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It’s science: Your toddler’s dinosaur obsession is making them smarter

Ever since a visit to the Dinosaur Resource Center near our house, my 2-year-old has been low-key obsessed with anything prehistoric. Although his expertise is still pretty rudimentary—a dinosaur is either a T-Rex or raptor in his book—he gravitates toward anything on the topic.

According to a 2007 study published in the journal Developmental Research, about one in three young children will develop an “intense interest" at some point. The leading category that tends to catch their eye includes any kind of motorized vehicle, but that's followed closely by dinosaurs.

Honestly, I'm loving it. Not only do I stand to learn something new, but there are also proven benefits to children's special interests—and budding paleontologists in particular have some advantages.

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Fascination with a “conceptual" topic like dinosaurs has been linked to better attention spans, information-processing skills and persistence. That's because they can't just be passive consumers of Jurassic facts, but actually have to go out there and ask questions, read books and learn.

“Exploring a topic and mastering it is beneficial because that's how we form careers as adults," Kelli Chen, a pediatric psychiatric occupational therapist at Johns Hopkins, tells CNN. “A kid's primary occupation is play, so they're going about their job of playing through the lens of this thing they're interested in learning about."

For kids, the magic's not just in imagining these real, massive creatures of long ago—but also about knowing more than your parents for the first time. “It makes them feel powerful," paleontologist Kenneth Lacovara tells CNN. “Their parent may be able to name three or four dinosaurs and the kid can name 20, and the kid seems like a real authority."

While the Developmental Research report found the intense interests of kids tended to burn out within six months to three years, what it says about them is still significant: Multiple studies show kids who go through these phases are typically above average in terms of intelligence.

As parents, we can do our parts in fostering these special interests by sharing our children's enthusiasm about trips to the library or museum. Then, when you aren't quite sure you want to have another discussion about which dinosaurs were carnivores, just remember your kid is benefitting. (And will probably move on to another topic soon enough.)

[This post was originally published March 22, 2018.]

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