My friend’s son Culver just turned 3, and he treats each of his words like a treasure. He turns them over and over on his tongue, and is delighted every time he can make himself understood. His favorite word is truck. When one goes by, he squeals, “Tru, tru!” with an expectant look on his face, until someone responds, “Yes, Culver, there’s a truck.” A big smile erupts, and he runs off to fetch his brother’s box, which is filled with transportation toys. He’s as much in love with trucks as with his newfound ability to communicate using words.
Culver is, like many children, fascinated by these vehicles, which help us move, dump, deliver, break down, and build every day. When my own son entered this phase, I balked. Personally, I found vehicles about as intriguing as tax forms. But my son’s persistence won out, and I soon found myself standing at the edge of every construction site we came across, learning the names of mobile cranes and graders. With a little enthusiast at your side, it’s impossible not to appreciate the richness of the construction world and look for ways to exploit its learning potential.
What can your child learn from a truck?
- New vocabulary: backhoe, pile driver, grader, striper, paver, cement mixer, and so on
- An introduction to cause and effect: A toy truck will travel down a ramp on its own but needs to be pushed up
- A love of books that will come as you read about different types of trucks and construction sites
- Practice with fine motor skills, as he dumps, fills, and scoops
The best learning opportunities often come from a child’s specific interests, and it’s important that you give him the time to approach a topic from different angles. Read a little about the subject here, play a little with it there, draw a bit, and whenever possible, plan a field trip related to it. So whether your child is crazy about front loaders or rescue engines, why not let him drive you off to an unusual world, where a kid’s perspective rules?
Here are six fun ways for you and your child — boy or girl, truck fanatic or not — to explore the world of trucks.
- Make your own dirt. Mixing a little cornstarch, food coloring, and water creates a wonderful paste for your child to experiment with. After enjoying its bizarre viscosity, leave it out overnight in a disposable roasting pan so that it can solidify. Then crumble with a fork to make indoor “dirt,” which small toy trucks can bulldoze. In a pinch, you can use a stiff scrap of paper or a spoon as a bulldozer blade or the bucket of a crane.
- Accessorize creatively. Small rocks make wonderful additions to truck play, as long as an adult is there to supervise. Try art rock, which can be ordered from a school supply catalog, or a handful of pebbles from outside. For children over 4, any small item — buttons, beans, or dried lentils — that can be scooped, piled, or spread fits the bill. These items are open-ended enough to fit the needs of any imagination. Send “coal” down a chute. Use a front loader to fill a dump truck with make-believe dirt and bury pipes under make-believe gravel. A paper towel roll makes a good chute, while drinking straws can serve as pipes.
- Play with twigs and sticks. For a lesson in logging, invite your child to collect a few twigs from the backyard or park. You can cut them into three-inch sections, and he can use them as logs to haul off to the sawmill.
- Make a hopper. Hoppers are elevated holding tanks used at construction sites or on freight trains for filling trucks with sand, gravel, or even sugar. When the truck drives under the hopper, it releases the sand into the truck. Cut the bottom off a soda bottle and remove the cap to create a funnel. Use blocks and tape to create a support for the funnel. Your child can then wheel a dump truck underneath to collect the contents.
- Play construction site. Invite your child to use trucks to transport blocks to a construction site, and then build with the blocks. If you have a crane with a hook, wrap pipe cleaners or string around the blocks so they can be lifted easily, imitating the steel cables used on real construction sites. Invite your child to imagine what’s inside each box as he makes his deliveries. At cleanup time, pretend that your child’s arm is the boom of a crane, transporting the blocks back to their basket.
- Truck-free variations: Invite your child to pretend that the couch is the garbage truck. Fill a few cardboard boxes with wads of newspaper. She can drive, brake, jump off the truck, dump the garbage, hop back into the driver’s seat, and drive to the next house. When she reaches the dump, she can unload all of her garbage right into a bag and carry it off to the recycling bin.