Imagine Childcare visits the Tyrannosaurs at Te Papa!

Imagine Childcare visits the Tyrannosaurs at Te Papa!

This blog provides an excellent opportunity not only for us to share with you, but  for you to share with each other.

How do you use our museum as a learning resource? What do you find to be best practice? Why are museum and gallery experiences important for your tamariki?

 Our latest story comes from kaiako (teacher) Nichola from Imagine Childcare in Petone:


“Shake, shake, shudder near the sludgy, old, swamp, The dinosaurs are coming, get ready to romp!”

This is the start of a great book called Dinosaurumpus by Tony Milton, and this year at Te Papa it is coming true! As soon as we heard early this year that the Tyrannosaurs – Meet the Family exhibition was coming to Te Papa we knew we just had to go! We booked a ECE Fossil Hunters session with a Te Papa Educator (so simple!) then all we had to do was wait and get ready for our big trip.

From the beginning of October little teasers started to appear – like our local Mitre 10 Mega having a dinosaur trail, hearing about the exhibition on the radio, and seeing it in print. This got us excited to fever pitch and we started to prepare in earnest.

Firstly we gathered the children’s ideas about what a dinosaur is:

  • The big dinosaurs eat the little dinosaurs
  • They can be big and little
  • They have got really big feet
  • They eat trees
  • They get covered in sand

We also had some questions, which we did some finding out about:

  • What is a carnivore?
  • What does extinct mean?

We looked in books at dinosaurs and we looked on YouTube at dinosaurs. We looked on peoples T-shirts at dinosaurs, and then we drew our findings. We started to find out more about what a ‘tyrannosaur’ actually is.

“Is this a tyrannosaur?” “mmm…NO!”

“Is this a tyrannosaur?” “YES!”

We were also intrigued one morning to arrive at Imagine and see what looked very much like dinosaur footprints in our sandpit! Quite a few of the children had already been to the exhibition at Te Papa with their families, and would share their recommendations of their ‘must sees’.

Eventually the day of our trip arrived but it seemed to take forever to get ready in the morning! Then, at last it was time to go. It’s a walk, a bus, then another walk to get to Te Papa but we knew it would be totally worth it.

Arriving at Te Papa we met our Te Papa educator, Rebecca (or as she would come to be known ‘T-Bex’). Rebecca explained to us what we would be doing and that we would be special scientists, or palaeontologists during our time together. We each had to wear special vests to wear so that the other people at the museum would know we were the Fossil Hunters, and that they could ask us questions as dinosaur experts.

Field work in Bush City, Photographer: Imagine Childcare, © Imagine Childcare
Field work in Bush City, Photographer: Imagine Childcare, © Imagine Childcare

Our first stop was at a digging site in Bush City. We spend time with special tools such as brushes, spades and marker pegs excavating the giant animal skeleton. Rebecca pointed out different parts such as the spine, ribs and the tail. We thought that it must be a meat eater because it had sharp teeth! Rebecca asked us what we uncovered and the resounding answer was “A dinosaur!”, but it fact it was something else… Looking at it’s body we saw it had flippers instead of feet!

“This is NOT a dinosaur, because dinosaurs walk, not swim”, she explained. “This is a swimming reptile called a Mosasaur”

You could almost hear a pin drop while some of the children reflected on that.

And then she asked, “If dinosaurs walk, are pterodactyls and pteradons dinosaurs?”

We were pretty sure they were to start with, but after thinking and talking it through we realised they weren’t either.

Rebecca said, “Pterodactyls and pteradons are types of flying reptiles.”

We also learnt that lizards and tuatara are not dinosaurs either – because their legs aren’t straight under their bodies.


Our next stop was the ‘laboratory’. On the way there up through the track in Bush City, Rebecca had us stomp like a dinosaur, and roar like a one too – you could definitely hear us coming!

Walking and Talking like Dinosaurs, Photographer: Imagine Childcare, © Imagine Childcare
Walking and Talking like Dinosaurs, Photographer: Imagine Childcare, © Imagine Childcare

In the lab there were a variety of great hands on experiences that we could explore, that reinforced our concepts of what tyrannosaurs are, what dinosaurs are, and what reptiles are. It was great to be able to see and touch real bones and to consolidate our ideas.

Working in the lab, Photographer: Imagine Childcare, © Imagine Childcare
Working in the lab, Photographer: Imagine Childcare, © Imagine Childcare

The last stop on our journey was in the exhibition itself. On the way we passed the T.Rex skull on display outside the lifts on Level 4 – oh my Grandma T-Rex, what big teeth you have!

It's a T.rex head! Its got big sharp teeth! Photographer: Imagine Childcare, © Imagine Childcare
It’s a T.rex head! Its got big sharp teeth! Photographer: Imagine Childcare, © Imagine Childcare

Going into Tyrannosaurs – Meet the Family, there was such an array of displays that we didn’t know where to look first! So much was interactive and had elements that we could touch and change.

Did you know tyrannosaurs could be a small as a dog or as tall as a building?

Did you know that T.rex only had tiny brain compared to its size? (although we don’t think we would want to risk trying to outsmart one at hide and seek!).

Definite highlights were being able to see what it might look like if tyrannosaurs roamed about Wellington, and the big movie screen where we could see ourselves among the roaming tyrannosaurs – we could almost reach out and touch them.

Encountering T.rex, Photographer: Imagine Childcare, © Imagine Childcare
Encountering T.rex, Photographer: Imagine Childcare, © Imagine Childcare

All too soon it was time to say goodbye to Rebecca and to go back to Imagine. On returning, we were full of tales of about what we had learnt and seen at Te Papa:

  • Tyrannosaurs are not alive because they got killed. Tyrannosaurs might eat people.
  • The shadow roared. We were seeing the bones. We saw Rebecca.
  • They were really loud. They stamp their feet. They have sharp claws. They’ve got long tails. They are really loud because they are big tyrannosaurs.
  • The big tyrannosaur was moving. There are baby tyrannosaurs and lots of different coloured baby tyrannosaurs.
  • Tyrannosaurs can run so fast.
  • The shadow tyrannosaur was biting. Tyrannosaurs walk. There are no swimming dinosaurs, they are called reptiles.
  • Tyrannosaurs have sharp teeth and long tails. Some have spikes on their backs.
  • They are extinct. The bones got covered by sand.
  • The shadow tyrannosaur was fighting. I saw a T-Rex mouth.

One of the learning outcomes of the Exploration strand of our Early Childhood Curriculum Te Whāriki is that “children develop themselves as ‘explorers’ – competent, confident learner who ask questions and make discoveries” (Ministry of Education, 1996, p.88), and while there are many learning outcome that we could use to evaluate our visit against we feel that this one fits quite well. Children were able to find out by exploring – seeing, touching, hearing and asking, by talking to experts and by being the experts. And despite one of our older children declaring, “I know everything about dinosaurs”(!) even they were able to make discoveries.

No doubt our dinosaur exploration has not quite finished and there is still much finding out to do, but our trip to Te Papa will definitely be the highlight. Thank you to Te Papa, and especially to our super-educator Rebecca, for making this exhibition accessible to us, we’ll be back, and we’ll bring our families.

He kōrero ako tino rawe! (An awesome learning story) Thank you for sharing with us all Imagine Childcare. We look forward to hearing where your interest in dinosaurs takes you!


  1. awesome article. wonderful way to get the kids imagination involved!

    well done!

  2. This is a very great example of connecting a museum exploration to the classroom for early childhood. I am impressed by the list of things the little ones remembered when they returned to the classroom. Thanks for sharing your story!

  3. Thank you Imagine Childcare for sharing this story with us. So great to hear a recount of your trip, from your perspective. Gave me warm fuzzies!

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