Greg Jordan: Years ago dinosaurs were small plastic monsters in a variety of colors

Feb. 1—I saw Wednesday's lead photo on the Daily Telegraph's front page, smiled and felt envy. Photographer Tara Wyatt had gone Tuesday evening to the Chuck Mathena Center and shot some pictures of children enjoying some huge dinosaurs during Erth's Dinosaur Zoo Live.

Back when I was a kid, I loved dinosaurs. I became a huge fan of Godzilla when I saw the first grainy black and white Godzilla movie. Dinosaurs became even more engrained on my childhood conscience when I saw the original "King Kong" movie on TV and marveled at those dinosaurs.

They were all stop-motion puppets and I think I knew that on a subconscious level, but I was ready to suspend belief. I suspended belief again years later when I saw the movie "Jurassic Park" for the first time and read the novel.

Oh, the novel is a lot more, well, graphic than the movie. It's not a book for little kids.

When I was a kid, we didn't have computer graphics and big animatronic dinosaurs to stoke our imaginations. This is the age when kids were real kids and we used lawn darts and other metal toys that would horrify today's federal regulators.

Some day in the distant future, an archaeologist will wonder why there's a straight cut across the top of my skull. That's where my sister, Karen, knocked me on the head with a metallic toy hoe. She says it was an accident.

But back to dinosaurs. My dinosaurs were not the electronic movie merchandise you see in today's toy aisles. Mine were small plastic monsters in a variety of vivid colors.

There were no moving parts. If you wanted your T-Rex to roar, you had to do it yourself. I carried my collection in a brown paper bag wherever I went and set them up in any random spot.

A patch of dirt under a tree and some rocks mixed with imagination were enough to become a little boy's very own dinosaur park.

I wonder how I would have reacted if the big dinosaur puppets local children got to see Tuesday night existed when I was their age. I'm sure the experience would have been heavenly.

My oldest nephew, A.J., shared his uncle's fascination with dinosaurs when he was a little boy. He actually learned how to pronounce names like 'stegosaurus' and styracoasaurus. I still remember the day when my sister and I took him to a store in Charlotte which specialized in dinosaur toys, models, art and even fossils. That store even had a full-size replica of a Tyrannosaurus skull. The price was in the thousands of dollars, so that T-Rex skull didn't go home with me. A.J., who was around 4 years old then, blew the owner's mind when he asked if the store had a styracosaurus. That's a big dinosaur with lots of horns.

Learning about these prehistoric beasts helped me develop my imagination and urged along my first stumbling attempts at reading aloud. There came a point when just looking at pictures in a book wasn't enough. I wanted to know more about dinosaurs, so I learned to read.

Today's dinosaur toys are fun, but I'm more inclined to give children the simpler plastic dinosaurs of my childhood. The kids have to imagine what their dinosaurs would sound like and how they would act.

This playtime gives them a chance to develop their imaginations.

Using one's imagination is more than making up things when you were a kid. We use imagination every day when we solve a problem or work out new ways to do things.

Shows like the one Tuesday at the Chuck Mathena Center help stimulate the imagination skills in children.

They could imagine how they would create their own dinosaur puppets and put on their own dinosaur shows. This sort of play helps them practice problem-solving skills.

The development of many skills get their start when children do something as simple as set up some toy dinosaurs during a tree.

Greg Jordan is a reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at

Contact Greg Jordan at