Do you have a child who just loves trains?
Or maybe you're one of those parents who doesn't mind getting caught at a railroad stop while the kids try to count how many train cars go through?
Trains are a form of travel that we should introduce to our kids - real train travel!
A few years ago, my family took a trip by train for just a few hours. The kids loved the idea that we could all do things together (like visit the dining car for a snack!), had lots of room to stretch out and saw some unique places on the trip.
Train travel gives you a feeling of going back in time - things slow down a little.
And for much of the trip, you will be surrounded by nature (since many of our country's railroads were built through open areas). We don't offer our kids (or ourselves) many reasons to slow down and enjoy life these days. But when you ride on a train, you have that opportunity.
No one in your family has to drive - so everyone can reconnect. And I love the idea of waiting at the train station - sitting outside on a bench and watching for the train (this will be a highlight for most kids).
Here are some activities, books and movies that I hope will encourage you to 'ride the rails' this year!
Fun Train Activities
1. Celebrate National Train Day!
There will be events across the country to highlight train travel, fun activities and interactive exhibits.
2. Fun Train Crafts
Play Trains has a fun way to create your own engine shed for your train set.
Print & build this cute paper steam engine from Family Fun for your kids!
3. Visit a Hobby Store
Many hobby stores have trains set up for kids to see. They may even be able to 'drive' the train! Collecting trains was a favorite past-time of many of our grandparents or parents - so you might ask your relatives to see if anyone kept some of their old train cars.
4. Learn some really cool railroad terms from Union Pacific!
Do you know what 'frogs' are on the railroad? Or how about a 'Shoofly'? Find out!
5. If your kids LOVE Thomas the Tank Engine...
Craftulate has an AWESOME Thomas the Tank Table Tent tutorial so you can make one for your table too!
DLTK has some great printables and crafts they will really enjoy!
6. Learn & Play with Trains
Royal Baloo has some great ideas for fun ways to combine math & trains!
Kids will enjoy laying tracks with PBS' Calliou in this fun online game.
Play Trains has a wonderful idea on connecting classic music to train play.
You can also create these Coal & Water Sensory Bins for some creative play from Play Trains.
7. Visit a historic train station!
Many towns have renovated their old train stops and stations so they are now railroad museums or visitors centers. Stop by and learn about train travel in these beautiful buildings. You can also find a detailed list of surviving railroad stations by state (scroll to the bottom of the page).
8. Spend a day traveling the rails!
You can find some very inexpensive and quick trips to cities close to you on Amtrak. Our trip was only about an hour and a half from home, which I think is the perfect amount of time to have young kids on a train. Older kids might like a longer trip. Check the train time table for the route closest to you.
9. Find a local train that offers fun rides for kids!
Rails USA has a directory of many historic train rides and railroads across the U.S & Canada - check to see if there's a tourist railroad near you! The American Rails also has a great list of dinner trains that run throughout the U.S.
In Kansas City, we have some wonderful train organizations that run historic train rides:
- The popular Midland Railway offers train excursions and even has visits from Thomas the Tank!
- The Belton, Grandview and Kansas City Railroad has fun rides you can take in a 1920s passenger car and pulled by a 1950s diesel locomotive!
- There are also miniature trains at the Kansas City Northern Railroad and the National Agricultural Center.
Great Books about Trains & Railroads
"The Little Train" by Lois Lenski follows Engineer Small and the Little Train as they travel to Tinytown and back!
"Trains" by Gail Gibbons is a wonderful non-fiction introduction to the various types of trains, past and present, and how they operate.
"The Little Engine That Could" by Watty Piper is a classic story about a small train with big dreams! Read how encouragement from his passengers, along with determination, helps the little engine to deliver his passengers.
"The Caboose Who Got Loose" by Bill Peet is a rollicking tale of a Katy, a little red caboose, who gets loose from her train and finally enjoys the quiet life she has hoped for! This is one of those stories that will be enjoyed by kids of any age.
The Boxcar Children series is based on the Alden siblings who briefly lived in a boxcar before finding their uncle. Now they head out to solve mysteries, like the "Caboose Mystery" by Gertrude Chandler Warner.
"Trapped on the D.C. Train" by Ron Roy is #13 in the series the Capital Mysteries. Another great mystery series for kids, this story has our two sleuths (KC and Marshall) trying to solve a crime while riding on the express train to Union Station.
"The Railway Children" is a classic book by E. Nesbit. The story of three children and their mother who must move to the country after the mysterious disappearance of their father. The railroad (and the people who use it) quickly become part of their new life in many ways!
Trains in the Movies
Younger kids will enjoy "Thomas the Tank" and PBS' "Dinosaur Train", two shows that run on television - check your local listings.
One of the best family train films, "The Polar Express" is the story of a Christmas train that picks up children for a fun adventure to the North Pole - do you believe?!
"Thomas and the Magic Railroad" is a full-length movie based on Thomas the Train and his friends. Join the conductor on a wonderfully imaginative ride!
Most folks remember "Dumbo" for his ears, but remember he and all his circus friends travel by train from town to town. One of the best train songs for kids is from this movie - Casey Junior.
Disney's "The Great Locomotive Chase" is an oldie but a goodie! Based on a true story about a team of 22 Union spies who steal a train during the Civil War.
Another fun one for kids is "An American Tail: Fieval Goes West" which follows Fieval Mouse as he and family decide to move our west. Set at a time in American history when many were settling in the less-crowded west, they travel by train until Fieval falls off and must survive by himself!
And another old Disney classic, "The Journey of Natty Gann" follows the travels of young girl during the Depression who is searching for her father. Train travel was so widely used during the Depression, and older kids should enjoy this look at that time in history.