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FOR THE KIDS : Dinosaur Program Takes Youngsters Back in Time : Enthusiasts trade lore about the monsters with an expert during the park and recreation department event.


The odd couple: a megaton screeching, saw-toothed reptile and just about any American kid.

The romance was on at Arroyo Verde Park on a recent Saturday. Two dozen young dinosaur enthusiasts showed up for "Dinosaur Days," a Ventura Parks and Recreation Department program featuring a slide show and a chance to trade lore about the scaly beasts with interpretive specialist Susan Williams.

Williams and the audience were like old hands.

When she asked why dinosaurs no longer roamed the earth, theories flew from the spectators.

"It got too hot." "Got too cold." "A meteor blocked out the sun." "The water all went out." Those were some of the ideas from reptile fans, who ranged from 7 to 12 years old.

Describing Tyrannosaurus rex as having two toes on its front feet, the instructor was challenged by Sean Rundell, 7, who raised his hand and politely disagreed.

"T. rex didn't have two fingers--it had three," he said confidently.

Sean, who has been studying dinosaurs for "about three years," had books at home to prove his statement.

Williams agreed that some scientists depicted the beast as having tree toes, but said the reigning theory holds to two digits.

As a matter of fact, she explained, it's not an easy job to piece together dinosaur bones found millions of years later scattered over a wide area and to fit them all together right. Researchers sometimes make mistakes, like the time scientists positioned a huge claw on a reconstructed iguanodon's head instead of its thumbs, a distinction made decades later.

The instructor presented slides showing behaviors that have been learned about dinosaurs by studying the creatures' footprints (whether they traveled in packs and how fast they ran), eggs (size of young) and fossilized droppings (what they ate).

The kids recognized most of the players in the scenes and announced their names with the ease of Latin scholars: stegosaurus, brachiosaurus, Triceratops, pterodactyl.

There were many hands-on items to revel in: real fossils, including a massive leg bone fragment; models of teeth and claws; a Tyrannosaurus' brain; a hunk of realistic gnarly green skin. For laughs, there was a wind-up apatosaurus and a tiny dinosaur stamp for tattooing faces and hands.

A group of reptile impersonators went out to the lawn to unroll a 100-foot rope to show the lengths of various creatures. Each child was asked to serve as a stand-in for the respective reptile. Each chose a dinosaur and took up a position along the line assigned by Williams, who had to shout announcements to the elephant-sized "deinonychus" at one end while moving toward the seismosaurus positioned at the other.

Candace Berkebile, 7, declared the afternoon a success, saying she checks out every program she finds on dinosaurs. Unlike most of those in attendance, Candace said she had seen the film "Jurassic Park" and had "laughed all the way through it."

Williams said the dinosaur show is one of the department's two most popular events, the other covering the subject of bats.

"Kids," she said in a perceived understatement, "just like monsters."


Additional dinosaur programs this summer:

Younger children, ages 3 to 6, can attend "Dinosaur Discovery," Tuesday from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Cost: $5.

The final "Dinosaur Days" program, for children 7 and older, will be featured Aug 14 from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Cost: $5.

Preregistration is required for either program or visit Ventura Parks and Recreation Department, Room 226, City Hall, 501 Poli St. For more information, call 658-4747

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