STEAM: The Little Engine that Could

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This month’s selection for the Virtual Book Club for Kids is “The Little Engine that Could” by Watty Piper and Ella and I decided to put the STEAM back into the Little Engine’s story with a fun kid’s craft & engineering project!

The Little Engine That Could Science Experiment - make your own train craft and then actually make it self-propel with this fun book-inspired activity for kids!

Ella loves her science experiments. I’ll admit, I’m often a bit stumped to come up with new ideas so I’m thrilled that she’s now taking the lead in developing her own ideas and concepts to explore, leaving me with just figuring out the “how to.”

After reading the book together, she wanted to try making her own Little Blue Engine. We raided the recycle bin and came up with some bits and bobs to try to make our own train. At some point along the way, we decided we weren’t going to settle for just making a craft that I like the Little Engine That Could – we wanted to build a Little Engine that could actually work!

Start by making a cute train craft and then make it actually work! A great mixture of kids craft idea and science experiment

While we painted and prepared, we discussed various ways that we could attempt to make the engine work.

We tried attaching the wheels a few different ways before Ella discovered a way for the wheels to be attached to the main train body while also functionally rolling. While I could have given her the solution and avoided a bit of frustration (and saved some time), her pride at figuring out how to make her concept work was completely worth it – not to mention how fundamental “working through frustration” is for developing and strengthening creative problem solving skills.

Our final solution was first hot gluing the “wheels” (bottle caps) to straws, and then using rubber bands to secure the straws to the egg carton “body” of the train:

Problem solving how to make a train craft that actually works - moving and self-propelling!

I’m a huge advocate of letting children use real tools (with supervision) when they are developmentally ready for them – Ella has been using a cool touch hot glue gun for over a year now and we’ve never had an issue. She understands the safety precautions and asks for help when she thinks she needs it.

Letting children use real tools is a great way to empower them and build confidence in a developmentally appropriate way. Know your child and know their capabilities.

By letting Ella be so involved in the construction of her train, she stayed focused and was proud of the final results – and I showed trust in her and her abilities in a way that words alone cannot show.

(My daughter – like most kids – can completely lost interest in a project when she doesn’t feel engaged enough, so I know an activity is a success if I’m not having to put the final touches on by myself!)

Building a functional train with moveable wheels and then figuring out self-propelling mechanisms is a great STEAM activity for kids

We tried various different methods to try to make our Little Engine move “on it’s own” and discovered two methods that Ella was happy with. I’ll share them – but feel free to think outside of the box and come up with other inventive ways to make your own!

The Magnetized Train - a simple paper clip can help transform this train into a self-propelled craft!

The Magnetized Train

For this method we attached a small paper clip to the front of the train – a craft magnet would also work. We used a Tegu block from our collection (although any magnet will work) and held it in front of the train. (Read my review of our Tegu blocks here.)

Without touching the magnet-block to the train, Ella was able to attract the paper clip and use magnetism to pull the train.

The Balloon-Powered Train: a great STEAM activity - make a train craft and use a balloon to actually make it move!

The Balloon-Powered Train

This probably would have worked easier if we had a large container for the body of the train – one large enough to actually fit an inflated balloon inside – but our large rubber band worked to hold the balloon in place.

Ella helped stretch the balloon, I blew it up and then we worked together to pinch the end closed while securing it to the top of the train with a large rubber band. Ella generously let each of the daycare kids have a turn “making the train go!”

The Little Engine That Could Science Experiment - make your own train craft and then actually make it self-propel with this fun book-inspired activity for kids!

This activity is being featured as part of our January Virtual Book Club for Kids.

Check out our Play & Learn page for more book-inspired fun!


You can click on any of the links below to see the train crafts and activities that some of the other Virtual Book Club for Kids co-hosts are up to this month.

The Little Engine that Could ABC Activity by Growing Book by Book

Train Color Sorting Activity by Mom Inspired Life

I Think I CAN Sight Word Activity by Still Playing School

Train Challenge with The Little Engine That Could by Preschool Powol PacketsTrain Science with the Little Engine that Could by Inspiration Laboratories

Tracing Shapes with Trains by I Can Teach My Child

 The Little Engine That Could Science Experiment - make your own train craft and then actually make it self-propel with this fun book-inspired activity for kids!

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  1. We love making things from our recycled treasures, can’t wait to share this with my daughters and see what they are inspired to create. GREAT IDEA!

  2. What a great activity to go along with a book. I wanted to let you know that I am featuring this with a link and a photo if you don’t mind.

    1. Hi Alyssa,
      Thanks for reaching out! While I love to be included in round-ups, I don’t like stand-alone image use especially if the image isn’t coded no-pin. I just checked and it doesn’t appear that you’ve coded the images you are featuring so that if they are pinned they lead back to the bloggers’ site instead of yours. So my bird feeder wreath if pinned from your site, looks like it belongs to your site.
      What a lot of bloggers prefer now is collage-style images for round-ups, like you see in this post:
      If you need any tips on creating round-up collages, let me know!

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