dino Feet

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What’s more fun for a preschool tot than stomping around the house? Stomping around with dinosaur feet of course! Get out some sillies with this cute idea from High Five magazine.

To start, adults will need to trace a dinosaur foot shape on a large piece of craft foam. I really have no idea what a dinosaur footprint looks like, but a three-toed creature seemed to fit the bill!

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Cut an X into the foam with scissors near the ankle of each foot – this is how your child will wear the dino feet.

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Travis loves practicing with kid-safe scissors, so although cutting the dino foot was beyond his skill, he helped me snip out a few triangles that we would need later on. “Dinosaurs need lots of triangles!” he told me very seriously.

First though, we had to paint our dino feet! Travis smeared on some pink, and I added a few orange dots for contrast.

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Let the paint dry, then add the final adornment with the smaller pieces of foam you cut out.

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And now it’s time to stomp!

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