Teacher Feature: Toddler Classroom Explores Trains

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring toddler teachers Meg McDonald, Laura Bonilla, and Jessica Fiveson. These teachers began a unit on transportation when they noticed their students were fascinated with anything and everything in motion. During this lesson, the teachers focused on one mode of transportation: trains! Many toddlers had seen trains before, both above ground and underground Metro trains. During this playful lesson, students were able to explore a real train at the National Museum of American History. Below you will find a reflection from Meg, Laura, and Jessica, along with some photos from their lesson.

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What were your topics of exploration? Why did you choose them? Where did they come from?

We explored trains in this lesson. We had been learning about transportation and our kids showed a big interest in trains.

Why and how did you choose the visit?

We chose to see the trains in the Transportation Hall at the American History Museum so the children could see real trains up close. We also liked that we were able to hear train sounds while we were in the exhibit.

What were your learning objectives? (What did you want your children to take away from the lesson?)

Our goals were for the children to observe the size and different parts of the train, and understand that there are different types of trains. We also wanted the children to learn how trains help us by transporting people and products.

What was most successful about your lesson? How did the lesson reach your objectives to expand the topic? What was successful in terms of your preparation and logistics?

The kids had a great time and showed so much interest in exploring the trains. They had fun wearing the engineer hats and bandanas and reading the story Freight Train.

What could you have done differently to better achieve your objectives and expand the topic? What was challenging regarding logistics?  What recommendations would you have for another teacher trying out this lesson?

We didn’t experience any challenges with this lesson, but there potentially could have been challenges with the train sounds in the exhibit being too loud, or with the children being able to stay engaged for so long. I would recommend that educators take their children to see a moving train (at the Metro or other train station) to give their children multiple exposures.

Here are some photos from their lesson:


The toddlers began their lesson with a little dramatic play. In the classroom, they looked at some photos of trains, and spent some time playing “conductor.” Engaging in pretend play and role playing is an important developmental milestone for older toddlers, and helps children grow cognitively and emotionally.


When the class was suited up and ready to depart, they headed for the National Museum of American History (while walking on hand-holding “trains”)!


The class headed straight toward the exhibit America on the Move, which includes many examples of trains of all kinds.


The teachers had prepared a train ticket for each child, and the toddlers practiced taking turns to have their ticket stamped.


Soon the toddlers were ready to board! The class spent a few minutes walking around and carefully looking at the Southern Railway’s 1401 train. They then found a quiet corner to sit right by the engine.


Meg led her toddlers in some inquiry-based discussion, asking open-ended questions such as: “What do you think this train would sound like?” “If you were going to get on a train, where would you go?” The kiddos used their voices to make train sounds and thought about where they might take a train ride.


Meg read the book Freight Train by Donald Crews, and her toddlers paid close attention to the different types of cars, pointing out the different colors and counting how many were on each page.


The class finished up their lesson by taking a peek inside of the train and pointing out the conductors and the parts of the engine room.


These toddler teachers incorporated play, exploration, and inquiry in this lesson to create a meaningful experience for their kiddos. The class spent over a week learning about trains and rounded out their transportation unit by learning about other things with wheels, including cars and construction equipment. Check out our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for more ideas from their unit on transportation! See you in two weeks with our next Teacher Feature!