Let’s go see some model trains! Where to take kids to see model railroads

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Kids and trains – they just sort of go together. I’ve never met a kid who wasn’t interested in trains, and there’s something about model trains which is especially fascinating to them. Recently, the HUB Division of the National Railroad Association held a model train exhibit nearby, so I was inspired to research other places where you could take your kids to go see model railroads!

imageThe National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) divides the U.S. and Canada into 15 regions, each of which holds one or more two-day conventions / exhibits each year.  To view the list of regions and find events happening near you, visit the regional section of the NMRA site here.

If you’ll be in or near Indianapolis in July, you could always stop by the biggest exhibit of them all, the National Train Show, a three-day exhibition that has something for everyone. There is a 2,500 square feet LEGO MiniLand area with elaborate trains made entirely of LEGOs (like the leftmost photo below), lots of interactive demonstrations, and a 1,500 square feet children’s play area as well (Thomas. . .sigh).

Another place to find out about model railroad NTrak_Kids_Looking_smexhibitions is via local clubs. The NMRA has a directory of clubs by state (States A-E, F-M, N-R, and S-Z) which seems quite comprehensive, and then another site I thought might be useful is ModelTrainShows.com, which has state-by-state links, but oddly very few shows listed. However, when you click on the Clubs tab I found it had more info for clubs by state (and some different info than the NMRA), so you could look to find a club near you and see if they’re doing any kind of exhibition. [Photo left is courtesy of the National Railroad Association HUB Division]

Questions to ask:

  • How crowded will it be? When are the best times to attend with children?
  • What audience is it geared for? The model train community seems quite family-friendly, but there could always be an event that wouldn’t be appropriate for kids, so obviously we want to respect boundaries.
  • What height will the trains be at? This is a key one – if you have a small child who loves trains will they be able to see anything without you holding them the whole time?
  • Will there be interactive components? Are they ok for kids to interact with? You don’t want to spend all of your time trying to keep your toddler away from an interactive layout on the floor that is meant for adult enthusiasts only.

Finally, model trains can be found in the strangest of places! Every year my kids are fascinated by a random model train display set  amidst many other winter wonderland activities during our local zoo’s holiday exhibit (Stone Zoo’s ZooLights, in case you are in MA)

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Photo credits: photos are from NMRA.org except for the first photo (courtesy of morguelife.com), the children watching the model railway exhibition (courtesy of the HUB Division of the National Railroad Association) and the last photo, which you can probably guess from its bluriness is the author’s own.

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