Like many of us, Randy Knol enjoyed playing with toy dinosaurs as a kid. He received a Flintstones playset from his grandfather as a Christmas present in the 1960s, and his collection of prehistoric figurines has been growing ever since.

As Smithsonian recently reported, Knol owns “probably around five or six thousand” toy dinosaurs stored in boxes, bags, and plastic containers throughout his home. He’s not sure of the exact number, but he guesses that his is the largest collection in the world, considering that every collector he’s known to own more is now dead (a fact he's gathered from seeing their collections pop up on eBay).

Knol’s love of dinosaur toys is more than just an eccentric hobby. He’s found a way to channel his passion into a learning experience for children by teaching summer classes for Smithsonian Associates. In each session, kids construct their own dinosaur dioramas to take home at the end of class. Knol takes care to select toy models that represent accurate depictions of dinosaurs—something that’s still hard to come by, despite all the advancements that have been made in paleontology in the past few decades.

According to Knol, dinosaur toy makers are notorious for basing their designs on long-outdated artwork. He recalled to Smithsonian the reception one toy company faced after releasing a scientifically accurate T.Rex:

“Retailers insisted that they keep the old one because it still sold better. And because what is in all the children's books? They don't have feathers, they don't have their tails up the air! The kids want things that look like the books that their parents are giving them to read.”

To address these issues, some dino enthusiasts have taken it upon themselves to produce a more genuine toy. This past May, a Kickstarter project featuring a line of scientifically accurate, feathered, raptor action figures received over $350,000 in funding. But products like that are the exception, while tail-dragging tyrannosaurs and scaly velociraptors are much more common.

In Knol’s eyes, even the antiquated dinosaur designs can serve an educational purpose. He told Smithsonian, “Science is not just measuring factoids; it's really the whole process of 'we had this information and we thought this, and now we have this other piece of information, so now we think these other things.’”

The ultimate fate of his impressive collection is still up in the air. Knol says he’d ideally like to have the toys displayed in a museum, and if that doesn’t pan out, his son has promised to have the dinosaurs buried with him.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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