One of our favorite elements to add to train play is light. We have a tub full of various LED lights to play “Night Train” with, and I’ll have to tell you all about them another time. Today, we have something a little more…epic to play.
It started when I came across Caution! Twins at Play‘s Night Time Train Fun post. Our lights had always been part of the train layout, and I loved the way they had attached the lights to the trains themselves.
Always on the lookout for new lights to play with, I ordered some of the LED Finger Lights she recommended right away. When they came, I was surprised by how many there were. I’m not sure why, because the product description clearly states that it’s 40 pieces, but somehow it seemed like so many more than I had in my mind. And, of course, the more the merrier!
The lights are a little trickier to fit on Thomas engines than on the little IKEA trains, but it can be done. I make sure the light’s switch is facing up and the elastic meant to go around one’s finger is facing down. Setting the light on top of Thomas just behind his funnel, I carefully stretch the elastic down and over the front of his footplate and buffers. The elastic will break if you try to get it down and over the wheels. Alternately, you can use a rubber band to put it on a little more securely.
We love to play with these on top of the rail around the Little Engineer’s bed (read more about it in my Big Engine post), which currently is topped by wooden track held on with loops of the same tape we use for Damage-Free Decorating for Wooden Train Layouts. Playing with the lights in the dark before bedtime is very soothing, so it’s a nice combination having them on the bed track.
One of the things we’ve done with this is try to mix our colored lights. We chug our trains to a place where we can shine their headlamps at the same place on the wall and move them closer and farther away to change how intense one color or the other is.
That’s a great activity. But having the lights around for that has led to something even more exciting: live action Angry Birds Space! Plus Thomas and Cranky! Plus…reading and letter recognition practice! In the dark! With “lasers”!
At our house, “live action” versions of games are almost always more enticing than playing the real thing on the iPad. And this is pretty much the most awesome one yet, if you ask the Little Engineer. We came up with this near the end of a really rough afternoon for both of us. It put us both in a really good mood despite all the lingering stress. You can even play it when it’s light outside, as we did that day, with the blinds closed, and the lights are bright enough to still give the right effect.
Here’s how we set it up. First come the cardboard letters, bought at JoAnn Fabrics. We spelled his name at first, because those were the letters we had. When I have 40% off coupons to burn, I’ve been buying more letters so we can spell other words. You can either put the letters up individually, to practice letter recognition or letter sounds, or make words on your child’s level.
The Little Engineer likes to help set them up, which is an education in itself trying to make some of them stay upright. (Letter P, I’m looking at you.) As we worked, we talked about the letters and their sounds, and then sounded out the words.
Next, we start adding the “piggies” and lights. The lights get set up on the letters and on stacked miniature wooden barrels (you could use blocks, Legos, etc.) so that they shine both toward the players and toward the letters. This is where the magic of this game comes in for us. It’s pretty cool being in the middle of all those bright, colorful “laser” lights! I especially enjoy putting the lights on the barrels in a way that makes them look like they have bright, colorful polka dots all over them.
Over the course of his Angry Birds obsession, the Little Engineer has used many things as birds and piggies. The bright colors that identify the characters makes it easy to transform anything of a similar color into the pig or bird you want; he used to turn his colored building blocks into birds and piggies.
Now, we mostly use the pigs from the Angry Birds games we’ve acquired — Knock on Wood, On Thin Ice, Angry Birds Space: Planet Block, and Birds in Space, and he’ll probably be getting some of the similar Angry Birds Star Wars games with the birds and pigs going into his Easter eggs this year — all bought in the name of spending as little time playing the game on a screen as possible. We don’t play the games by the rules, just set up “pig towers” together and crash them as a family, and the Little Engineer uses the characters often in other types of pretend play.
Sometimes, if they’re lucky, the birds or the pigs get to take a train ride. For this version of Angry Birds Space, Thomas got involved hauling loads of pigs and lights to add to the letters. BUT he most definitely was not to have pigs in his cars once the crashing started. The Little Engineer was very certain about that.
The Little Engineer also pretended Cranky the Crane was helping us “build the letters”. It’s hard to see here, but he had a piece of freight suspended from his magnet, and the Little Engineer was really excited about his idea that you had to crash the freight off of Cranky’s “hook” in order to finish the “level”.
Once it was all set up, he took a moment to contemplate his first crash.
I suggested that he crash the word, “PLAY.” I do something similar when we’re playing with shorter words he’s learning. When we were playing with the letters of the Little Engineer’s name, I helped him figure out how to crash them in order. However, I suspect that a lot of the value of this activity comes from him talking about the letters on his own as we’re building them, and learning things about the shape of the letters from trying to stand them up and figuring out where he can put piggies and lights without making them fall over.
The games come with “slingshot” launchers, and while he can work them, the Little Engineer prefers to throw the birds at the letters or pig towers, or just hold them in his hand and knock them down directly.
Another crash to contemplate…
Once again, I just love the peaceful, focused vibe of this activ — CRASH!
Well, much of the time it feels peaceful and focused, between the crashes!
A few more crashes, and this piggy on the letter I is looking pretty lonely. The Little Engineer seemed to be intentionally saving the I for last.
Is it just me or does Cranky look pretty smug about being the last structure standing? The Little Engineer was SO EXCITED when he completed his self-set goal of crashing the freight off Cranky’s hook.
Then the cheers died down, and after the briefest quiet — “Let’s build the letters again!”