Posted in family life

a boy and his trains (Grandma’s trains, that is…)

Sometimes I wish I had a window into Rondel’s mind, to know what he’s thinking and imagining as he plays.


He is currently absorbed by trains of all types, having been introduced to them at our local children’s museum, and then having discovered that Grandma had a box of trains saved from my childhood. He’ll spend a small amount of time setting up the track, not worrying about whether it is intricate or even complete, as long as there is something to drive the train on, and then spend the rest of his time lining up the trains, linking them together with their magnetic hooks, pushing them slowly back and forth on the little piece of track right in front of him.

Nothing disturbs his focus. (Not even Grandma!)


He is completely in another world, a world perhaps where giant powerful steam engines chug fiercely down the rails, where light rail trains glide smoothly down the road next to the comparatively tiny cars, where people flock on and off the passenger cars as the trains pull up to the station. Or perhaps he is lost in the details, feeling the rough unfinished tracks and the smooth painted engines, the perfect curves of the wheels or the straight lines of the cars, imagining the freight carried in each crate or channel or bucket, taking pleasure in the effortless connection of one magnet to another, feeling the heft of the train as one engine pulls a whole line of cars behind it down the track. There’s no real way for me to know what captivates him so deeply about the trains.

And he doesn’t play with them the way I remember playing with them. My favorite part of the trains (at least as far as I remember, when I was quite a bit older than Rondel is now) was designing the track, seeing what new configuration I could build with the pieces, creating different loops and tunnels for the trains to traverse.


But even though I don’t fully understand the way Rondel plays, I see his thoughtful and imaginative side, his attention to details, and his love of patterns, connections, and categorizations; I see his joy and excitement about doing something he loves; and I see him playing in a way that allows his mind to develop in its own unique bent, free of the artificial goals and constraints of an adult’s idea of fun or the “proper” way to play. All his senses are involved, his body is unconstrained (as evidenced by how he’s lying on his side to push the trains at eye level…), his imagination is free, his attention is undistracted, and his decisions are internally motivated.

In these moments, I feel like I’m privileged to observe the beauty of self-directed, spontaneous, childhood play, and I’m so glad that my son has the opportunity to experience life and develop in that context. We’re far from perfect, but days like these bring me so much happiness.

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