Trains, the Preschooler, and Engineering

Both my boys have liked trains and watched Thomas & Friends. We’ve gone on day trips to ride the train with the Austin Steam Train Association. What is it that they like so much about trains? They’re very powerful machines. There’s an opportunity here to teach about what makes it go. This can lead to beginning lessons of science and engineering. A whistling tea kettle is a fun way to show what steam can do. There are videos that have good visuals on the insides of steam engines. But there’s quite a few other hands-on activities that can show the many other ways that make things go. There’s a lot of energy sources to work with along with steam: wind, solar, electrical, magnetic, and even us!

Fly a kite to play with the wind.With wind as your energy source, you can spend a Saturday afternoon investigating how it makes things go using pin wheels or kites. You can also talk about it any other day when you see a flag waving or trees swaying. Birds use the wind to help them glide as well. You can share the many different ways windmills have been used. Take a look around and share what you see in your neighborhood. Real world examples take only a couple of minutes to watch, but can connect the lessons to real life so don’t stop the lesson at the end of the activity. Look for ways to review what it learned in the days that follow.

Teaching about electricity and magnets should include safety lessons first. Wooden trains with magnet connectors are a great way for your child to see and feel the effects of magnets on a daily bases. You can gather some safe items to test for magnetism. You could even explore outside to look for items to try.

You can also introduce small machines with gears and pulleys. Take a closer look at that tricycle or bike and follow what happens when you pedal. My Pinterest board ‘For the builder’ has a few other ideas on how to build and use other small machines. There are toy gears you can buy. If you happen across a crane working, take notice of the how the hook goes up and down. Again, this connects the lessons to real life.

You can find more small machine ideas on my ‘For the builder’ Pinterest board. For activities using energy sources look in both my ‘For the Scientist’ and ‘For the Builder’ boards on Pinterest. The ones on the builder’s board will require more building of course. If you’ve found an activity or website with lots of activities or lessons on energy sources, please share them with me on any social media!

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