• Sarah Caughron

Play-Doh + Dinosaurs

Budget-friendly, hands-on fun with Play-Doh and Dinosaurs!

Keep scrolling to learn how to engage older children in this activity.

Make cool dino impressions in Play-Doh! Make a fossil cast!

Making dinosaur impressions from feet, skin, teeth, and bones is a great way to learn about dinosaur morphometrics and even concepts like predator-prey and herbivore vs. carnivore.


Play-doh or modeling clay

Plastic dinosaurs of various sizes

BONUS: dinosaur tooth casts

The process couldn't be any easier. All you have to do is flatten the play-doh and smash the dinosaur into the doh, leaving a really cool impression. I know that play-doh isn't everyone's favorite play modality, but I can't over-articulate the importance of using this material to build hand strength and stamina. This is strength is necessary to writing and other fine-motor function.

Make skeletal impressions.

Make footprint impressions and discuss predator-prey relationships.

As with the skeleton impression, one can also make skin impressions. Using dinosaurs like the a stegosaurus, for example, is fun because you can observe the spikes along the spine. If you have a larger dinosaur with great "scaly" skin, that makes a terrific impression and a great conversation starter about the characteristics of a reptile.

We have some really cool museum-quality tooth replicas. Here is another set. These make great impressions as well, and it's always fun to see you child make connections between tooth form and tooth function. I saw it *click* when we realized sharp teeth are for eating meat and flat teeth are for eating plants. What fun!!


There are many, many ways to extend this activity or adapt it to older children. Here's one example: If you used modeling clay, you could let the impression dry and then use plaster-of-paris to make a fossil cast of the impression. To do this, use a muffin tin, and fill the bottom of the muffin tin with about 1/2 of play doh or clay. Spray with cooking spray or coat with olive oil. Firmly press fossil into clay to make an impression. Remove fossil and observe the impression! Next, take plaster (made per the instructions on the container) and fill the muffin tin. When the plaster dries, simply remove the plaster from the clay, and you will have a CAST and a MOLD similar to how paleontologists make impressions in the field!

There is a fossil set that I also love to use with older students, and this makes great impressions of other prehistoric creatures and plants! Here is another set.

I also really love this book about paleontology and this book for older students about dinosaurs (and it has a lot of easy-to-digest info about birds being descended from dinosaurs!).

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