Dinosaur Fossil Dig

Kids digging up fossils

Ada’s fifth birthday, this year, was special because we’d assumed and kept telling her that kindergarten wouldn’t start until after she turned five. As August arrived we discovered that kindergarten actually starts a week before her birthday and when was Ada told she immediately asked to have her party before school started… so we did. At first I was going to keep it simple with the same sensory stations we had at Zoey’s third birthday party, earlier this summer, but after printing some new dinosaur-themed coloring pages to make the water gun area more in line with Ada I decided to look online to look for more dinosaur themed ideas that we could set up ahead of time and came across the dinosaur fossil dig on Pre-K Pages.

Pinterest image showing multiple images of the dinosaur fossil dig.

We hid our fossils in sand but if you’d rather not use sand you could use something else. We’ve dried out oobleck before to make a colored sand-like substance or you could use some other sensory material including lentils, popcorn kernels, or dried pasta to hide your dinosaurs in. Anything that isn’t wet should work as you don’t want your salt dough fossils to absorb the water. It could be interesting to have multiple materials and see how easily the fossils can hide in each one.


I based this sensory station fully on Vanessa Levin’s Pre-Ks Page “How To Make Dinosaur Fossils With Salt Dough” who used flour, salt, and water to make the salt dough and then used plastic skeletal dinosaurs to make the fossil imprints. After Ada agreed to have a dinosaur fossil dig I jumped on Amazon to buy sand and plastic dinosaurs while also making sure to grab a 10 lb bag of flour and a large salt the next time I ordered groceries… I later had enough leftover after the party to make several batches of playdough. While waiting for the supplies to arrive I found two silicon puzzle-like dinosaur fossil moulds on Amazon and also bought them for this project. Overall I ended up making a lot of dinosaur skeleton imprinted rocks and also ‘fossils’ using the silicon moulds I had. I doubled the first batch and then tripled (or quadrupled) the second batch so I ended up with a lot of fossils. If you make a single batch, according to Vanessa Levin, you should have about 10 fossils.

When we made our first, doubled, batch of salt dough I asked Ada if she wanted me to use black food coloring to make the rocks grey to look more like rocks, but she decided she’d rather have red so we ended up making a batch of pinkish fossils.

Large metal bowl of mostly mixed red-colored salt dough with the red dye, flour, salt, measuring cups, and dinosaur fossils in the background.
I used a spatula at first and then as the dough formed I used my hands to test it out. I kept some of the water back initially so I could slowly add more to get the best texture without finding it watery right from the beginning.

Once the dough was mixed up I gave Ada and Zoey both a chunk while keeping a larger chunk for me so we could all work on making the fossils. Ada had a blast making her fossils while Zoey preferred playing with the dinosaurs themselves. After I finished my fossils I helped Zoey finish off the last of her salt dough. Word of warning after making playdough so many times the salt dough was harder and drier to use than the kids were used to so if you want to simply make fossils without saving them you could always make ‘dinosaur fossils’ in a playdough station at your party instead.

Zoey laid her nightgown's skirt on the table and placed the dinosaurs along it.
I showed Zoey she could make dinosaur imprints by pressing a set of feet into her ball of salt dough…. she then created a dinosaur scene as Ada and I got to work on the fossils.
Some of the dinosaur fossils laid out on a cookie sheet ready to go in the oven.
I used the silicone dinosaur fossil skeleton moulds first and pressed the salt dough into it. Afterwards I created small balls of dough and pressed the dinosaur skeleton in it deep enough to leave an imprint.

Once the fossils were made I threw them into the preheated oven and kept them in for longer than the Pre-K Pages website listed. For the dinosaur skeleton puzzle moulds I waited until the salt dough was dry on top, from the oven, before popping the pieces out, flipping them flat side down, and then baking them longer until they were fully dried out.

Pink and slightly browned dinosaur fossils cooling from the oven.
After completely drying them out in the oven I moved them to a cooling rack to cool.
A fully reconstructed tyrannosaurus skeleton sitting on the table as a triceratops skeleton is being reconstructed next to it.
Ada and I tested out the skeleton from the puzzle moulds before we put the fossils away so they wouldn’t get damaged.

A week or so later while the kids were busy watching a movie I created a triple (or quadruple?) batch of salt dough using black food dye to make the fossil imprints look more rock-like. As before I started by filling the dinosaur skeleton puzzle mould, then started making round fossil imprinted rocks, before finally filling a couple other silicone moulds we had on hand.

Bowl of unused grey salt dough in the foreground with fossil imprinted rocks forming themselves in the background. Behind all of that you can see the dinosaur skeleton moulds filled with grey salt dough.
After filling the dinosaur puzzle moulds and in the midst of making fossil imprinted rocks.

We were going through a heat wave as I was prepping the fossils and didn’t want to heat the house more by turning on the oven so I moved the cookie sheets outside. After a couple days, once the weather cooled down a bit and I couldn’t wait any longer, I finished the fossils off in the oven. I have to laugh now because it’s been several weeks since I made the fossils and I can still tell which Silpat I used as it now has darkened ovals showing where the rocks sat while outside.

One cookie sheet, Silpat, and fossil imprinted rocks on the right (most of them flipped upside down showing their wetter side) and the silicone moulds filled with grey salt dough and corralled on another cookie sheet to the left.
After sitting outside overnight and for most of the next day we went out to check on them and started flipping the rocks over to help it dry.
View of the fossils and imprinted rocks we made as they dry, slowly, outside.
I then popped the fossils out of all the silicon moulds to help them dry in the sun.

During this time I also thought about where we should put the dinosaur dig during the birthday party. If you already have a sandbox this would be a perfect addition to help revitalize it. We don’t have a sandbox so I started looking online at more long-term solutions for the girls. I ended up deciding to use a small plastic bin with a lid that we already had at home to do the dinosaur dig once I realized how small the 25 pounds of sand I ordered online truly was. I love that the kids can put the lid on it (if they remember) and they can sit in front of a dedicated sandbox now. Our Dollar Tree dinosaurs we bought last year are constantly enjoying the sand while the kids are outside now. While trying to decide what to use to hold the sand I came across some different ideas to create a covered sandbox that you may also be interested in. The three I liked the best are:

With the bin chosen, sand and paint brushes bought, and a bin chosen all we had to do was wait until the night before the birthday party when I pulled out the fossils for us to go through. The first step was to set aside some fossils for the favor bags. I had already counted and labelled enough sandwich-sized Ziploc bags for each kid so it was easy for Ada to help me fill the bags. I had Ada start by picking a pink fossil, a LEGO® person, and a couple mini fossils for each bag. As Ada filled the bags I gave Zoey the extra fossils to put in the plastic bin so we can dig them up later on. For the gray fossil-imprinted rocks we separated them by the dinosaur type before counting the total number of rocks and deciding how many should be put into each bag. Ada then picked which dinosaur species should go into each bag and all the extras went into into the bin for the party.

The grey imprinted rocks are at the foreground separated by species type. Ada is adding fossils to Ziploc bags to the right on the picture and Zoey's adding fossils to the bin to the left.
Both kids had a job as we prepped the fossils for the birthday party.
The bin filled with all the fossils with the mini dinosaur fossils placed carefully on top of the larger fossils.
I love how Zoey carefully placed each mini fossil on a rock oh so carefully.

The morning of the birthday party Ada and I took the bin of fossils outside, laid out the paintbrushes, and dumped all the sand on top of the fossils. Ada couldn’t resist testing out the sensory station before we put the lid back on to wait for the party to start.

Ada laying out the paintbrushes in the background while the bin of fossils is opened waiting for the sand to be poured into the the bin.
Setting up the dinosaur fossil dig the morning of the birthday party.
Ada took a fossil out of the sand and brushed off any excess sand.
Excavating a fossil.
Covering up the excavated fossil.
And when the fossil was fully brushed off it was returned and hidden underneath the sand to be found later.
Dad and kids excavating fossils from the bin.
The kids had a blast digging up dinosaurs at the birthday party.
And the kids have repeatedly returned to the dinosaur excavation since the party.

I hope this helps you out whether you’re looking to expand on a dinosaur theme for your birthday party or if you’re looking to change up your sand box at home. If you’re looking for more ideas we also set up a bin of white oobleck with frozen primary colored LEGO®, flower, and heart shaped oobleck to play with colors (like we did at Zoey’s birthday party) along with expanding on Zoey’s water gun shooting by adding some dinosaur targets to our back wall. After the birthday party we made a point of letting the oobleck dry out and the kids are still playing with the resulting ‘oobleck sand’.

Wall showing laminated color pages used as targets for the water guns.
For the water gun shooting we put up most of the DUPLO® related signs we made for Zoey’s birthday party but Ada choose, colored, and laminated three dinosaur ones to help fit the dinosaur fossil dig theme that had developed in the backyard.
The oobleck was used with the LEGO® and dinosaur related silicon moulds along with the kitchen set. It has since dried out and has been used extensively as oobleck ‘sand’.

Ada wanted to use our leftover LEGO® themed paper plates and napkins for lunch so we didn’t extend the dinosaur theme into the house. For food we kept it simple by ordering pizza. For the birthday cake we made regular Ghiredelli brownie cupcakes and topped them off with vanilla ice cream and LEGO® inspired brick candy to keep the dessert on theme.

I’d love to see and hear how making your own dinosaur fossils turned out. Did you end up changing up what your used to create the imprints and/or fossils to fit your theme better? Did you add something else to your salt dough? If you did I’d love to hear what you did and what you’d do differently next time so please share in the comments below, on my Facebook page, or through Instagram. I hope making them goes great and your party, get together, or overall fun activity goes great!

Kyra

My name is Kyra and I’m a computer programmer that decided to stay at home with my two beautiful daughters: Ada and Zoey. I created this website to share with you anything I come across in my day to day life that I think you may enjoy.

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1 Response

  1. July 7, 2021

    […] I wanted to share my other dinosaur related posts with you. Back when Ada turned five we had a fossil dig in our backyard were the fossils, and little dinosaurs, were made up beforehand using salt dough […]

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