The World’s Largest Dinosaurs Exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City
by Anne Siller
Perhaps it's been awhile since you've considered the dinosaur. After all, it's not as if they are out in your garden, nibbling on your new lettuce shoots; you're not wishing your neighbors would clean their coporlites off your lawn. Perhaps you prefer your wildlife to be a little more….relevant.
Well, in my house, we consider the dinosaur every day. You can't put your foot down in my living room without stepping on some prehistoric life form. Each afternoon at 5pm, all action stops (a miracle in itself) so that the 4-year-old, 3-year-old, and 21-month-old can watch the latest Dino Dan episode on Nick Jr. We are endlessly fascinated with the things that lived 150 million years ago.
So the excitement was palpable in the Siller house as we planned for our trip to the American Museum of Natural History to take in the World’s Largest Dinosaurs exhibit. The exhibit opened in April and runs through January of 2012. A separate ticket is required for this exhibit, in addition to the general admission ticket.
The World's Largest Dinosaurs: The Exhibit
This exhibit highlights the sauropods, a species of dinosaur that grew to be, well, huge. HUGE. But the paleontologists behind this exhibit have chosen to focus not just on size but on the biology of these titans as well. How did they grow so fast and so very big? How did they support that long neck? How did their heart, their lungs, their digestive system work to support such an enormous creature? The exhibit answers all of these questions and more.
The World's Largest Dinosaurs is, ironically, a small exhibit, spanning three rooms. It offers opportunities to touch and interact, and it demonstrates in many clever ways the difference in scale between the sauropods and any living thing that walks the earth today.
Now, I was traveling with a toddler and two preschoolers. They are all dinosaur enthusiasts, to say the least, but much of the biology was lost on them. I'm not sure they are even capable of understanding the significance of the difference in scale between the eggs of a modern day bird versus a sauropod (though I was surprised). But that is okay: There was plenty of WOW when they walked in and saw the Argentinosaurus head at ceiling height above them.
Memenchasaurus, Inside and Out
And when these three small children turned the corner and saw the Memenchasaurus, they were blown away. The Memenchasaurus is the centerpiece of the exhibit, not technically the biggest dino ever, but she takes up most of the room in this exhibit. She is a full scale model with the whole left side exposed to receive images from a projection screen suggesting what her insides might have looked like. Seats are arranged so that visitors can take in the show. We didn’t stop for this—this preschool power trio of mine doesn't stop for much—and it seemed tailored for older children and adults. So we headed out of the room and straight for the dig. I mean, to Paradise.
The final room of the exhibit is arranged with two large tables holding the equivalent of giant sandboxes. They are filled with a mix of sand and wax; casts of fossils are buried within for little paleontologists to dig out. The setup is designed to mimic an actual dig site in Wyoming, where a camarasaurus was once excavated.
To participate in the dig, kids wait on fairly fast-moving line. At the entrance to the dig, they are provided a chisel, a brush and goggles (which have been sterilized, so no pinkeye worries). Then they go to it. There is no time limit; they may stay and dig as long as they like. However, the digging takes a little elbow grease, so they do tire out eventually. The younger children may stand on the stools provided to get a little leverage.
The dig was, no question, the highlight of the trip for us. My kids loved it and it was clear that the older children around them were enjoying themselves as well. Upon handing in their equipment, kids can receive a sticker to be placed in the information booklet given out at the entrance. That sticker has a secret code that, when punched into the AMNH website, leads to all sorts of avenues for the young paleontologist.
After the big dig, the exhibit exit leads to the (yikes!) gift shop and then filters out to the Saurischian Wing of the museum, where there are more dinosaurs to be found. After the ecstasy of the gift shop, my pre-schoolers were done, maxed out. But older kids and adults will still have a great deal more pre-history to take in while wandering around the fourth floor.
My family took in one other exhibit, the Hall of African Mammals (my 4-year-old's other favorite), and then we hit the food court. There is a lot more for adults and older kids with more stamina, but for us, after a relaxing PBJ in the food court, the visit—a good one—was done. Time to go home and play with the new plastic dinosaurs.
Tips for enjoying The World's Largest Dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History
- Get 'em pumped up in advance. No, I don't mean the Memenchasaurus heart (pictured above). I mean help your kids understand what they're going to see, and get them excited about it. The night before we went into the exhibit we staged a little "Bring your Favorite Dino to Dinner" night. The type of dinosaur each child brought to the table decided what food he or she started with: salad for the herbivores, chicken for the meat eaters! We finished with dino cupcakes; easy to make (or I couldn’t make them). and, you know, they’re cupcakes!
- Get there early! At the end of the school year, field trips abound as they do, I'm certain, in the summer. Try and beat the busloads of school- and camp kids. The museum opens at 10am; according to one of the museum volunteers, the first tour through the exhibit at 10:30 is the quietest.
- Stay toward the back of the line. We went through the exhibit in a swarm, but it emptied out in about 15 min, when everyone was on line or in the dig. Had we been at the end of the entrance line, we would have had the luxury of lingering a bit longer on each segment.
- Have your children wear bright clothes, possibly matching colors. The Sauropod exhibit is dimly lit, and bright clothes help you spot a kid in the crowd.
- Prepare for the gift shop. What can I say? It's magical…everything your kid wants is in there. And you have to walk through it to get out. So unless you want to drag them out kicking and screaming (or run them through with a bag over the head), factor it into your budget. Shoppers can choose from a wide range of merchandise, from $2 figurines to actual fossils.
- Pack lunch. The museum cafeteria has a wide range of options, many of them healthful, but the museum prices are Manhattan prices. (Think $9 hamburger.)
- Take a break. The American Museum of Natural History is a huge museum, with many amazing exhibits and a planetarium/space center to boot. So if you, or your little ones, are flagging, head out to the grounds for a little breather. Central Park awaits, just across the street!
So my children were primed and ready for the following day's special festivities.
Suggested donation for entrance to the AMNH is: $16 adults, $12 students and seniors, $9 children. Exhibits are extra, and there are package deals where a guest pays one price only that includes all special exhibitions: Adults $32, students and seniors $24.50, and children $20. Or you can choose themuseum plus one exhibit: Adults $24, students/seniors $18, and children $14. If one chooses to pay less then the suggested price, but wants to see an exhibit, add on $20 for adults, $16.50 for student/seniors, and $11 children, for each exhibit.
In other words, this is not cheap, especially if you have a large family. It is special. So prepare your kids well, enjoy the exhibit, and then...
Keep it Going, and Keep them Growing!
Were the kids already dinosaur fanatics, or did this visit spark their interest? There are many ways to sustain their enthusiasm:
- On the web: The AMNH website offers lots of avenues to explore for budding paleontologists. It is a bit advanced for little ones, but for the brave, there are directions on how to make your own fossils with chicken bones and Plaster of Paris. For younger children, Nick Jr. and PBS Kids both serve up friendly fare with Dino Dan and Dinosaur Train respectively. Their websites offer plenty of activities, games and printables.
- The books are endless…pick a field guide! We love anything by National Geographic. National Geographic Kids Ultimate Dinopedia: The Most Complete Dinosaur Reference Ever is the fave of my 4-year-old. Open it up when you are watching a Dino show, let the kids try to identify what they see. Also, don’t miss Dinosaurs Love Underpants and Dinosaur Roar (Picture Puffins) for the less scientific-minded. Find them at your local library, bookstore, or online source.
- The videos are also endless! No collection would be complete without the BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs, narrated by Kenneth Branagh. An incredible production, it is technology at its current best. The dinosaurs look as if they are being filmed in their original habitats. For the little ones, The Land Before Time collection (animated dinos)--Robert Guillaume (remember Benson from when we were kids?) voices the Mr. Thicknose, the stegosaurus. For the (much) older kids, try Jurassic Park (not for the squeamish!).
- On a rainy day, have a Dino Scavenger Hunt. Print out a stack of printables off the web and tape them all over the house while the kids aren’t watching. Hand them a hat and a flashlight and send them on their way. Great for a hyper preschooler or two. (I have two.)
- Remember, anything can be a fossil when it's in the ground! Send them outdoors with a paintbrush and a spoon, and let them work in the dirt. If it’s a tree root, or just a rock, so be it! While they are digging, it’s a fossil!
Anne Siller is a writer based in the Hudson Valley. In addition to writing for KidsOutAndAbout.com, she edits HyperKidsTravel.com, which helps parents of very active kids navigate travel both locally and far from home. Send comments or suggestions to AnneHSiller@hotmail.com.