Today I’m over at Train Up a Child, guest posting an activity I’m really excited about: Word Family Freight Yard! This is a great way to combine reading practice with train play. I’ve shared several fun variations, so you’re sure to find an activity to match your little engineer’s reading level.
After you read the post over at Train Up a Child — and have a good, long look at all of the amazing activities Allison writes about there! — you may also be interested in our Railroad Word Crash Train Reading Game. It’s a great way to get a child excited about playing with words and trains together as a warm up to playing Word Family Freight Yard.Read More
The Little Engineer and I started making books together at about the same time he began speaking in sentences. Sometimes I write down a particularly popular bedtime story I’ve come up with (usually with his help, because he likes to take over the story!). But I especially love to help him write down his own stories.
Creating books together has provided many opportunities to share my love of writing with him and teach some of the basic concepts of storytelling at the same time. Usually, we write our books about something he’s particularly interested in or an activity we do often, and he asks me to read them often. Even the earliest books we wrote together are still well loved.
Recently, we hit upon a way to make these custom books even cooler: mashing up two of his favorite things into one awesome story. If you’ve been reading the blog for long, you may have noticed the Little Engineer loves Angry Birds nearly as much as he loves trains. I would say as much, except when you ask him what he wants to be when he grows up, he says, “An engineer!” not “Blue Bird!”
These two favorite things were eventually combined into one idea: ANGRY BIRD TRAIN! Blue Bird, of course, is the engineer of the Angry Bird Train, which always takes its passengers to Crashing Land.
At about the same time, we picked up a Kid Made Modern Board Book Kit that was on sale at Target. (There are also plenty of blank board books available online, though I like some of the art supplies that come in the Kid Made Modern kit.) Due to the timing, the subject for our first book was a no-brainer.Read More
This post is part of Make Trains!, our ongoing series of DIY projects for kids’ wooden train layouts.
Trees are a classic component of wooden toy train sets. But as much as I love the cute little wooden trees we’ve collected, most of them are barely three-dimensional, just a simplified outline of a tree given enough depth to stand up. Generally painted a single shade of green, there’s no texture or color variation to set them apart as organic in contrast to the hard lines of the trains.
Coming from the Pacific Northwest, my experiences of trees and trains involve passing beneath towering, verdant evergreens. One of the most magical memories I have from my youth is riding on a night train through forested hills in Oregon, staring out at the trees rushing past. So it’s no surprise I started longing for slightly more realistic trees to go with our trains.
Like all the best ideas, the way to accomplish that came to me through play — my own play this time, not the Little Engineer’s. I’ve written before about how Hiro ended up being “Mama’s train” in our house. From time to time, we play out Hiro’s story with our wooden trains. To amuse myself, I started making more and more elaborate version’s of “Hiro’s hideaway,” the overgrown track where he was left to rust.
I used the flat wooden trees and some real rocks to surround his track with natural elements. But still, his siding didn’t look overgrown. One day, I added some green and brown pipe cleaners twisting above my beloved engine like fuzzy vines. As I arranged and rearranged them, it occurred to me I could make the more realistic trees I’d been wanting.Read More
The Little Engineer still thinks our Grass Tracks from last year are fun, so I wasn’t really looking for a way to make them new again. However, I also wasn’t going to ignore the wind when it whispered a way to make our favorite active train play even more fun.
While we’ve had a number of beautiful, sunny days in Seattle this spring, the sun has often been accompanied by unusually wild winds. On one afternoon earlier in the season, I wasn’t even aware of the swelling breeze, just taking it as a given.
I don’t remember what the Little Engineer was doing, but he must have been at it for awhile because I found my mind wandering. I noticed the holographic tape I’d put up last summer fluttering from the grape vines. It needed to come down, so the birds wouldn’t be accustomed to it when this year’s fruit ripened.
I started pulling down the tangled lengths of tape from the grape arbor. As each piece came away, the wind whipped it up in the air, turning it from a bird deterrent into a beautiful, sparkling streamer. I smiled, watching it twist and circle in the air.
At that moment, the Little Engineer let out a loud, “WhoooOOOooooooo!”
My smile widened. I had an idea. One the Little Engineer — fingers crossed — might really like.Read More
After we did this train art project, the Little Engineer and I were sitting in Snuffleupagus, our mammoth Japanese lace leaf maple tree. He just discovered this quiet, secret world this spring, and I’m grateful he invites me in with him to sit on the twisted, sturdy branches.
Surrounded by fluttering leaves scattering pinpricks of afternoon light, his usual stream of talk continued, but in a more thoughtful way. Sensing the moment, I asked him what the best part of the day was. Then I asked him what he had tried and had work out well for him that day.
The answer was the same for both questions. “Drawing,” he said, with a smile on his face. “Drawing with the chalk pastels.”
I’d known he’d enjoyed the project, but to hear that it had worked out well for him with such a tone of accomplishment in his sweet three-year-old’s voice…that’s parental bliss. So I’m extra excited to share this particular project with you, given how much it meant to my son.
This art project was a little more directed than what I usually would do with the Little Engineer, at least as far as the “how” goes, if not the “what”. But I think he’s getting to a point where he likes being shown a few new techniques and then take it from there. As you’ll see, every time I showed him something he could do, he did it in his own way.Read More
This week, while I was taking photos for an upcoming guest post on Train Up a Child, the Little Engineer was not entirely enthused about doing the activity. While we had happily played this train reading game together in the past, this time he wanted to use his regular wooden train freight, not letter dice, to play in the freight yard train layout we’d built together.
I’m pretty sure I’m not the first kid blogger to run up against this problem. In fact, I have another post coming up in the next week that’s all about how I saved an activity I thought was really cool, but the Little Engineer completely refused. It can break your heart a little, because even when you’re brainstorming with your blog in mind, you want your ideas to bring fun and learning into your own child’s life.
On this occasion, he was willing wait while I took my photos — as long as I did so quickly — and then go back to playing trains the normal way. But I knew I wouldn’t enjoy writing about an activity he hadn’t been a part of, even if we had done it together on a previous occasion. I had to come up with a way to get him involved.Read More
While searching for train books on Amazon for the eight-hundred-and-seventy-sixth time, I spotted Steam Train, Dream Train. Just from the thumbnail, I was drawn in by the cover art. When I clicked to take a closer look, I knew why.
It turned out Steam Train, Dream Train is the new book by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld, the author and the illustrator of Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site. We love their first book, and I liked the title and look of the new one. I preordered the book, and was happy not to have to wait long.
We’ve had it for several days now, and I can report that we’ve read Steam Train, Dream Train at least once every night at bedtime. Often twice…or more! It tells the story of animals playing with toys while loading them into a freight train. It all happens in a train-loving boy’s dreams, as the final illustration reveals.Read More