We all know children who are obsessed with trains. My son loved Thomas and friends – even though we lived in the Middle East at the time, with no children’s TV channel – we just had the books and he was hooked! We eventually had a Thomas the Tank Engine video cassette sent out to us (I know you won’t remember those), which eventually broke after being played about 50 times back to back (all that rewinding!).
Playing with trains isn’t just a way for children to play – it can be a really valuable part of a child’s development. There is the physical act of moving toys around, which helps with their fine and gross motor skills. Gross motor skills are larger movements your child makes with their arms, legs, feet, or even their entire body. Fine motor skills are smaller actions, like picking trains up with their fingers and thumbs. When your child builds a toy train set, which sometimes involves small objects to create a scene, he or she is acquiring fine motor skills.
When playing with a toy train set, your child can also learn how to problem solve – learning how to build the tracks so the train can carry on moving without obstacles. Over time, they may learn other things like how to organise the trains so they move smoothly and don’t keep coming apart, or come off the tracks. It may take your child time to learn this, but problem solving like this is a skill that will last them a lifetime.
Another great benefit of a toy train set is creativity and imagination. Your child is able to choose how to put train tracks together in a variety of original ways. Your child can also think of different scenarios for the roles played with the train set, creating stories in their heads relating to the trains and any of their other toys they bring into the mix!
Children can learn colours through this type of play – we all know that Thomas is blue, Henry is green, James is red – and also, an extension of those primary colours, Harold is white, Rosie is pink… They can learn about transport – cranes and planes and boats and buses. They can count the trains and carriages … the learning opportunities are endless.
This year the much loved and very beautiful ‘Flying Scotsman, a steam train built in 1923, is touring the UK. How amazing would it be to take your little train spotter/s to see it near you? The locations and dates can be found on this website. Think of all those learning opportunities!
Here are five learning opportunities around the theme of trains:
- Vocabulary: explore the language associated with trains – “carriages”, “platform”, “station”, “driver”, “cancellation” (only applies to Southern Rail!)
- Motor skills: gross motor skills (e.g. moving like a train), fine motor skills (e.g. attaching track, carriages, engine; building a scene; moving a train
- Imagination: where is the train going? Who is on it? What’s happening now?
- Maths: counting carriages; how fast/slow is the train going? Electricity and steam (for older children)
- Social skills: helping build the train set, taking turns pushing the train, empathy (e.g. Harold the helicopter is helping Thomas get back on the track)