If your child’s face lights up at the mention of fossils or he looks forward to rainy days because he can hang out in the dinosaur hall of a natural history museum, you might have a junior paleontologist on your hands. Lots of kids love dinosaurs, so it’s no surprise that museums and camps around the country offer special dinosaur camps where kids can dive into paleontology and get hands-on experience in fossils and the science of prehistoric life. Some of the best give kids the opportunity to work with real fossils or at real dig sites.
Day camps give kids the opportunity to learn about dinosaurs and tell you all about their paleo-adventures at the dinner table. In New York state, youths from ages 8 to 12 can check out three fossil sites, learn to identify fossils and animal tracks, explore the wetlands and play in the woods at a week-long camp at Penn Dixie Paleontological and Outdoor Education Center (penndixie.org). Dinosaur Ridge (dinoridge.org) in Morrison, Colorado, has more than 300 dinosaur footprints for young paleontologists to measure -- plus other plant and animal fossils and activities designed for kids as young as age 5. FunCamps (funcamps.com), a program in south Florida, offers a dinosaur-themed JurasiCamp, where kids can learn the basics of paleontology with specially designed dig boxes.
A family camp can be an engrossing opportunity to spend time with your kids while learning more about their favorite subject. Families live like paleontologists at the Family Paleontology Camp at Falls of the Ohio State Park (fallsoftheohio.org). Kids have to be at least 12 years old and should show a long-time interest in paleontology, so this is an ideal program for children who are serious about the subject. In South Dakota, kids and parents team up for a two-day paleontology camp at the South Dakota Museum of Geology (museum.sdsmt.edu) at the Museum of Geology, where you’ll split your time between the museum’s lab and the Little Houston Quarry. Kids 12 and older can participate with you in a real dinosaur dig in eastern Montana through the program at the Judith River Dinosaur Institute (montanadinosaurdigs.com).
For passionate paleontologists, a summer camp focused on the subject may be a welcome adventure. At the South Dakota School of Mining and Technology (sdsmt.edu), high school students can visit dig sites in the Badlands, prep, collect and cast fossils at an on-campus camp led by students and grad students in the school’s paleontology program. Kids in second grade and up can learn about fossils by hunting and identifying them at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry’s (omsi.edu) overnight camps. At the Encana Badlands Science Camp in Alberta, Canada, kids from ages 9 to 12 spend a week learning about paleontology, including prospecting for dinosaur bones in the Alberta badlands and working with paleontologists at the Royal Tyrrell Museum (tyrrellmuseum.com).
Paleontology camps are popular and fill up fast, so plan to register early to ensure a spot. Camps that take place on real dig sites may have strict age limits because of insurance issues, so be sure you know any rules about age requirements or parental supervision before you sign up.