Did you know that Diplodocus poop weighed about two tons, or that the T-rex was known as the Lizard King (sorry Jim Morrison)? I didn’t, well, not until my 3-year-old son told me. He knows EVERYTHING about EVERY type of dinosaur.
Of course, I think my toddler is a genius, but to be fair, all kids know stuff about dinosaurs, and many kids love dinos. It’s a phenomenon, but one rooted in basic childhood development, say the experts.
“Around ages three to four, children tend to develop intense specific interests. This is the age when imagination-based play really takes off,” says Hannah Knott, MS, Certified Child Life Specialist, and Assistant Professor at Azusa Pacific University. “At this age, children are still figuring out how to distinguish reality from fantasy; what is real and what’s my imagination? When the line between fantasy and reality is a bit blurred in your developing mind, something as cool as a dinosaur becomes that much more fascinating,” says Knott.
But why does my three-year-old need to play with dinosaurs? It could be the continuous dino marketing of toys, books and movies, but dinosaurs are so much more than cool products and storylines. They're a mix of reality and myth; that award-winning combination is what makes dinosaurs so mesmerizing, says Knott.
“Even though [adults] know these were real creatures that existed, because no one has ever interacted with a living dinosaur, they retain an element of fantasy that we are captivated by,” adds Knott. “The fact that some dinosaurs would have been so huge and so strong gives them almost a superhero status, especially to a child.”
“Studies have shown that children learn more when they enjoy the process,” says Knott. “Having fun or being excited about what you’re learning increases neuron activity. When you enjoy something you’re doing, your brain is producing more oxytocin, more dopamine, more norepinephrine, and those are related to motivation, attention and memory,” she adds.
The inner child in me knows there are a lot of great things about dinosaurs, but the grown up in me also knows that dinosaurs are not known for their warm and gentle nature. Some parents may find their child’s love of a ginormous carnivorous lizard that topples buildings a bit off-putting, but this is normal developmental behavior, says Knott.
“Playful aggression, sometimes called rough-and-tumble play, is also an important aspect of dramatic play that helps children learn cooperation, boundaries and reciprocity,” says Knott. “When a child is crashing dinosaur toys together, or growling and pretending to bite her brother because she’s the carnivorous dinosaur and he’s the unfortunate prey, it’s not necessarily something to discourage. Playful aggression helps children learn how to get along, and as long as everyone is having fun, it’s a good sign social-emotional learning is happening,” adds Knott.
If you have a child that’s just gaga for a Gallimimus — inside dinosaur joke — here is a list of must-have toys for kids of all ages. Go forth and embrace the dinos.
Dinosaur toys for toddlers and younger kids
When my son plays with his cow and cowboy hand puppet, the conversations tend to be pretty epic. Will they talk about the good ole days before comets, or will they discuss inflation and the stock market? Who knows? Dinosaur hand puppets are one-size-fits-all, and each hand puppet is sold separately.
Ah, a book I know like the back of a baryonx’s head. “How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?” is a classic read for any kid who loves their dinos and excels in avoiding bedtime. Beautifully written by author by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Mark Teague, this bedtime tale is sure to become a nighttime favorite.
This toy is simple, colorful, creative and fun to pick up and put down. Use these to learn colors, practice counting or just for imaginative play. My three-year-old can’t get enough of his “jar of dinosaurs.”
A part of Alex Scheffler’s "Flip Flap" series, this book finally gives us the detailed and illustrated answer of what you get when you cross a triceratops with a velociraptor. With each turn of a page flap, your kiddo will learn real tidbits on their favorite dinosaur or learn the made-up version of 121 dinos they just invented on the page. A great early reader for ages three and up.
Shine the light on the past or in your child’s bedroom with this dinosaur night projector. This LED night projector beams a bright and beautiful dinosaur shaped light throughout your child’s room. Thanks to the 360° rotation feature, your child will drift to sleep with images of cheerful triceratops dancing in their heads.
What do a dinosaur, the ocean and a farm have in common? They are not sold separately! Well at least not in this color and erase coloring book three-pack from Crayola. Unlike the one-and-done coloring books of yesteryear, the fun keeps on going and going with these reusable activity books. Just color, wipe, color again and enjoy! Great for long-distance travel or for the child who loathes a two-minute drive to the grocery store.
Is this a toy? Technically no. Will your kid think it is? Ding, ding, ding! Brushing teeth doesn’t have to be a bore or a chore with this electric dino toothbrush. With its cute design and parent-tested and -approved award status, this toothbrush doesn’t just look cool — it gets the job done.
A big recommendation from the teachers in my circle for this STEM-infused toy. Build ‘em up, break’ em down and learn all about the mechanics of small construction with this toy set that includes a low speed drill, two drill bits, a manual screwdriver and the parts necessary to construct three ultra cool dinosaurs. A great gift for mechanically minded kids or kids who are wanting to put those fine motor skills to work, this is optimal for kids ages three to eight years old.
A habitat fit for a very small dinosaur or for your imaginative child, this cardboard playhouse is just begging for a makeover. A dab of color here or maybe a dash of paint there and a creative sticker right in the middle? It’s your little designer’s choice!
Brontosaurus Rex? That can’t be right, but it is with these mix-and-match magnet toys from Lakeshore Learning! An awesome gift for children ages two to five years old, this set includes 16 magnetic dino parts which can equal up to four truly wacky and educational new dino friends.
Now this prehistoric park is one I can get behind, and one that your kiddo can sit his or her behind on. This colorful play rug from Melissa & Doug is machine washable, and includes four dinosaur play figures. A great play piece for a child just starting out in imaginative play.
An Elsa and Anna gown is designed for special occasions like a ball, a coronation and a Target run. This dinosaur dress up cape is an everyday piece for any child who is ready for an imaginative rough and tumble prehistoric adventure. Made of soft yet durable fabric, this cape is also machine-washable.
Unclear how great this tent is in keeping dinosaurs out, but it is guaranteed for keeping the fun in! This dinosaur tent is the perfect space for your child to daydream, imagine or just dive into their favorite book with just a wee bit of privacy. Pro tip for parents: When shut, this tent also doubles as emergency toy storage for when Grandma and Grandpa come visit unexpectedly.
Talk about when imagination and cognitive play meet — these Magna-Tiles come in XL pieces for XL dino-loving fun and Jurassic level builds. The set includes 50 pieces and is recommended for ages three and up.
This two-seater play Jeep is 100% nicer than my first actual car. It has trunk space, power lock brakes and parent-controlled speed. Ideal for kids ages three to seven.
Dinosaur toys for older kids
Use your words and use your dinosaur factoids to come out victorious in this fun-for-the-whole-family card game from Skillmatics. You’ve got 10 questions; is that enough for you to guess the dinosaur and win the game card? That’s one question already gone! Win seven game cards and win it all. A family game night favorite that will be sure to keep even mom and dad on their toes.
The Tonies storybox is a huge winner in our house — it’s all story time and no screen time. Just plop your little Tonie on the box and let the adventure unfold. This Tonie from National Geographic teaches kids about the various dinos, their fossils, their natural security defenses and talks about the times in which dinos lived. (Toniebox Audio Player is sold separately.)
This 500-piece puzzle assembles and then dazzles. Just flip the light to flip the script on the scene. What was once an array of colorful dinos becomes a glow-in-the dark fossil site. It’s a great gift for dino fans age eight and up.
Not all dinosaurs have to be ferocious. This cuddly little guy is always ready for a snuggle or to be the voice of reason for the more feisty dinosaurs. Soft and weighted, this plush pillow is ready to hibernate whenever your child is.
Brachiosaurus, to rook, or is it Velociraptor check or is it Pteranodon checkmate? Either way, this Jurassic Park chess set will keep the chess playing fun going for centuries. Fit for kids age seven and up, it comes with 32 sculpted dinosaur pieces, and an 18 ½-inch tall chess board.
Haul away plenty of prehistoric fun with this T-Rex transporter from Hot Wheels. This multitasker of a toy can hold 20+ Hot Wheels, features 13 dinotastic sounds, a two lane race track and transforms into a roaring, racing, vehicle-chomping lizard!
Welcome to Jurassic Park, the Lego-sized version. Allow your young dino and Lego enthusiast to step into the builder’s seat with this build, play and display set. A great kit for kids ages 12 and up, this set includes all the fixings for the buildable and displayable visitor center, six Lego figurines and all the accessories fit for a budding archaeologist.
This dinosaur toy is one for the whole family to enjoy, and one that will be the hit of your next summer pool party. This motorized dinosaur float is a legend in itself. Big enough to accommodate an adult up to 250 pounds (or roughly 5.9 three-year-olds), this float will have you cruising in style from one end of the pool to the next.
Not all dinos have to roar to make a statement. This dinosaur bookcase from Delta Children says so much without making a sound. With its modest stature and open shelving throughout the build, it quite plainly states, “My kid loves overgrown lizards, books, and finely made home furnishings!”