We set up the HO trains under the family Christmas tree this weekend, which is always fun and knocks about twenty years off my apparent age. It’s amazing how enduring a fascination trains can hold, whether they’re models or massive machines, still or belching smoke and whistling like a time machine. Trains even make good bait for getting a small child through an art museum (those luminists and Hudson River types often had creeping inroads of steam power in their paintings, after all, and you can enjoy the brushwork and color while the kiddo bounces around looking for train tunnels).
So it was with great delight that I discovered OurStory, a website hosted by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The site is a family- and teacher- friendly resource for approaching history from the ‘story’ angle. There is a searchable booklist, a great thematic list of activities to do at school or home, and one of their current features on the homepage is a downloadable packet of ideas and activities to explore the world of trains in your own backyard, from the local train station to the nearest rail museum. (And even more book suggestions and activities on the thematic ‘trains’ page.)
The NMAH has, of course, an impressive transportation collection of its own, but I love the fact that they’ve created resources which reflect the geographically wide-spread nature of visitors to a website. “Can’t get to the NMAH? Here’s how to find cool similar stuff near you.” Fabulous. Site specific materials can be fantastic, but accessibility is key.