WHEELING - Nine-year-old Dezirae Ware of Wheeling was wide-eyed while taking a close-up look at a real tyrannosaurus rex tooth. After all, the T-Rex was one of the largest and most fierce dinosaurs that walked the earth.
Ware was one of several young students who had the rare opportunity to hold and touch some real dinosaur bones as part of the Dino-Camp at Smart Centre Market in Wheeling this past week. The camp was the second of four summer science camps being offered at the science store this year.
"I think they would be huge," an enthusiastic Dezirae Ware said while looking over some of the larger bones.
Owners Robert and Libby Strong said they hold a variety of summer camps each year to get students excited about science. The Strongs, along with close friends Ray and Mary Ellen Garton, owners of Prehistoric Planet of Fairmont, lead sessions on a variety of topics dealing with prehistoric life during the new camp: How big were the dinosaurs? What did they eat? Where can you find fossils and learn about what lived here many millions of years ago?
Geologist and paleontologist Ray Garton said one of the unique things they provide students participating in the camp is hands-on activities that deal with real dinosaur bones. The kids got to hold and touch the tip of a real T-Rex tooth, a nose horn of a triceratops and a fossilized dinosaur egg.
"We are trying to keep their interest in science ... and dinosaurs like this can be a really good hook to keep them interested in science," Ray Garton said. "Usually in a museum setting you don't get to touch anything. So in a close group like this with these kinds of workshops ... they get to get up close and personal. They actually get to touch a T-Rex tooth - something extremely rare."
He said kids always enjoy participating in a simulated dig.
They get to dig up the replica of a baby T-Rex skeleton out of a small sand pit by making a grid map, uncovering all the bones, then trying to put the skeleton back together.
"It's all about discovery and using their imagination to imagine what these animals might have been like," Garton said.
Robert Strong said each camp is designed to be fun and interactive while teaching the students about science.
"We talked about what a dinosaur is ... and did all kinds of dinosaur things so we were all on the same page," he said, adding the students got a chance to put together "Stella the Stegosaurus," a large puzzle that stands nearly 8 feet tall and 14 feet long when fully pieced together - a puzzle the Strongs originally built in 1995 to take on the road to schools for science camps.
Strong said one of the things they always try to do at the Smart Center is challenge kids to search for more answers and push their boundaries.
"Because these kids have questions - questions that nobody but a paleontologist or a geologist would be able to answer. And so we have access to someone like Ray and his wife Mary Ellen for the whole second day of the camp ... to do extra activities, to do things that are very specialized," Strong said.
The third camp, "Moon Bases, Terraforming and Interstellar Travel Camp," scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, will examine a variety of topics about space travel, the planets, the moon and the stars.
The final camp, " Fun with Physics," is scheduled for Aug. 4-5. Students entering the second through seventh grades can expect to build a straw tower, experiment with flight and learn how to use physics as a tool for understanding engineering during this camp.
The first camp, held in June, was titled "GEMS" - Girls Enjoying Math and Science.
All camps are scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the designated dates. For camp fees or more information call (304) 233-4667 or visit online at www.smartcenter.org.