“Qualus.” I heard the noise before I knew that it was a word. “Qualus.” My 1 year old son was in the living room and was saying this to me. He barely said anything except for “mama” and “dada” and the slew of animal noises that we had taught him, but here he was trying to say some word that seemed just out of his reach.
As I rounded the corner, I saw what he was watching: Dino Dan. The word he was aiming for? Quetzalcoatlus. And so it began. (“Um, a quetzalcoatlus is actually not a dinosaur but a pterosaur.” I actually know that. I now know too many facts about dinosaurs. So, shut up, nerd!)
My son’s dinosaur obsession
My son latched on to dinosaurs before I even knew he was old enough to have an interest. In the era of his early life when we just decorated his room with nebulous kid things like posters of sports, stuffed creatures depicting animals of any genus, mostly of the cute variety, he was starting to look straight past the trucks and the basketballs and zeroing in on the dinosaurs.
And he didn’t just love dinosaurs, he ate, slept and breathed dinosaurs. It was his new language. The names of the dinosaurs, their types, what time periods they were from, these all became topics of conversation as he grew from a dinosaur loving toddler to a dinosaur loving kid. At bedtime, his book of choice for years was a book just called Amazing Dinosaurs that consisted of nothing but cool pictures that were accompanied by a dry list of facts about the dinosaur depicted. I would read these facts in as soporific of a voice as I could muster to get him to fall asleep. Inevitably I would be the one to doze off only to be nudged awake seconds later to continue the reciting of information. This could go on for an hour.
Someone who has tapped into the psychology of children can tell you why kids like dinosaurs but I am not one of those people. However, I’m not only a father who watched his son develop a love, nay an obsession, for these extinct creatures, but I’m also a recovering dinosaur addict, myself. In fact, a very formidable time in my life came in the second grade and it very much revolved around dinosaurs.
I was obsessed with dinosaurs as a kid myself
I had just moved schools in the middle of the school year. I was 7 years old and nervous about the transition. My new teacher saw that I was being a little bit shy and she told me that I should be excited because we were soon going to be hatching dinosaur eggs in class. I couldn’t believe my luck.
I couldn’t sleep for the next 4 nights. I was imagining seeing a real live dinosaur hatch and then watching him grow from a cute little guy to a giant, ferocious beast that we would befriend and have as a class pet. Maybe we could all take him home. Maybe we could call on him to help us in sticky situations like getting our ball stuck in a tree or being cornered by some bullies.
Finally, the day arrived and the teacher pulled out the overhead projector. She produced about 4 little eggs of varying colors and dropped them in water and what came out was…little foam dinosaurs?!! “April Fools,” she said. What!!!? Apparently, she had told the class that on April Fool’s Day we would be hatching them and so the whole thing turned out to be some long teacher con. I was devastated. Because I wanted to meet a dinosaur more than anything else in the whole world. It meant everything to me.
Mind you, my own fascination with dinosaurs has lasted my whole life. In college I was the first one in line get tickets to see Jurassic Park, a movie based on a book I had already read and loved. And when I saw those creatures on screen looking more real than I had ever seen them looking before, my stomach lurched with joy, even though I was 20 years old.
View this post on Instagram
For me, dinosaurs seemed attainable. Giant lizards that roamed the same soil that I now roamed. Creatures that left evidence behind. I was a believer in all things dragons, lightsabers, and holiday, um, traditions, but dinosaurs were the first “fantastical” thing that I liked that someone told me I could actually go to a museum to see. So for me anyway, that was part of it.
Dinosaurs are like garbage trucks
But surely my 1 year old son didn’t begin to seek out dinosaurs strictly due to their evidential proximity. He saw something in them that he found wondrous. For one thing, they are so big while he was so small. It’s a similar to why some kids love trucks. They look at these wondrous marvels of modern technology as they are dwarfed by them and ooh and aah at their strength. Well, what is a dinosaur but a living, breathing, albeit extinct, truck?
There are many theories about why kids, boys especially, like dinosaurs. Some of it comes from the same evolutionary place as their love for trucks. Trucks, planes, and machines by the way still seem to be in the lead when it comes to childhood obsessions, but dinosaurs are in second place and miles ahead of the rest of the list.
Boys apparently have an “innate bias” towards pushing and pulling and wrestling. Basically, they are more physical in general (this is evolution talking, not sexism, I swear!). This fits into their desire to play with trucks and, I would argue, also to play with dinosaurs. Trucks have wheels, but dinosaurs have legs and teeth. A bulldozer bulldozes and a dinosaur stomps.
So, what if you say “my daughter loves dinosaurs”? Don’t worry about it! She’s just cool. Well, I think so, anyway. Whether it’s your son, your daughter, or your gender-neutral, non-binary child who loves dinosaurs, it’s a sign of cognitive health. Truly! Sometime between the ages of 2 and 6, almost 1/3 of children develop some kind of an obsession. These obsessions can be a giant confidence booster for them, an identifier. “This is what I like, and I know all of these things about this thing that I like! What do you like?” And it gives them a clear focus as well.
But a love of dinosaurs in particular seems to point towards an analytical mind. Playing with toys in general is how kids process early learning. It’s part of the growing process. Through having fun with their dinosaur toys, they ask questions, they categorize them into meat eaters and plant eaters, they can even process the idea of death. Heavy stuff! But the fact that dinosaurs did exist but now don’t is a window into conversations about the circle of life. And, as evidenced by my April Fool’s story above, dinosaurs are a way to show them something that is fantastical but was also real. So, they open up their minds to the possibilities of our awe-inspiring, infinite universe.
Why are dinosaurs so popular now?
There’s evidence that the popularity of dinosaurs goes back to the 1950s, but the availability of dinosaur toys for kids was just a bit lacking. I think you could pinpoint the dino-mania that feels really prevalent in the world today to modern advertising. There is a direct correlation on how we operate as consumers with those Facebook Ads you see on your timeline every day. Those ads are cultivated for you. Big Brother knows what you like based on your search history and they offer you glimpses of things that you might also like.
Well, kids are easier to read. Give them a show about trains and let’s see what happens. OK, now replace the trains with dinosaurs or any other subject and you most likely get enough little viewers to sustain ad revenue for years to come. If you are a true genius, like those at The Jim Henson Company, you create a show called Dinosaur Train, which combines, you guessed it: dinosaurs and trains (a story-line that makes absolutely no sense, but who cares) and you have a monster hit. And dinosaur TV shows lead to dinosaur toys for boys, dinosaur toys for girls, dinosaur figures, dinosaur fossil kits, dinosaur clothing, yes dinosaur merchandise.
It makes sense to me that kids love dinosaurs. I am ecstatic that my kid loved dinosaurs because we could connect on that level. If he had decided to love garbage trucks, then I would have checked out. Ok, fine, I would have still raised him. But I would have been a lot more bored.
My son is now 10 years old and while he still loves dinosaurs, he has, sadly, moved on. All things must pass. But it’s cool. He’s moved on to dragons, which are basically flying dinosaurs, when you really stop and think about it. So, it tracks.
Dinosaur toys for kids
Are you looking for dinosaur toys for your dinosaur-obsessed child? Well as the dad of a dino-lover, I have a few suggestions on some of our favorites: