JOPLIN, Mo. —
Kids and dinosaurs are made for each other. They look like animals straight out of fantasy, yet the bones on display in museums across the country show that these large animals really lived.
"There's an insatiable fascination between kids and dinosaurs," said Eric Dornfeld, sales and marketing manager for Blue Star Productions. "They are kind of magical and mysterious because they don't exist anymore, yet paleontologists have done extensive research and found that these creatures lived."
The production company is behind Discover the Dinosaurs, a traveling, hands-on exhibit coming to Joplin this weekend. The event will feature many animatronic and museum-quality dinosaurs -- from herbivores to carnivores; from the terrifying Tyrannosaurus rex to the well-defended stegosauraus -- as well as inflatables and other kid-friendly amusements.
Dornfeld said the traveling exhibit was made for kids to touch.
"There are a lot of great displays at science museums across the country," Dornfeld said. "We tried to put these in a way that kids can get up close and touch them, make them move. That gives them more access than at those science museums."
The company operates two touring units that travel across the country. The dinosaurs have been sculpted to reflect paleontologists' most recent discoveries about the creatures, such as how some dinosaurs were found to have been covered in feathers. The dinosaurs in the exhibit are mostly from the Cretaceous and late Jurassic periods.
"That's part of the allure," Dornfeld said. "Scientists are discovering new dinosaurs all the time."
Dinosaurs kickstart imaginations and can spark lifelong interests in paleontology and other sciences, Dornfeld said.
There are plenty of ways parents can encourage their children to learn about the tremendous lizards together (because we're betting that even the best parents struggle with the differences between the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods):
Hit the library. There are so many different books to choose from, filled with plenty of pictures. There are also movies and other materials with good information.
Try to stick with more recent publications -- there was a day when paleontologists thought that dinosaurs were just big crocodiles, after all. New information about dinosaurs is discovered every month, however. Something a parent learned in school may have been altered or disproved completely.
- Find dinosaur toys, and play away. They can be found pretty cheaply in most toy stores, or more expensive, scientifically accurate models can be found in educational supply stores. Identify them, play with them, then let kids take over the fun.
- Go on a dinosaur dig. Wildlife Fun4Kids.com has a great idea for making your own dinosaur fossils out of powdered plaster, then burying those fossils in your backyard sandbox or other sandpit. If making fossils is too complicated, just bury some of those dinosaur toys or chicken bones. Teach kids how paleontologists carefully dig out fossils in order to preserve the fragile finds.
- Take a fossil-hunting trip. Thanks to Missouri's abundance of sedimentary rock, fossils and other imprints of long-gone creatures can be found as close as Grand Falls. All it takes is the willingness to take a hike and inspect rocks.
Want to go?
Discover the Dinosaurs will be held Friday through Sunday at Holiday Inn Convention Center. The event features an exhibit area of dinosaurs and an entertainment area with mini-golf, inflatables, rides and more.
The event is open from noon to 9 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.
Admission: $17 for teens and adults; $15 for seniors; $12 for children 2 to 12. Admission to exhibit and amusements: $20 for children 2 to 12. Details: 651-766-2800.