Library Programs · Preschool Programs

Wild About Trains!

Remember the Drive-In Movie? Well, it was so cute, we decided to do a similar program, but we turned boxes into train cars this time. AND IT WAS ADORBS. The kids had a lot of fun decorating their train cars and then running around our “train tracks” and we got a lot of positive feedback from the parents. The program was for ages 3-5, which was perfect, and we did two sessions so we could have a reasonable crowd size but meet the demand. (Session 1 there were 12 kids and their parents; session 2 there were 19 kids and their parents.)

Wild About Trains at the Ela Library--group of kids going around the track

I started by doing a 15 minute storytime about trains. Here in the Chicago suburbs we have both commuter trains and freight trains pass through all the time, so all the kids see trains frequently and most of them have been on one. The kids and I had a conversation about trains and they definitely had a lot to say. (“My daddy takes the train to work!” “I saw Santa on the train!”) I read Clickety Clack by Rob and Amy Spence, read the app version of Byron Barton’s Trains (iPad projected on a large screen), and sang The Little Red Train Going Down the Track while we went around pretend train tracks.

Then it was time to decorate the train cars! We had done a lot of prep work before the program and so the boxes were pre-assembled for the kids. (The boxes were 22 inches long, 12 inches wide and 10 inches tall, which was a perfect size for this age.) All they had to do was attach the pieces:

  • wheels: large black cardstock circles, small colored paper circles and strips of paper
  • light on the front of the train: paper plate
  • pilot (the thing that looks like a grate on the front of the train): image we printed on cardstock
  • windows: cardstock rectangles
  • smoke stack: plastic cup attached with a brad

Wild About Trains at the Ela Library--boy assembling his train car

They used glue sticks for everything (except the smoke stack), which worked pretty well. Attaching the cups with a brad wasn’t as successful (they weren’t secure enough; when the kids were playing in their train cars some of the cups popped off) and I might use packing tape next time. They also used markers to decorate their trains, and we gave each child an engineer cap to keep (from Oriental Trading).

Wild About Trains at the Ela Library

Once they were done, they had time to play on our train tracks, which were foam tiles set up in an oval. There was a tunnel (a structure we had in storage), a traffic light (a Yacker Tracker we had in storage) and railroad crossing signs someone on our staff made. I wasn’t sure how long this would be entertaining, but the first group stayed about 15 minutes and the second group stayed almost 30 minutes(!) just going round and round the track.

Wild About Trains at the Ela Library

This was a great program and, as I said above, we got a ton of positive feedback, which is always nice. The one downside is how much prep work we did in advance of it. We assembled the boxes (which required a bunch of measuring, cutting, and taping) and cut out a lot of pieces, plus we assembled a gallon-sized plastic bag for each kid with all the pieces they’d need for their train. I started thinking of this program as the opposite of unprogramming. I’m lucky that we have a lot of people on staff willing to help with tasks like cutting, but it’s not a program you can just whip out or do all the time. On the postive side, we did keep costs pretty low (we bought the boxes, hats, cups and plates, but everything else we had on hand).

If you like this idea and want to do it at your library, check out my Pinterest board where I gathered a few more ideas. The question I’m now thinking about is: what can we turn cardboard boxes into next time? Any suggestions?

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