Week 6…Dinosaurs, Rocks and the End of Summer{School}

While most of my summers never quite go as planned, this one has been exceptionally wonderful for a variety of reasons, the biggest one being the great time my son and I had doing “school.” While I could never (ever, ever, EVER) teach a bunch of littles for a living (dear LORD give me teenagers over tantrums any day), I can very much enjoy mine. We’ve had a great time this summer learning about space, landforms, cultures, and finishing up our summer: dinosaurs.
I feel a personal victory here, because I love dinosaurs–always have–and my son DID NOT. I don’t even know how it is possible for a little boy to not like dinosaurs, but mine was not part of the club. So color me happy when I asked him (back in May) what things he wanted to learn about, and he agreed when I purposefully threw out dinosaurs.

While dinos are amazing, I didn’t want to delve too much and scare him. So mostly, I focused on coloring pages and bought a really cool book for him, The Big Book of Dinosaurs is a National Geographic book that has a lot of fun facts, and great pictures. We spent a good hour looking at the photos are reading about the different dinosaurs. It was a hit!

Sample of the book layout.

The BIG thing we did was to excavate our own dino skeleton from a kit I bought at JoAnn’s. Best. Thing. Ever. (For both of us.) 

I also (carefully) showed scenes from Jurassic Park (the triceratops one, and the one where they first get to JP and Dr. Grant sees the brachiosaurs for the first time, and a paused shot of the T-Rex breaking through trees, but before he ate another dino) so he can see a visual.

In a perfect world I’d have loved to take him to the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles, but summer has been busy, I went on a girls trip to Las Vegas, he’s only four and I abhor L.A. So, we’ll let that be a future goal. A consolation might be the Discovery Cube in Santa Ana that has a mini-exhibit of dinos if we have time.

Dinosaurs are of great interest to many, so there are tons of websites, books, videos and information if your kiddo is a great dino enthusiast. Since mine is a dino-lover-in-training, I just decided to go easy here. Additionally our last project was a crystal growing one as well, so we didn’t spend more than a day on dinosaurs.

I cannot tell you enough how fun the excavation kit was. It was a bit advanced for my 4 y.o. (it recommends ages 8 and up, and this 36-year-old got quite an arm workout from hammering away the plaster), but we had a great amount of fun pretending we were paleontologists. If you’re kid likes crafts and this isn’t up your alley, check your local craft store (or online) for things to do. There are tons.  Here are the search results for “dinosaur kit” at Jo-Ann.com and that’s only one store. Anyway, they had three to choose from: Stegosaurus, Triceratops and the T-Rex. He picked the T-Rex. Again, you can find these easily online and I think the brand, 4M, actually has six types of dinos to pick from (if you really care…and if you’re still reading, you might…so, yeah).

The kit comes with a block of plaster that encases the “fossils” for you to uncover. The tools, as pictured, are…less than adequate. It will take a while.

It gives you really crappy tools, which is surprising because the block of plaster that the “bones” are encased in is quite solid. The brush is useless, so I grabbed a paint brush. You can use it, but you’ll be excavating for months at that rate.

I found that outside is best, as there is a lot of plaster dust (in fact, hindsight being 20/20 I should have found masks), especially as you unearth it. You’ll also get it on your clothes, this is inevitable.

Moved outside (MUCH better…dust everywhere) and upgraded the brush. The hammer tool has a knife-like blade on the other end for sawing into the plaster. Be prepared for heavy use and a little blister!

It took easily over an hour to get everything out with the tools given (including my improved brush), but I used the hammer from the kit and not a real one for fear of breaking the plastic dino skeleton. It does get pretty stuck in there.

I felt kinda cool right about now.


After a little more than an hour Rexy was free. We washed the bones, and assembled the little guy. My son was really excited and thought the whole experience was really fun. He kept saying “thanks mommy for being a dino digger with me!” which made my day.

Pieces all cleaned of the plaster and waiting to be assembled.

Our Rexy, all assembled.

The last project we did for our Homemade Summer School, we learned about rocks and gemstones, using yet another Nat Geo kids magazine that teaches about types of rocks and minerals. Another quick “lesson” before the main event: growing our own crystals via a kit I bought through Amazon.

Admittedly, I should’ve done this at the start of summer, as the crystal takes about ten days to grow (or more, for a larger crystal). That said, it was fun. Less interactive than some of the other projects as this one includes chemicals and boiling water, but fun and informative, none the less.

An amethyst that came in the kit.

This project is NOT to be done without an adult, as the majority of the project is mixing boiling water with the crystal solution (purple liquid in glass).

The crystal “seed”

Crystal @ 12 hours

Informational booklet in the set.

Crystal @ 48 hours

All in all, I should’ve done the crystal first. It would have given us more time to observe it while we learned about volcanoes and landforms. Oh well, it will now be a nice carryover to remind us of the summer fun when work starts again. This was one of the most fun things we did this summer, and due to time I didn’t get to do half of the fun activities I had planned. Next year!

Hope this inspires you to do a little dino-digging and crystal growing of your own!







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