Many Connecticut children spent this week back in school instead of at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History studying dinosaurs.
Dinosaur Days, the weeklong event featuring hands-on activities such as fossil digs, began over 25 years ago at the Peabody to promote the museum’s collection of paleontology. While the President’s Day holiday on Monday continued to be one of the Peabody’s busiest days of the year, the attendance and admission profits for the week have been lower than in previous years since many schools canceled school vacation week to compensate for recent snow days, said David Heiser, head of education and outreach at the Peabody.
“It’s hard to walk into [the Dinosaur Hall] and not be struck with some measure of awe,” Heiser said. “We will continue to do [Dinosaur Days]. Even if this year the numbers are a little lower we will continue to find a way to celebrate paleontology.”
Dinosaur Days has grown in size and scope over the years, and now features a fossil dig, fossil touch-table, dinosaur puppet show, and opportunities to talk to Yale researchers. This year, however, the celebration did not add any new features because the Peabody expected to close major exhibit halls as part of a roughly $30 million renovation. While the renovation has stalled due to lack of funding, the museum still decided not to add new features to the exhibit, Heiser said, adding that the Peabody is actively fundraising to start the renovation.
Dinosaur Days may not have grown in size this year, but on February 8, the Peabody opened the traveling exhibit “Tiny Titans: Dinosaur Eggs and Babies,” which features 150 dinosaur eggs. Heiser said the museum sped up the installation of the exhibit to coincide with the week.
Although the Peabody promoted Dinosaur Days on social medial platforms and through local banners, the organizers noticed a decrease in the number of attendees this year due to the canceled vacation week, said event volunteer Lily Forbush. Heiser said the canceled school vacation has impacted other parts of the museum, which has also had trouble attracting children to a new camp the Peabody ran over the vacation week.
Betty Baisden, a professional puppeteer who has run the Dinosaur Days puppet show for the last 20 years, said she noticed a decline in attendance this year. The show features puppets of many of the dinosaurs featured throughout the museum, and Baisden said she tries to make her young audience members passionate about science. About 65 people attended the show Wednesday, but Baisden said many more came in years past.
“There was a boy who came up to me today who was about 12 or 13 and told me he has come [to the Dinosaur Days puppet show] for the past 11 years because he just really likes science” Baisden added.
At the “meet-a-scientist” table, Elizabeth Clark, a graduate student of geology and geophysics in department of paleontology, brought fossilized bug specimens to inspire young visitors about her field. Clark said she was surprised how much some children knew about different aspects of paleontology.
Children also embarked on their own research project in the fossil dig area, searching through a sand pit for shark teeth, bones and fossils. Patty Panico, who leads classes at the Peabody, said the dig encouraged children to draw comparisons between animals that exist today and animals that lived at the time of the dinosaurs.
“Dinosaur Days has been wonderful,” said Nicole Methot, who visited the exhibit on Wednesday. “It’s a great place to take my very energetic two year old, but the older kids are really learning wonderful information as well.”
The Peabody Museum of Natural History was founded in 1866.