Sunday, December 4, 2011

Is it a Book or Is it a Train? - Subway Series Part 1

If you've ridden one of these trains then chances are, you are really old

WHAT: New York City Subway Trains: 12 Punch and Build Trains
DOES: Paper dolls for boys!  Punch out paper trains, fold them into their train shape, and then play! You can also read about NYC's subway history.   Trains themselves are a visual display of how trains have modernized over time.
INVEST: $13-16
TOOLS: More Make-Believe Please, Social Scene Helper, Foment Love of Language, Think Like A Scientist/Engineer? Actually no, it's more like People are People

Number 2 is in love with subways and I wanted to get him something different last Christmas and so I bought him this book.   We didn't buckle down to read the book but if your child is old enough then he certainly can.  I actually bought it "Used-Like New" on Amazon but when it came in the mail, it looked brand new.

What I like about these trains is that they offer a different spin for the crazy train obsession we see in some boys.  First, the book and set of trains is viewed through a historical lens.   For example, there are actually three "7 train" paper trains and each train is from a different place in time. (I rode the 7 train when it was burgundy red (see photo)  It was the first subway ride that I ever took by myself and I was twelve.)   This perspective is important to me because I want my kids to imagine how things were different back then and how things will be different in the future.  Do you ever see your kid's mouth drop open when you show them what a rotary phone looks like?  Not those antique ones- no, those big clunky ones that can hurt people?  If so, try checking out the Museum of Interesting Things.

I also like that you have to build the trains on your own.  Kids don't work with paper so much anymore.  I love Legos and building blocks but what happened to precious delicate paper?   I remember when I used to play with paper dolls.  It was really an essential part of  my "toybox" especially because my parents couldn't afford to buy too many toys for me.  I would feel awful when one of the tabs fell off and sometimes managed to save them but cutting out a new tab and taping it on (not pretty).  I am not sure if I ever drew my own paper clothing for my dolls but I like to think that maybe I would encourage my daughter to do so if I had a daughter.

Well, we can't dress up these trains but #2 has learned to protect them from wear and tear.  We use packing or shipping tape (not Scotch tape) as it retains the shape of the train better because it is thicker.  It is also very clear so the color and details of the train are not dulled.

While my #2 is a bit too much into subways, I like to think that there is a bit of beauty in why he likes them so much.   In NYC, the subway lines are named by letters and numbers.  That's simple.  Everyone likes simplicity.  Simple is predictable and predictable is comforting.

However, what Number 2 has a hard time doing is seeing the world outside his window but since subways are in many major cities, I take his love for our subway system and let him compare it with other cities.   I once brought him a map of the Washington DC subway system after returning from a tiny Mom-getaway this year and he was definitely intrigued.  I would have brought him a sample ticket but the machine swallowed it up on my way out of the station.  That doesn't happen here in New York City.  But it is fun to learn by comparing things. We all have our go-to things to compare in another city.

For me, I look at the roads and the speed of the cars traveling.   In this respect, I find smaller towns than New York City really intimidating!  Y'all drive so fast!  We have too much traffic here in my crowded city and so I don't have to drive that fast.  I almost had a heart attack on a California highway!   At the same time, the speed of shopping registers are slower in other cities and this causes me minor panic attacks.

Comparing cities is great learning for any kid and that is why I wrote that these trains help you "think like a scientist/engineer" because the term "Social Studies" in elementary schools is really a study of social science and civil engineering or the history thereof, isn't it?**  Learning and comparing travel systems whether they be rivers or subways or highways is another window into different communities. Number 1 likes this subject very much.  I am really happy about that.
My friend did this for her son's 6th birthday. See foot of post* for her link to this wild party. Photo: Melissa Orlando

Lastly, I need to say that despite the fanaticism, I love train play.  Did you ever go to a toy store or a children's museum where there is a train table with trains for kids to play with?  Here is where parents have to WORK at making their kid SHARE.  When no one is there, your kid takes all the trains but then another kid rolls by and sticks out their bottom lip and you must direct your clueless child to give "some" or "half" or "at least one"....-oh dear me- is this really MY child?

The other lesson is a bit like my road lesson.  Train tracks on a table go around, under and over each other and the kids must all play and travel around without fighting and yelling and crying.  These are all good things to practice even though I would tear my hair out waiting for my son to walk away and do something else!  Once I was so sick of him having to wait for a train to play with, on one occasion, I actually brought his own wooden train to the train table at a children's museum.  That was probably not a good thing.

All in all, I find this book/train set to be a great deal for the price and a nice twist for a parent who wants to build something positive on their child's love for trains, whether it is just a fancy or an huge obsession.  But seriously, if you haven't yet done so, check out the New York City Transit Museum Store.  The items are just beautiful.  You don't have to be a NYC subway rider to appreciate it.  And kudos to the New York City Transit Museum for creating Subway Sleuths, an afterschool social skills program for children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This program reigns in the power of the children's love for subways to expand their overall learning.  On top of it being an AWESOME idea, they don't refuse any child based on ability to pay tuition!   I can't wait to visit the museum's store again because this article just made me look at their website today and I see those subway-themed tree ornaments- so darn cute!  Oh, I wonder if my husband will believe me if I told them the ornaments were pitched to me and so I didn't have to pay for them.  Probably not.  Sigh.

p.s.  Since we are in the season of giving, please beware of gifting this book to a child who has a sibling who is also a train fanatic and you are giving something else to the other sibling.  BIG MISTAKE.  I have been told that a birthday gift that included this book actually caused some fighting between two brothers.  I was very sorry about that.

* Melissa writes at guerrilla mamafesto   She promises to soon put up her activity list for this party idea.  Some of these included creating refrigerator magnets that resembles the symbol for each train line, themed cake and cupcakes, napkins and plates, and there was so much.  Number 2 was in heaven that day.

** There are just too many tools in the "Think Like a Scientist/Engineer" section.  We have to reorganize- a healthy exercise for any toolbox owner.  I have now decided to add another "compartment" to the Toys are Tools' Toolbox.  It will be called "People are People" and it will focus on the benefits of teaching children about their community and beyond.

Disclosure statement: Toys are Tools has not been compensated in any fashion for the publication of this post by the manufacturer or retailer of any of the products mentioned here . 

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