Heritage Model Train Article

Fact: Kids Love Model Trains


If you think all model railroaders love their trains – add this fact -- they love their kids too. Put the two facts together and you have that “tag line” of the Model Railroad magazine – “Model railroading is fun!”. And that how it should be. But wait… it can still be a learning tool if you keep the attention of the child with one hand while you provide a good lesson with the other.


It beats me why even a child who has never ridden a real train before finds the model version fascinating; but they do. Perhaps it’s the movement of the trains, or maybe it’s feeling like a giant in that little world he is looking down upon. I suppose however, that this attraction consists of much more than what I imagine.


Father and Sons Enjoying Trains


I do know model railroading brings out a sense of child-like wonder in all of us. Additionally, while children remain in this wonderland their minds become receptive to many things which we would like them to learn. That affords a tremendous opportunity to teach them not only about trains, but life and the world around them in general -- and gives the TV a rest.


Never underestimate how kids always seem to enjoy a chance to be with parents, multiplying the joy provided by a shared activity. In running trains, the first lesson they have to learn is speed – race cars are for speed, trains prefer to putt along the track quite contentedly. Following this first lesson, stands the need to understand why railroads do the things they do.


Our lesson as adults is to indulge a bit and offer a long leash. You might ask Sammy why the Staley Syrup tank car is being delivered to the appliance manufacturer. When is replies that “they want pancakes for breakfast”, just smile and enjoy the moment, this is no time to get too serious too quickly. Like sheep, children must be led, not driven.


Most of what they are enjoying is being with you at an event that they know you are enjoying too. We have to allow their imagination. When they offer their own version of sound effects, compliment them, imitate their toots or whistles and they will delight in your silliness.


Besides running the train operations itself, kids can also help you paint models. Children can learn “weathering” the buildings, cars, trains, portals to tunnels and bridges. Explain how over the years that weather takes its toll on everything in its path. Of course you risk some items looking like they may have seen their first storm in about, oh, 1726.


Scenery also presents opportunity for quality time with the kids. Let them help make trees from kits and scratch. Plastering the landscape is fun too. Anybody can layout hills, rocks, trees, and other vegetations and kids get a kick out of this.


How about laying out the towns? Now there’s a “teachable moment” as you chat with them concerning such things as what business would be in this town, why things look a particular way, and discuss clearance for the rails. Allow the kids to place figures, animals, autos, and decide other details like where fences should be. During this activity, ask them what they want the scene to convey to an observer? You might get all kinds of answers.


All Aboard…..



Esther Smith, author

Heritage Model Trains