Our 4 year old has been absolutely obsessed with trains and planes for the last couple of years; that’s more than half his life! There are lots of things to love about children being passionate about particular hobbies, however all consuming they may become! This post looks at our son’s child-led, developmental journey exploring and enjoying ‘things that go’.
Although I can’t remember exactly when or how our son’s love for trains and planes reached ‘obsession’ status, (I think it sort of crept up on us), I have really enjoyed both watching and being pulled into the play as it has grown in complexity.
It all started quite easily and innocently enough: a little Trainspotting excitement here, and some watching Aeroplanes and Gross Motor Fun there. Of course seeing the real life vehicles, and taking a trip or two, did wonders for igniting B’s interest in them!
Destined to take over the house (and our hearts)… actual train tracks soon weaved their way anywhere and everywhere – including under and around tables, chair legs and bookshelves. This play stimulated visual perceptual skills (selecting and lining up pieces), eye-hand coordination (connecting tracks and carriages), bilateral coordination (linking and moving the trains around), and simple symbolic play (acting out train book stories we’d read along with new adventures). Then there was that beautiful problem solving moment in the ‘Let the Child Lead’ story about Building Bridges and Confidence.
But who said trains have to stick to the tracks anyway? Our little trains ‘toot-tooted’ along substitute tracks such as window sills, lengths of floorboards and even those lines of grout in between tiles on our bathroom floor! This little train driver has even been caught using his body as part of the scene too, creating tunnels under his knees for trains heading ‘cross country’. Perfect practise for spatial awareness, balance and tactile discrimination – B had to be so careful to hold his position, and simultaneously guide the long train around gently so as not to break it apart.
I’m not suggesting all kids with a love for trains will or should do this or any of these particular play ideas… they simply highlight the possibilities of the kinds of ‘variations on a theme’ that kids come up with whilst in the flow of playing. Often, their imaginations exceed adults, and it is fun to be surprised by what they come up with!
We’ve also given a bunch of soft toy friends train rides in Cardboard Box Trains, and added new Train Set Accessories to mix up the symbolic play opportunities. Whilst travelling, a simple, DIY Cereal Box City meant adapting an existing love of trains to a new environment and a different set of ‘things that go’ loose parts with which to work.
Back at home, playing with airplanes quickly became more than just ‘zooming’ them around in the air… the TV unit was turned into a ready-to-go airport ‘hangar’, and close to authentic take offs, landings, and pilot commentaries all added extra layers of complexity to the plane play! All his ideas – not ours!
Pretending to actually be a plane progressed from simply holding arms out to the side and gliding around… to squatting pre-take off, directing other ‘passengers’ to fall in line, take a seat and put their seatbelt on (that’s where we tended to be roped in), then he’d accelerate to full speed flying! Hands down though, our favourite part of this play scenario, was (and still is…) the near authentic landing, complete with slowing down, and bumping into a ‘bouncy squat’ as he hit the runway! Oh the places we’d go and the people (friends/family) we’d visit!
When it came to choosing a party theme, there was no question that B would have a ‘Things That Go’ 3rd Birthday Party, which featured an enormous airplane made by B’s (slightly eccentric) Grandad. Hilarious. And a HUGE hit! The dismantled aircraft then became a train which travelled up and down the imaginary track in our small outdoor area for months. The announcements made by the driver became more elaborate, and the chosen ‘destinations’ fuelled the imaginative play between train trips. The occupational therapist in me didn’t mind the calming and regulating ‘heavy work’ (strong proprioceptive sensory input) which the pushing and pulling of the large structure demanded either!
The planes and trains have been by his side, receiving VIP treatment, from morning to night… at the breakfast table, in the car, bath, sandpit, park, cafes, friends’ houses, and yes, sometimes even as his chosen ‘friend’ to snuggle up to as he falls asleep. They have been given various names (depending on the day, moment and play scenario), and even assigned different jobs altogether – such as a miniature Qantas plane working as a crane, helping him (and me!) to lift up and peg the washing on an indoor clothes drying horse!!
Such experimentation in symbolic play and practise building flexibility and adaptability in daily activities is not to be underestimated developmentally! And way to bring a smile to my face whilst doing the household chores!
Combining passions of the moment is a clever initiative too, such as matching the unwrapping, peeling, and applying of bandaids/plasters, together with … well, planes, of course! This picture shows a close-up of a hospital emergency room, with cow and plane patients sporting carefully positioned ‘bandaids’ for their ‘sores’.
We all know that learning is maximised when children are motivated, enthusiastic, excited about the subject matter. With little encouragement or prompting, B has loved counting planes and carriages; identifying them by size and colour; setting up detailed scenes, with roads, signs, people, animals, mountains, bridges, hospitals, and fire stations; and creating ‘the longest train’ in the world! Just the other day, he announced proudly, pointing to a train with multiple carriages looped around forming a circle: “Look! A ‘zero’!” All this, ‘child-led’, thanks to his ‘obsessions’!
Out and about, there is certainly no need to walk – at least, not when you can be real life versions of your favourite modes of transport…
… and it is always surprising where runways, train tracks (and carriages) are found embedded in the world around us!
Some parents might wonder if there is ever a point when kids’ ‘obsessions’ might become concerning. Children learn so much through repetitive play. Chances are high that adult players and onlookers will become bored well before children! Repetition allows for gross motor, fine motor, language, social and play skill development. As the saying goes: “Practise makes perfect”! Each time a child engages in that same task, activity, imaginative/symbolic play scenario – they are consolidating a whole range of skills, as well as gaining self-confidence.
What we should be seeing over time though, as well as the all time favourite play ideas, is the natural and spontaneous ‘variations on a theme’. If children seem really ‘stuck’, that is a great opportunity to help take their skills to the next level and broaden their repertoire of play experiences.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with ‘obsessions’ with your child/ren – so please feel free to leave me a comment!
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