For the last, oh, ages - months and months - Oisín has been following an almost exclusively locomotive-based curriculum. It's been wall-to-wall railways - often literally, in fact, in our living room. Last week he watched Michael Palin's Great Railway Journeys on DVD perhaps ten times. His father got him some model rail magazines a while ago, and we've all been drafted in to read him the text and help him recreate layouts from the photographs. Last month we travelled to Kerry (and back) on Iarnród Éireann, which sparked a fierce interest in real railways (as opposed to bloody Thomas). Since then, he and his father have been on two Luas adventures, where they saw Heuston Station and the tram depot at the Red Cow Roundabout.
The complexity of his track layouts has developed hugely following these trips - rather than being pleasing routes for his toy trains to run on, they now tend either to reflect what he's seen in real life (e.g. parallel tracks with trains that pass each other in opposite directions, or a station layout with a bundle of lines feeding into a complex junction cluster) or to show that he's thinking about questions of structure and pattern (beautiful symmetrical arrangements of loops and junctions).
He can speak knowledgeably about most of the Irish rail network (including main lines, the Enterprise service, local lines such as the Dart and Luas (including proposed extensions), bog lines, and defunct lines such as the Lartigue Monorail and the Tralee & Dingle line) and can tell you the difference between a commuter train and an Intercity; he also has views on transport policy. (Why are there fewer goods trains in these days? Lorries are worse for the environment!)
He's very interested in foreign trains - the Eurostar, the Trans-Siberian railway, the Japanese bullet train, the Amsterdam light rail system, and so on - which has got him into geography in a big way. Many of his layouts and games now feature tracks running from (e.g.) Killarney to Berlin, or Dublin to Africa (or to North America, which is populated exclusively by dinosaurs). The other day he had a game featuring railway journeys to countries called Buffleteen and Shuffleteen, which he pointed out to me on the globe (they were unaccountably mislabelled Singapore and Borneo); they are very hot countries because they're at the equator. Rail travel between continents will be greatly facilitated by his plans for a bridge over the Atlantic Ocean. (Today, mind you, this was a pedestrian bridge, made out of Lego-equivalent. But it didn't have lifts, so I had to carry the buggy up the steps when I used it.) He's careful to specify whether he's talking about Heuston Station in Dublin or Euston Station in London.
The distinction between steam-, diesel-, and electric-powered trains has led him a little way into history (aka "the olding days"). He was interested to learn that we still use buildings that were built in the olding days, such as Killarney Station. He's looking at buildings quite carefully now, noting how many entrances and exits they have, asking about their structure. Famous old trains like the Flying Scotsman and the lesser-known City of Truro feature commonly in his games, as does the Rail Museum in York, where we plan to go in August. (His interest in history isn't confined to trains, by any means, but like everything else at the moment, it's connected.)
It's brilliant to see it all working the way I felt it would. And he's only three - I suspect it'll be even more fun when he's older.
In non-train news, it appears he can add a bit. Biscuits, anyway. This afternoon I gave him three gingerbread biscuits (the ones made of oats and apple juice and stuff); he ate them and then asked for two alphabet biscuits.
"How many will that make?" he asked, semi-automatically.
"How many?" I countered, suddenly curious. "Do you know how to work it out?"
*eyeroll, sigh* "Fiiiive."
OK, OK, point taken. He's not partial to being tested. I got him the biscuits.
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