Top 5 free or dirt cheap activities for the wheels-minded toddler


Kiddley visitor Kathryn sent us her brilliant ideas for ways to entertain a toddler who can’t get enough of trucks, tractors, cars, trains and earth moving machines that go beyond singing “The wheels on the bus go round and round” time and again.

1. Visit a train station

If you and your child travel most of the time by car, there’s very little opportunity for him or her to see a train close up. See if you can get to a train station that is out in the open; then it’s more likely you can walk to the front and see the engine cars and the driver, and more likely you will be able to see those wonderful wheels under the carriages!!! A local bound train, of course, won’t stay at the station long enough for much of a look, so try to find a long distance train which will be at the station loading and unloading for some time before taking off.
I took Jack to Cairns central station recently to see the Kuranda Train. We walked all the way up to see the drivers’ carriage. The drivers were very sweet to him and allowed Jack to sit in one of the driving seats, which I’m sure is not generally possible, but it is certainly worth it for you to at least see the head carriage. If finances permit, buy a ticket and go for a local train ride, even just to the next station and back. (or walk back).

2. Catch a bus to town!

Buses may seem duller than dishwater to us ‘jaded’ adults but to children buses are a rich source of vitamin fun. Make sure you let your son or daughter get to press the buzzer for the stop you want to get off at! Big thrills when they realise they can control when the bus will stop.

3. Find a construction site

Somewhere close to you in this age of the building boom, there is a construction site just begging for a toddler to marvel over it. There may be cement trucks, diggers, forklifts, graders, dump trucks, bob cats……it’s all happening, it’s all fabulous.

4. Go watch the planes land, load and take off

This one may not be for every toddler’s parent, especially if you live in a city where the airport parking costs are extreme, but much, much fun-apalooza can be had sitting in a domestic airport that affords you a good view of the main tarmac events. Never mind you don’t have a ticket to fly, your wheely-mad child will have a hoot watching not only the planes moving about, taking off and landing, but also watching the little airport buses, tractors, fuel trucks, catering trucks and luggage wagons whizz around. It’s wheel mania.

5. Pay a visit to your local car yard/ tractor dealership/ ride-on mower vendor

Sure, you might have to let on a bit like you’re interested in purchasing a car/tractor/ride-on mower, but most outlets are happy enough to have you look around.

There are other wheel-associated games and activities you might not have thought of yet: playing Spot the Transport… make up a simple card listing or illustrate all the different types of trucks, emergency vehicles, transport haulers, etc, you know the stuff. Go for a walk to the closest main highway and tick off each as you see them. Good to have this same game going in the car for just driving around. If your child is old enough he or she can tick them off for themselves, or if they are a bit too young for knowing how to use the list, make a mental list of the ones you see, ticking them off together when you get home.”

Thank you Kathryn! We love it!

10 Responses to “Top 5 free or dirt cheap activities for the wheels-minded toddler”

  1. Nicole Fitzhugh

    As an American reader, I had to give a rueful chuckle at the idea of going to the airport… you can’t get past the ticketing/check-in gate without a ticket anymore, in any airport anyplace in the US. Sigh…

  2. Anna

    You can’t do that in any European airport that I know of, either. This doesn’t mean you cannot weartch airplanes landing and taking-off. There’s a ‘panoramic’ area usually at Departures, where you can go without a ticket…
    I just did this last Sunday with my 3-year-old, and he just loved all the trucks and funny airport vehicles, even more than the airplanes!

  3. kylie d

    In Sydney you can go to Foreshore Drive and park your car..(its kind of a busy road) But walk onto a beachlike place next to the water and watch all of the planes take off and land on the third runway. We took our son there when he was about 2 and he LOVED it and I kind of loved it too. We sat there trying to guess where all of the planes were going. Sooo much fun!!!

  4. Baby Cheapskate

    Great ideas! Love the new blog!

    Toddlers also love to check out farm animals. Pull off the road beside a pasture and watch them drool at the cows!

    How about a list of free stuff to do for little animal lovers?

  5. carolyn

    When we moved to Melbourne last year, our container-load of stuff was unloaded at a dock facility in Footscray. They had an incredible piece of equipment called the “spreader” that lifted up containers and moved them about. I joked with a guy there that they should build stadium seating on the other side of the fence for wheels-mad kids.
    Congratulations on your new site!

  6. Anastasia

    My son loves catching a train – such a simple thing gives him so much joy!!
    Great ideas!

  7. Sally

    Thanks Kathryn, I love reading about activities for wheel (and particularly train) mad kids. As they get to 3 and above there are also often government websites with maps of your local train and bus routes (sparking new obsessions with maps, bus numbers and trip planning in our case) and pictures of the trains currently in use.

    I’ve found people working at the train stations/construction sites are always a bit bemused when we stop but then happy that someone’s taking an interest in what they’re doing. We once got a tour of the (Sydney) Bondi Junction Station signals box because I explained to one of the staff why we were there (my son Rohan is fascinated with stations that are at the ‘end of the line’ and how the train turns around).

    I find train rides with Rohan really relaxing as he’s so happy the whole time. One of our main family outings in the last few years has been just catching the train into the city (about 15 minutes where we are – a good length of time for toddler attention spans), get a muffin in the park and then get back on the train. It’s not the destinantion that’s important – it’s the method of travel.

    Sydney stations are appalling for wheelchair/stroller access (important if you’re taking extra younger kids), but if you can make it down the steps at your local station, three stations in town have lifts. The guards seem pretty helpful at getting heavily loaded strollers off the train, if you let them know in advance when you get on, and get in a carriage near them.

    I could go on for ages about this highly specialised (and to those without train mad children, probably pretty tedious) topic. But just for Sydney people, watch out for the steam train run for kids in Children’s Book Week in September each year – called the ‘Storyental Express’. It’s often poorly advertised but it’s an hour’s ride and goes from Central Station and really worth it.

  8. Melaney

    My baby girl is 22 months old and all she’s interested in are cars and wheels 🙂 so these are great ideas. Thank you.

  9. paweenaa

    I’d recently moved to virginia with my hubby and my 2 yr old son. Our new home is not even near a train station or any airport. We really miss our chicago lifestyle. Especially my son, he misses watching the CTA train. Every time he sees, he points and says “Choo Choo”. After finished reading your 5 free dirt cheap activities, I think I should take him to watch a train tomorrow. It’s 30 min driving from where we are, but it’s alright. Hey! It’s FREE, FUN and make my son happy.

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