Train Adventure 3yr - Engineer Coveralls
Andrea in Brighton, MA USA
Train Adventure Party
My son loves his toy trains but when he said he wanted a train party for his third birthday, he didn't mean we should make the living room look like a train station; he meant real trains, to ride on. It took us weeks and weeks to check out schedules we made both virtual and real tours of various stations and stops but we finally created an itinerary and sent out invitations to four special friends plus his four older sisters for a full morning of riding the rails.
INVITATIONS: Since we didn't have to decorate the house, I spent my time creating the mood with the invitations. The front sported photos of our local bus with the words All Aboard climbing up into the picture. Then there was a head-on shot of the commuter rail with the words for [son's] birthday party running below it. The party date ran down a map of the light rail line. Each picture was taken from the webpage of our local transportation authority and I added the words on Pages, a simple Mac program. Beneath each picture I placed the icons for bus, commuter rail and subway with the words as they appear on all the transportation maps and signs. Inside was a schedule of departures and arrivals done in block letters with columns for the times. Instead of am and pm, we used military time so that the party ran from 10:00 to 14:00. The schedule began and ended at our house, which we called [Our Street] Station.
Every other stop along was way was real. Since this was November, we made sure our guests knew to dress for the weather. We included a bus/train pass that I made on the computer to mimic the CharlieCards we use here in Boston, except we called them by my son's name instead of Charlie, changed the T to a K (our last initial) and Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to [Our Family Name] Transportation Authority. I really enjoyed finding just the right fonts and colors. We printed them out on card stock paper and cut them to the size and shape of the real cards. We also included meal ducats, plastic gold coins, to pay for food on the train. We told guests to show up promptly 15 minutes before our first departure with their transport cards and ducats.
Costumes: Our son was dressed head to toe as an engineer with coveralls, a bandana, and a stripped cap. Our next youngest daughter also had a train engineer's cap and was the real driver since she was older. Guests and accompanying adults received a pass which had a train emblem on it and room to write the passenger's name. It hung from elastic around their necks. The kids loved these! (We got them from Birthday in a Box along with the stripped cap).
ACTIVITIES: We met in our house. Once we had all our guests, they had to present their transportation cards to one of my daughters who was wearing a Conductor badge that she made herself. She checked the cards in her card reader (a play dough toy), made the right noises, and then handed back the cards. She gave everyone their train passes with their name on it. Then we set off on our adventure which involving riding a lot of public transportation.
First we took the city bus from our corner to the rail line (the T). While marching to the bus stop and waiting we sang The Wheels on The Bus with whatever extra instructions we needed to give such as the Driver on the Bus says Stay with Mommy. On the bus we were supposed to do a scavenger hunt with stickers for items seen out the window, but the kids were having so much fun just riding that we gave out some stickers, pointed out some of the better sights, i.e. a fancy bakery, a detour sign and let them enjoy the ride.
At the end of the bus line, we rode an elevator to the underground trains. It had a transparent side so you could see the mechanism working. We talked about how many different forms of transportation we were taking: Walking, bus, elevator, now train.
We got to go through the electronic turnstiles and then the kids chose the stairs to get to the tracks and counted stairs as a new form of transportation. We started to sing Down By the Station early in the morning but the train came so fast we didn't even have time to finish. On the train we looked out the windows as we rode through tunnel again, no additional activities were needed. We changed from the green line which has trolley style cars to the red line which has more modern subway style cars all exciting. We talked about who was wearing colors that matched each train. We also often counted off as we approached benches or boarded the trains or got ready to depart. The kids liked counting off loudly and it helped keep track of everyone. The train pulled into a large fancy station, the main one in town.
We rode an escalator to the platforms for the commuter rail. The kids got to choose buying tickets or watching trains. While my daughters went with my husband to buy tickets, I took the birthday boy and a friend to meet an Amtrak employee. He was wearing a red hat, full uniform and badge. He loved meeting the dressed up birthday boy and went and got him a present: A poster of an Acela train. We went to look at the real Acela’s on the tracks. Then we read the big light up board to find our track and make sure our train was on time. We counted in order from track 7 to track 11. Ours turned out to be a double decker. And more special treatment - there weren't any tables left but a conductor checked with her boss and opened up an extra car for us. So we had a private car on the top level of the commuter rail. The train ride was 40 minutes, just enough time to eat lunch, play with the train sticker books I had brought along, look out the window, and finally sing Happy Birthday and eat our super deluxe homemade train cake.
SNACKS/LUNCH: We collected the meal ducats in a little metal pail (plink, plink) and served meals in little silver lunch boxes. The kids had tracks and wheels tracks were carrot sticks, wheels were rice cakes spread with cream cheese with a half grape in the middle. We brought Popsicle sticks for spreaders so everyone could make their own. Each child had a juice box, an applesauce cup or apple and a mini bag of chips. The adults had sandwiches. We ate on birthday napkins so there would be less to clean up.
CAKE: The cake was a special request of my son. It was made out of Rice Krispies Treats. We added blue food coloring while melting the marshmallows so our base color was blue. While the mixture was still warm and pliable we stuffed most of it into two greased loaf pans and flattened out the tops. Then we took the rest and rolled it into 16 little balls (this works best if you put some margarine on your palms so the marshmallow doesn't stick to your hands). We put a raisin in the center of one side of each ball and flattened it out to make the wheels. We removed the cakes from the pans and cut one into the shape of an engine with a triangular front, a notch for the drivers, a built-up top and a smoke stack. We frosted the engine with chocolate frosting, added mini chocolate candy squares in the back for coal, and put gummy bears in the drivers' seat.
The headlights were yellow gumdrops and the grill was Twizlers. We cut the second loaf into three rectangles for the cars. We kept the cars blue, trimmed them with Twizlers and added colorful sprinkles and other candies to the tops. We wrote a red #3 on the caboose and frosted the raised back red. Then we attached the cars to each other with two toothpicks each so that they could swivel. We packed the whole thing in a big boot box. Once we were on the train, we set the whole thing out on the table on wax paper, attached the engine and called the kids over from their sticker books to see the final creation. We sang Happy Birthday and Dinah Won't You Blow Your Horn. The kids picked off the candy and the wheels and then we cut up the cars and engine. It was delicious and so much fun.
More Activities: The party wasn't over when we disembarked. We had taken the commuter rail to a station near where the grandparents live. They met us in two cars (more transportation!) and took everyone over to the annual Hobbyist’s Train Show in town. Mostly it was tables upon tables of Lionel pieces for sale but there were videos of train rides filmed by train spotters, which were strangely appealing, and two huge working model displays. The hobbyist’s kept changing the trains around and the kids could see all the workings. As if the day weren't special enough, for $3 you could get 5 minutes to run an electric Thomas train along the line (these were very large ones, nothing like the toys we have at home.) Our little engineer and one of his braver friends took turns sitting on the high stool operating the remote control. Then, after bathroom breaks and water breaks and some fresh popped popcorn, we took our bleary-eyed guests back to the cars to go home. We expected them to sleep en route but they didn't! Too much to talk about.
FAVORS: Back at our home station we said goodbye to guests. Each one got a hardback Thomas book with a sheet of train stickers inside. They also got blank train scavenger hunt cards in little envelopes with mini colored pencils to make their own games at home. Though not everyone can get lucky enough to have the train hobby show come to town on the right day, this party is easily adaptable to any city with public transportation. We had talked about many possible end destinations including the train station itself and a suburban station with local shops arranged in an outdoor mall. It is a simple flexible idea. We hadn't intended on this side effect but, after the party, guests who previously thought it was too hard to take little kids on the bus started using public transportation at their kid's request/insistence. One child even tried to pay with his transportation card and it looked so real the driver almost took it from him to run it through the scanner!
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