Bust My Buffers! Thomas the Train Rolls Into the Museum of Science

Kids are invited to climb aboard the little blue tank engine and explore train science and history at the MOS. Photo courtesy of Fisher Price/Thomas & Friends traveling exhibit
Kids are invited to climb aboard the little blue tank engine and explore train science and history at the MOS. Photo courtesy of Fisher Price/Thomas & Friends traveling exhibit

Wondering what a cheeky little tank engine can teach our kids about science? With STEM learning stations and opportunities for developing social skills, the Thomas & Friends: Explore the Rails temporary exhibit at Boston's Museum of Science is a sneakily educational outing that children will experience as just plain fun. In a city filled with fun museums for kids, I recently chose to bring a preschooler and a toddler to this new exhibit at MOS, and I was so glad I did. The kids came away from the visit with new knowledge about train engineering and history, and an even deeper love for Thomas.

What would a Thomas exhibit be without a giant train table? Photo courtesy of Fisher Price/MOS

Thomas & Friends:Explore the Rails Exhibit Highlights

Roll to Level 2 of the Blue Wing for Thomas & Friends: Explore the Rails, which is situated across from the permanent Science in the Park exhibit. As you walk into the exhibit space, which will be on loan to the MOS through January 12, 2020, you’ll find blissfully happy kids carrying "luggage" to load up and buying tickets at Knapford Station. A playground-sized Thomas the Tank Engine greets visitors at the entrance and invites them aboard, his coal burner firing up.

An enclosed area with trains close to the entry of the exhibit was another highlight for the youngest visitors. Children readily worked on shape identification and sorting, early STEM skills. Be sure to screech to a stop at the Get Percy Going station towards the back of the exhibit. This part was a big highlight with a variety of children, and grown-ups too! A surprising exercise in building social skills, kids spontaneously gather to work as a team to load coal and turn the wheel to get Percy (a steam tank engine) working again.

History buffs will love the back section of the exhibit, dedicated to the history of the author, Reverend W. Awdry, and the real-life origins of the trains in the stories. This area includes books to turn through, historic photographs, and background on the fascinating story of Thomas's origins.

Toddlers will find chunky Thomas building sets sized just right for little hands. Photo courtesy of Valerie Arvidson

Tips for Visiting Thomas & Friends: Explore the Rails

Before going to the Museum of Science, I wondered if my nephew (almost 2) and son (age 3) would be engaged enough by the Thomas exhibit, as they were on the lowest end of the recommended age range for the exhibit, which is 2 to 7 years. It turned out to be absolutely perfect for them, striking a balance between entertainment and educational content. They could run, climb, and manipulate toys and tracks, all while discovering the workings and background of trains.

The exhibit is not huge, and you’ll leave your stroller outside the entrance. It is in an enclosed area, and overall, I found it ideally designed for encouraging free play with a variety of activity centers, busy sections, and quieter corners. The most crowded times in this exhibit are Saturdays, and the quieter times tend to be Sunday morning and weekdays after 2pm. We spent over an hour just in the Thomas exhibit with the two kids, but could easily have stayed much longer, especially with the 3 year old.

More to Do at the Museum of Science

For another great stop in the Museum, my son especially loved the permanent Science in the Park exhibit (an educational indoor playground, ideal for 3 years old and up). We saw a live bird of prey at the Science Live! Stage, and checked out the fish tanks on the Lower Level. We also swung by the Food Court in the Red Wing for a bite to eat with a view of the Charles River. We saw a boat or two, but alas, our kids still had trains on the brain.

Know Before You Go 

  • Access to Thomas & Friends: Explore the Rails is included with Exhibit Halls admission. Like several great Boston museums offering freebies for littles, the MOS is free for visitors under three years old.
  • This temporary exhibit is open until January 12, 2020.
  • “Thomas and Friends 4D: Bubbling Boilers!” show is playing currently at the 4D theater inside the exhibit halls (separate ticket required).
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