515. Dinosaurs

When I first started teaching elementary school, two children in my class were quite sure that they wanted to be paleontologists when they grew up. They’re grown up now, and I doubt whether either one of them is a paleontologist. Maybe, but probably not. People tend to change their minds a lot. When I was in second grade, I wanted to be an elementary school teacher, but I think it’s a coincidence that I actually ended up being one. In first grade, I wanted to be a cowboy, in fifth grade, a doctor, in high school, a diplomat. And in college, I didn’t know what I wanted to be. But many of the children I know want to be paleontologists, at least for a while. They like finding out that huge, monstrous creatures once roamed the earth. They like finding out exactly how big these creatures were, how to pronounce their names, what they ate, and so on. They like speculating about why so many dinosaurs – especially the larger ones – became extinct. So as an elementary school teacher, I ended up learning a lot more about dinosaurs than I otherwise would have. Even if we didn’t do a unit on dinosaurs some year, I’d hear about them at recess.
Why this perennial fascination with creatures that haven’t existed for so long? Children who are fascinated with living animals tend to be interested in mammals, and maybe birds. Not as many like reptiles. Though some tell me that snakes, iguanas, alligators, and the like are cute, most prefer horses, dogs, cats, gerbils, guinea pigs, and hamsters. We’re mammals, and most of us connect more with other mammals.
But dinosaurs were big. And unlike King Kong and other imaginary monsters, they really existed. Children may start out afraid of monsters, but somehow, that fear often turns into fascination. I don’t know to what degree the fear hangs in there, with fascination either a disguise or a different manifestation of the fear. I know there are children who don’t share that fascination with their peers. I was such a child; I learned what I had to learn about dinosaurs, and was quite happy that they were extinct. I didn’t like reptiles, insects, or other animals that seemed creepy; I knew that some of them – maybe most of them – didn’t bother people, but I wasn’t sure how well THEY knew that, nor whether they’d recognize me as one of the creatures they didn’t bother. I stuck with mammals and birds.
But as a teacher, I want to connect with children. Some children make that easy – they’re into writing, music, or conversation, just like me. Some are more interested in things I used to like more than I do now – baseball, experimenting with chemicals, or building things with toys. But one child I know loves football, which I’ve never loved nor understood. And many love studying dinosaurs. Loving children as I do, I’ll probably go to some football games, and I’ll probably keep learning about dinosaurs.

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