There are many great model railroading activities for children. Model railroading can be a great teaching tool for carpentry, electricity, art, history, geometry and more. Most importantly, this learning can come from enjoyable quality time together with family and friends. Here are some easy and fun ways to get your whole family involved.
No matter how old your child is, whether it’s an electric train or a wooden pull-toy, there is no better way to get started in any hobby than by spending quality time with parents. There are lots of options available. Years from now, even when that favorite childhood toy is lovingly handed down to the next generation, it won’t be the train itself that is most fondly remembered.
Build a Kit
Most model train kits are recommended by manufacturers for ages 8 and up. With parental assistance, your child may be ready at an earlier age. Many kits require little more than a screwdriver and a pair of nippers to remove parts from sprues. After a few minutes of quality time together, you’ll have a finished project that you can both be proud of and use.
Simple and inexpensive plastic train kits are getting harder and harder to come by as manufacturers turn to ready-to-run models. Accurail and Bowser still make kits in HO scale for around $10-15. Assembling one of these kits is well within a beginners reach. Plastic structure kits are available in almost any price range in most scales. Don’t be scared away by seemingly complicated laser-cut wood kits either. Many can be built with almost no tools or painting required.
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. If you can’t find a kit that fits your skill level and the railroad you’re building, consider making one just for the fun of it. And while its great to teach children how to build something from a plan, you can also encourage creativity by “kitbashing” or modifying the original design.
Start simple and gradually increase the skill level. You can also always go back and make older projects better with paint and details. Don’t set your expectations too high at first. The important thing is to let the child have fun and begin to learn the necessary skills and safety practices that will stick around for a lifetime.
Build a Diorama
Setting a beginner at any age loose on your permanent layout can be a bit scary. A small diorama or display board is an excellent way to practice skills without leaving a permanent mark. You can build the project at a table or workbench much more ergonomically suitable than what most train tables provide. The smaller project size also works well with a child’s attention span.
Scenery projects appeal to both a child’s creative side and complete willingness to get messy. From spreading ground cover to making trees, many scenic projects are easy enough for a preschooler to handle. Woodland Scenics offers prepackaged diorama and practice kits perfect for model railroading or school projects.
When finished, the diorama can be used to display one of the kits you’ve built or it could even be incorporated into the permanent layout.
Eventually watching a train run around the same loop of track gets old. Adding switches (turnouts) to change the route can increase the excitement, but making the trains actually do some work can be entertaining for hours.
Real trains exist to serve a purpose; move people or goods from Point A to Point B. Often, this means picking up or setting off cars along the way. Advanced operators have all sorts of methods for duplicating prototypical operations, but for those getting started, just figuring out how to add a car to the consist without picking it up in our hands can be a challenge enough.
“Let’s pick up the refrigerator car at the farm and deliver it to the creamery.” Coupling and uncoupling cars, switching tracks, starting and stopping the train all require active thinking and hand-eye coordination. Not only are you increasing the child’s understanding of real trains, you’re building universal skills as well.
Even with simple operations like this, the railroad is always changing and always new. With multiple sidings and cars, the combinations are almost endless.
Watching trains together can be a great way to share the hobby with children. It does present some challenges however.
Unless you know when the trains are coming, even a busy railroad can offer some lengthy waits between trains. For children, even a short wait can feel like an eternity. Make sure you bring along books, coloring supplies, toys or games to help pass the time together in between trains. By ensuring you spend quality time together all day, trains become just one part of a positive experience.
Safety First! Children are used to trains as small toys, not a noisy machine as big as a house. It is not at all uncommon for children to be afraid of trains. Use this time together to reassure kids, but also to teach valuable lessons about railroads and being safe around them.
Teach your children to stay a safe distance from the tracks at all times and to be aware of their surroundings. Real trains can be fun, but they are not toys and need to be respected. Operation Lifesaver is a leader in promoting rail safety and has great activities for children available online.