Like many 3-year-olds, Arthur is obsessed with anything to do with trains. Any time there is more than one of the same thing, whether it’s peanut-butter cheddar crackers, books, or my hair curlers, he lines them up and suddenly they are a train. This game is the perfect way to use that love of trains to help him learn and practice important skills! You can make one for your train-loving tot with the totally free printable in this post!

My Mother’s Day wish

This Mother’s Day was my best one yet! Brian made me biscuits and gravy for breakfast and steak with bacon gorgonzola fries for dinner. The kiddos were so sweet all day. And the best present of all? Wally used the potty perfectly all day long! (Certainly not what 16-year-old me would have thought of as a great gift, but it was amazing.)

Being Sunday, and the middle of the Coronavirus quarantine, we had our church lessons for the boys at home. Brian made a cute little memory matching game for them to play, and we wanted to laminate it so that it would last for them to play it over and over. Well, 16 of the 20 cards fit in a single laminator sheet, so we had a lot of extra room in a second sheet. I didn’t want to waste that room, so I decided to look up a file folder game for Wally that I could quickly print and cut out to use that extra space.

Of course, once Arthur saw that Wally had a new game, he wanted one too. I went on a hunt to find something that would both be at his level and something he would enjoy. I saw a couple of examples of pattern building train games, but none of them were quite what I wanted, plus they were $5 or more each. I decided to create something for myself so that it would be perfect, plus I wanted to share it with all of you for FREE.

I spent a couple of hours designing it and then more time cutting out the pieces, laminating them, and cutting them out again. (I’ll warn you, this game is not especially quick and easy to cut out, but it is so worth it for the endless hours of joy and learning that it will give your child.) Some ladies like to spend their Mother’s Day relaxing in the tub or reading a novel, but this was the perfect Mother’s Day for me. I’ve always been an odd one, and I honestly love tedious repetitive tasks like folding laundry—or cutting out file folder games. Usually, I don’t get more than 30 minutes at a time to do something like this, so being able to come up with the idea then carry it out from start to finish while Brian played with the kids was wonderful.

Space saving learning games

I first learned about file folder games by helping my mom prep them for her classroom. One summer I spent countless hours coloring, cutting, gluing, laminating, and cutting some more to earn a little extra spending money. I have fond memories of the giant laminator machine in the teacher’s lounge and making sure to get all of the pieces on quickly enough as it rolled along.

I also had a friend whose family had dozens of these games that they would bring to play in church. There was a huge variety to keep all of the kids in the family (and a few friends like me) happy and busy for an entire hour, and they all fit into one small bag. These types of games are great for taking on-the-go or for building up a library of preschool-at-home activities without taking up too much space. I had so much fun designing this that there will be more to come, so be sure to sign up for my email list to be notified whenever I make a new one!

What you need

  • The FREE pattern building train game download
  • Four sheets of paper (or cardstock — see note)
  • A file folder (I like colored file folders so I can easily categorize games and preschool supplies, plus they’re fun!)
  • Double-sided tape
  • An envelope or ziplock bag
  • Scissors
  • Laminator and laminating sheets (The Amazon Basics laminator is small and basic, but for the price, it can’t be beat!)

How to assemble your game

  1. Download your FREE pattern building train game from this post and print it out. Print the first three pages and either the separate tiles or the “Quick Cut Version.” See note to help you decide which.
  2. Tape or glue the cover to the front of the file folder and the label to the tab.
  1. Laminate the two train sheets and attach them to a file folder with double-sided tape. If you have access to a large enough laminator, you can instead glue them onto the file folder first and laminate the entire thing to make it extra sturdy. (If your file folder has cut-outs like mine shown here, take that into account when placing your tape so that you don’t have to peel double-sided tape off of one corner. I may or may not have learned from experience how hard it is to do that.)
  1. Cut out the 100 colored tiles.
  2. Carefully arrange the tiles on a laminator sheet. They will all fit, with enough room to cut, on a single standard 9 x 11.5 sheet.
  3. Cut out the laminated tiles.
  4. Attach an envelope or ziplock bag to the back of the file folder. I usually use an envelope for file folder games, but since the pieces for this game are so small I used a ziplock bag instead.
  1. Show your kiddo their brand new game and let them play and learn!
Note

I’m going to be straight-forward with you. Assembling this game the way I did isn’t for the faint of heart. It has a lot of especially tiny pieces that can be hard to work with. Here are several tips and options to help make it easier on you:

  • Whenever I make games like this, I prefer to cut rounded corners so that there are not sharp points. However, it will save a LOT of time if instead you print out the “quick cut” version and cut the rectangular tiles apart rather than cutting around each individual rounded tile in the standard version.
  • Laminating 100 tiny tiles is a pretty finicky job. For me, it was worth it because I want it to last through several kids over many years, and to survive younger siblings while the older kids are playing with it. Another option is to instead print the tiles on cardstock and skip laminating them altogether.
  • If you do laminate the tiles, sometimes there can be a little trouble when doing small pieces rather than a single sheet of 8 1/2 x 11 paper. To make sure all the pieces stay in place and the laminator doesn’t jam, I always use a couple of hardcover picture books stacked up to the height of the input slot on the laminator rather than just holding the paper myself. It is also important to put the first row of pieces right up to the folded edge and to put that side in first.

Developing skills through play

Despite the never-ending shift towards rote memorization and standardized testing in schools, every study shows that children, especially young children, learn best through play. This game is great because it takes something that Arthur absolutely loves to do anyway and creates a learning experience. Not only does he learn about colors and pattern recognition, but the small pieces are great for developing fine motor skills.

This game is perfect for ages 3-6, but I will continue to create games for older and younger children as well. Download your pattern building train game now and I’ll let you know every time I make a new game, and other exciting updates from Finch Hollow. Tell me in the comments if you have any requests for specific skills or themes for the next file folder game!