Using Choo-Choo World for Early Years Learning
Since my four year old son started primary school and had some computer lessons, he has become more inquisitive about technology and the things you can do with a phone, ipad, computer, etc.
Beyond slightly off key sang nursery rhymes or episodes featuring your friendly neighbourhood Pig Family on popular video streaming platforms, I sometimes find myself at a loss of what child friendly content I can share with both my toddler and four year old from time to time. Video games can sometimes have the unwanted result of making my child feel frustrated and upset when the game is over and it wasn’t quite aimed at his age.
After the My Little Storybook experience, we realised our kids and some team members’ nieces and nephews loved the interactive, engaging elements that that project provided. So we jumped at the chance to create another positive, engaging experience that can be used by multiple ages and backgrounds for another Lusion lab project.
What is Choo-Choo World?
Choo-Choo World is a mini game where you can let your imagination run wild to create the train set of your dreams without being constrained to a certain number of tracks.
The track is built, what next?
Picture the scenario: you’re out for a family meal in a restaurant and waiting on food, the kids start getting bored but you don’t have crayons. Have you ever been in a similar situation? (It’s not just me, right?!)
In addition to playing Choo-Choo World together and communicating with each other to share ideas for building the track, you could also use this as an opportunity to build on some of the core Early Years learning with your young preschool to reception aged children and even toddlers who are just learning to talk and count!
In this article I will address some of the additional ways we play Choo-Choo world with our little ones using some of the specific areas of learning as outlined in the Early Years Foundation Stage; Expressive arts and design, Understanding the World, and Numeracy and Literacy.
💡 I should add that at this age learning is a marathon not a sprint. We’re just suggesting ideas for activities to do with children from ages 2–5 years old but you know your children best so don’t worry if your children are yet to do some of these things. They will get there. I speak as a mum of a summer born school aged child who took to reading a little later than some of his peers.
💡Keep in mind that we’re in the UK, so I’m speaking very specifically based on how parts of the curriculum such as literacy is taught. If you have any questions or want to know more, please put them in the comments section.
Expressive Arts and Design
Arts aren’t limited to drawing, painting and crafts. Technology can be used to explore creativity. Choo-Choo World does this by letting people think freely without being constrained to a limited number of tracks. You can let your imagination run wild with tunnels, testing how high your track can go, using twists and turns and seeing how far out the track can go. There are multiple ways you can explore this game in a creative way.
“The quality and variety of what children see, hear, participate in is crucial for developing their understanding. self-expression, vocabulary and ability to communicate through the arts.” (UK Department for Education, 2021)
You can take screenshots by pressing the camera button to caption your tracks and even share the url so your loved ones can see what your child has built! You can include friends and cousins by seeing what they can build too!
Understanding the World: The Natural World
We used a countryside setting as a backdrop to set a calm tone for the game. As humans we have an innate desire to be connected to nature. By connecting technology to nature we keep our little ones grounded in the natural environment from an early age while still interacting with modern technology. In an ever growing digitalised society, it is becoming increasingly important that we look for ways we can embrace nature with our young families.
The Natural World is a sub early learning goal within the Understanding the World area of the Early Years curriculum and the learning outcomes include:
- Explore the natural world around them,
- Making observations
- Knowing some similarities and differences between the natural world around them and contrasting environments.
(UK Department for Education, 2021)
Choo-Choo World can be used to make observations about what the children can see on the screen. This will draw links with other learning areas such as communication by asking children to narrate what they have seen on the screen. “I can see[a waterfall, an airplane in the sky]”
It’s as simple as asking your child; how many sheep, chickens, mountains, carriages, tracks, tunnels can you see?
💡 You can make this more challenging by timing them and then challenging them to do it again and try to beat their previous record.
This is a skill where you’re able to look at a group of objects and realise how many there are without counting. You can do this with spotting the same items clustered together. Look around the setting to see what items would be good for subitising. Start with 1 or 2 and then work up to more challenging numbers.
The benefits of subitising include:
- Helping children to make links between numbers which solidifies their understanding of core numeracy
- It can make working out math problems faster
- Helps with pattern recognition
- Children don’t become overly reliant on counting, so can be good for children who can count confidently up to 5 to push further.
Addition or Subtraction
You can ask something simple like: three sheep on one side and two sheep on this side, how many in total?
One idea would be to count the tracks you built together, then delete the previous track to subtract one. Now how many are there? Then build on this to subtract more and so on.
At the early years stage, literacy is mainly phonics, sound blending and developing a life-long love of reading. The ways you can do this with Choo-Choo World would be to practice sounds and blending and spotting tricky words through game playing. See some ideas here.
Play eye spy with phonics
This may be more relevant for reception and year one aged children and will depend on the phase that they’re currently working at. If you’re not sure, in the UK you can check their reading books they come home with and it will have the phase number on the cover.
phase 2 sounds: s,a,t,p,i,n,m,d,g,o,c,k,ck,e,u,r,h,b,f,ff,l,ll,ss
phase 3 sounds: j,v,w,x,y,z,zz,qu,ch,sh,th,ng,ai,ee,igh,oa,oo,ar,or,ur,ow,ear,air,ure,er
How to do it
Phonetically sound out the letters in a word and ask child to blend the sounds and then ask them to point to the item on the screen (example with phases 2 and 3 phonic sounds t-r-ai-n (train), ch-i-ck (chick), b-a-ll- long oo- n (balloon)
What are the benefits of doing this?
It practices the sounds your child is currently learning. It keeps it interesting by using phonics and sound blending in different contexts from reading books they take home every week. By not compartmentalising school work and fun things at home, they foster a love of learning and can see the benefit of learning in outside of school contexts.
Other ways of playing eye spy in Choo-Choo World
You could even do this with colours or in different languages if your child is brought up multilingual or learns a language at school or for fun.
Spot the tricky words
Look for them yourself first and then write them down as a list. Go through the list with your child and get your child to look for them and tick them off the list once they have spotted them.
On the About tab there are some tricky words:
💡 This will depend on what phase tricky words your child currently knows.
Phase 2 tricky words:
Phase 3 tricky words:
Choo Choo World is a really fun, family friendly activity that can be utilised beyond its initial train set building idea.
Our top tips for playing Choo-Choo World together would be to familiarise yourself with how the game works and all its tools before introducing this to your little ones and break down the steps of the game slowly and gradually so they can understand the track building and all the different buttons. Think about the ways you can maximise use of the game in addition to its gameplay to solidify and build on your child’s learning.
Most importantly have lots of fun together and we hope your children find the flying farm animals as funny as ours do!
From all of the Lusion fam, thank you for taking the time to read this article. You can check out Choo-Choo World with your loved ones (big and small). Screenshot their masterpieces and share it with loved ones or on our Twitter page @choochoowld.
As always, we love to hear from you!
Have you got any tips or have you tried some of these activities? Share your views in the comment section. ❤️
2021. Statutory Framework for the early years foundation stage. [PDF] [Accessed 16 June 2022].
“What is subitising?” n.d. Twinkl. Accessed 16 June 2022.