Dino Tales!


Photo by Mike Nepper

The summer 2010 special exhibit at the Milwaukee County Zoo was not just about dinosaurs. The exhibit had many interesting stories that come with creating a prehistoric exhibit. One is a travel story of how life-size robotic dinosaurs, some reaching more than 40 feet in length, get from Texas to Wisconsin.

Another is the inside scoop of what visitors saw at the summer exhibit Adventure Dinosaur!, sponsored by Lowe’s. The exhibit ran May 29-September 6, 2010. You can read this story in the April 2010 Alive magazine.

Yet another story is about how things go wrong when you’re trying science projects—and how you learn from your failures.

You’ll find more science and art fun below. Try making the Sand art o’ saurus and the Model Tyrannosaurus rex. Plus, the Kids Alive section of the April 2010 Alive magazine featured a story and activities on how to be a paleontologist looking for dinosaurs. At the bottom of this page are those activities and their solutions:

Sand art o’ saurus

Sand art o' saurus

Top view of the finished Sand art o’ saurus project. Our Sand art o’ saurus is more rainbow colored because we made more layers of blue, red and green sand than the recipe calls for. Photo by Benjamin Wright

How about combining art and “fossils”? Here’s a sand art project made with chicken bones that you can use as “fossils.” The next time your family has chicken for dinner, ask to save some of the bones. You can clean them and use them here. We found a 50-pound bag of sand for under $3.00 at a Lowe’s store. That’s a lot more sand than you need here, but you can use the rest of the sand for other projects.* Or, ask your parents if they want it for the family garden.

Materials Needed:

  • 4 bowls, 5 ½ inches in diameter and about 2 ½ inches deep
  • A 12-cup regular-size muffin pan
  • 3 cups sand*
  • 12 drops each of green, red, and blue food coloring (total: 36 drops.)
  • 7 ½ cups of water (divided)
  • Leftover bones from chicken (breast bone, leg bone, etc.)
  • 3 tablespoons bleach
  • Clear plastic container (4 ¼-by-5 ½-by-3 inch Gladware container works best)

Fossil Sand Art Instructions:

Sand art o' saurus

Depending on your view, these chicken breast bones stuck in sand can look like a dinosaur rib cage. We used four different-sized wishbones and pointed them in the same way. Photo by Benjamin Wright

  • Fill three bowls each with about 1 ½ cups of water
  • Squirt 12 drops of green into one bowl, blue into another, and red into the last.
  • Pour 1 cup sand into each bowl. Let soak 1 hour.
  • Using a long spoon, stir sand to mix in color. Wait 1 hour. Mix again. Repeat 2 more times, waiting an hour between mixing.
  • While waiting, bleach chicken bones. Bleaching Instructions: Rub any scraps of meat and grizzle off bones. Mix bleach with 3 cups water in fourth bowl and let bones soak 30 minutes. Remove bones from liquid, set on paper towels and let dry 4 hours.
  • With each bowl of sand, drain out water (be careful not to pour your sand out).
  • Use your hands to scoop out colored sand and drop sand into muffin-pan cups.
  • Bake sand-filled muffin cups in oven at 250 degrees 40 minutes.
  • With a parent’s help, use an oven mitt to remove sand-filled muffin tin from oven; let cool 15 minutes on heat-safe surface.
  • Use spoon to scoop all the green sand into the plastic container; then put a layer of red sand over the green; finally, put a layer of blue sand on top.
  • Make a pretend dinosaur skeleton by sticking chicken bones part way into the blue sand layer. The wishbone (breast bone) of the chicken, if you use a few of these in a row (see photo), can look like the rib cage of a dinosaur. (To get more wishbones, you’ll have to save them from more chickens. Each chicken has only one.) Place other chicken bones, such as a leg or hip bone, in sand to look like bones from a miniature dinosaur. Arrange them any way you like.
  • Now display your Sand art o’saurus .

* In the kids’ section of the April 2010 Alive magazine, there was a project to make a dinosaur footprint cast (see bottom of this page).  Readers used sand as a mold for their plaster dino footprints. That’s another way you can use extra sand.

Model Tyrannosaurus

Model T-rex

Photo by Benjamin Wright

Have you ever made a 3D dinosaur-skeleton puzzle? They generally are sold at hobby stores and are pretty costly.  Now you can create your very own 3D Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton for really nothing more than what you already have at home. 

Materials you will need:

  • several sheets of paper with dinosaur skeleton parts (Click here to print from our Web site)
  • 3 pieces of 8 ½-by-11-inch cardboard
  • a glue stick
  • Scissors
  • crayons or markers (optional)


  • Glue sheet 1 to one cardboard piece. On sheet 2, cut out all the pieces.  
  • Glue sheet 3 to a separate cardboard piece. Glue sheet 4 to the third cardboard piece.
  • If you want, color in bones using crayons or markers. Or just leave them white (like the photo).
  • On sheet 1, cut along outer lines of the bones D, F, M and N.  Cut along the dark lines on connecting pieces C, E, G and J. Glue pieces from sheet 2 to the corresponding backsides of pieces C, D, E, F, G, J, M and N.  Make sure the bony lines face away from the cardboard. Then cut notches (which plug pieces into one another) into all the pieces where you see the outline of a notch (a small rectangle). For example, bones A, B, D, F, H, I, K, L, M and N have only one notch each. Connecting pieces C, G and J have three notches each. Connecting piece E has only two notches.
  • Model T-rex

    Photo by Benjamin Wright

  • Cut along outer lines of pieces A, B, H, I, K and L and then cut notches into those pieces.
  • Head:  Plug A and B (the two head pieces) –with the bony picture side facing away from the cardboard -- into the two notches next to each other on piece C. Then plug backside of piece C into Notch 1 on the dinosaur spine (piece D).
  • Tail:  Connect piece D (the spine, at Notch 2) into connector piece E. Then plug the tail piece F into the other notch on piece E.
  • Legs:  Plug H and I (the two legs pieces) into the two-slotted side on piece G. Then plug backside of G into the spine (piece D) at Point A. Make sure the bony picture sides of the spine and legs face away from the cardboard.
  • Arms:  Plug K and L (the two arm pieces) into the two-slotted side on piece J. Then plug the backside of J into Point B on the bottom of the dinosaur spine (piece D).
  • Ribs:  Plug rib piece M into the top of spine at Point C.  Plug rib piece N into top of spine at Point D. You’re done!
  • Exhibit your dinosaur for friends and family to see.

Be a Paleontologist

Gather Your Tools

To uncover fossils, paleontologists use a variety of tools.  Click below for a word search with a list of some of their tools and some dinosaurs. Circle these words that can be found vertically, horizontally, diagonally and backward within the grid.  Then compare your finds to the solution by clicking on the answers link.

Find Your Bones

Paleontologists know bones. These fossil scientists can tell a dinosaur by its bones and skeleton.  Study the skeletons of some popular dinosaurs by clicking the link below. Match and write the letter of each skeleton in front of the dinosaur it belongs to. Then compare your answers to the solution by clicking on the answers link.

Cast a Footprint

Desert locations such as Arizona or New Mexico have been good places for paleontologists to find dinosaur footprints. They sometimes make casts of these footprints. Using sand, dough and your oven, you, too, can create a footprint cast. Click below for a dinosaur footprint outline and print-out recipe. Then use your extra sand to make our Sand art o’ saurus craft. For a fun story about how things go wrong when you’re trying science projects—and how you learn from your failures, click here.

Activities by Benjamin Wright
Model Tyrannosaurus drawn and created by Benjamin Wright