Last night I was watching probably the fifth posting in the last several weeks on social media, of a young preschooler identifying and pronouncing the names of ten or more dinosaurs. Complicated names! Spinosaurus, Diplodocus, Allosaurus, Velociraptor; the preschooler went on and on to the amazement of his mother.
So why is it that many preschoolers can rattle off these long complex names, yet we are very careful keeping things simple when we talk to them or explain something? "It's over their head." you often hear, "He doesn't understand that." Yet, he can name a Macurosurus! It really gets you thinking.
I am sure there are a scientific reasons surrounding this phenomenon, and I an not qualified to speak to that, but there might be other reasons these names stick. Could it be that once they hear the name of a dino, its no different than when they hear the guy in the jet powered supersuit's name is Ironman? The visual sticks. Do they assign a character unknowingly to that dinosaur and he plays a role in the world of our preschooler's imagination? After all it's his name!
It's that story thing I talk a lot about again. Children tell stories. Usually short and with little logic, but clear as anything to them. I don't think they classify dinosaurs in the traditional sense, but they do arrange them in a way that is meaningful to their world. They often line them up side by side much the way you see them lining handfuls of Hot Wheel cars; classifying in their own unique way. They are creating a reason and a story for why they are where they are in that lineup and remembering what each name is. After all, they are all characters in their stories. With dinosaurs, they can recognize the huge ones, the ones that roar the loudest and the ones that are chasing all the others. They need names after all!
There are suggestions from others that these long named dinosaurs have a fun, phonic cadence and children like the way they sound as they roll off their tongue. Hypsilophodon; see! If they have fun saying, chances are they will remember the name. Even at the youngest age, they are proud when they can repeat that long name.
Preschoolers are beginning to understand story and although they can't read, they can replay a story that has been read to them in their own version. They remember even more when a stories are told with great expression. It seems to stick with them because of the dramatic details. Think about how dramatic a story about dinosaurs can be! Those children that get answers to the why and what questions they ask along the way also creates a stronger and more memorable image in their minds. This is why it is so important to read and participate in reading with a preschooler at that early age.
Having worked on many Imaginext dinosaur products while i was at Fisher Price, it never ceased to amaze me how popular they all were. They lent themselves to fantasy, yet they seemed so real. They are the kings of cool and bigger than life and each name was as important as the next in the stories they tell.
So, when a child identifies a Compsognathus, don't be surprised. He's just like Batman with a more fun name!