We have the locomotive sensory box at one of our family learning areas in the museum, and it is very popular with the toddler/preschool age group.  It is a flexible activity that you can adapt to your child’s age, abilities, or preferences. 

STEAM LOCOMOTIVES NEED TO MAKE STEAM TO MOVE

COAL + WATER + HEAT + STEAM

What can you learn?

Shapes, colors, textures, sounds, motor skills

Sensory box elements:

  • Blue items (we use blue vase filler, but anything blue and friendly to small hands will work, you could even use food items such as blueberries)
  • Black items (we use black vase filler, but anything black and friendly to small hands will work, you could even use food items such as raisins)
  • Scoops (we have a large stash of kid size buckets and scoops we use, but cups and spoons work just as well)
  • Fire/heat (we use led tealights, but many things can replace fire, such as red paper, orange paper, orange crackers, etc.)
  • Steam Locomotive (Our practice steam locomotive is made from a grocery bag holder to which we attached some wheels, but any container will work.)
  • Large plastic container (Some sort of large container is useful in keeping the small pieces contained.  We started with a cardboard box and then adopted something easier to clean)

How does it work?

  • Introduce all the elements of the box to your child.  Tell them what each one represents.  You can show them the pictures of water, coal, fire, locomotive that are included below.
  • Give them a chance to play with each element and identify size, color, and feel.
  • Take a scoop of coal (small black items) and put it in the container you are using as a locomotive
  • Take a scoop of water (blue items) and put it in the container you are using as a locomotive
  • Add fire (tealights or red paper) and put it in the container you are using as a locomotive
  • Pretend the items are working together to make steam and push the locomotive forwards.  We like to make steam sounds and train sounds when everything is ”working.”  If you have a book or movie about trains, there is often a steam locomotive with steam you can use as a visual.

Tips:

  • Even if your child only wants to play with the elements, they are still learning motor skills and identifying shapes and colors.
  • You can practice letters and counting with this exercise also.  T is for train.  W is for water.  C is for coal.  F is for fire, etc.  You can count how many coal pieces go into the train.
  • A boiling pot of water (used under parent supervision) can show how it takes heat to create steam.  Talk about how the heat changes the water from liquid to a gas.

Another idea to illustrate the power of steam is to pop a bag of popcorn.  You can show how the steam comes out of the bag and explain how people open the bag slowly to let the steam escape to prevent burns.