This story was produced in partnership with Mattel.
An OK children’s show keeps kids occupied. A good children’s show teaches them something about the world (ABC’s, history, that sort of thing). A great children’s show teaches them something about themselves, gives them insights that will help them mature into the kind of person you want them to be. Thomas & Friends is a great children’s show.
We’re not suggesting that television can replace the guidance of a parent or a kid’s experience in the world. What we are suggesting is that childhood is in many ways a source-agnostic information-gathering exercise, that kids can and will absorb messages from everything they experience. And if the media they consume in their formative years is going to shape the adults your kids will become, then Thomas & Friends is one of the best things they can watch.
Here are seven lessons you and your kid can learn from watching Thomas & Friends together.
The episode: “Thomas Gets Tricked” season 1, episode 1
The story: “Thomas thinks that no engine works as hard as he does,” the narrator tells us in the first-ever episode of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. He even teases and taunts Gordon, “the biggest and proudest engine of all.” So after being called lazybones one too many times, Gordon decides to speed off with a coach before Thomas can decouple from it. Thomas, of course, does not enjoy the ride: “I shall never be the same again!” he cries.
The lesson: “Maybe I don’t have to tease Gordon to feel important,” an ashamed Thomas says after his wild ride. In other words, don’t let insecurity turn you into a bully.
The episode: “Thomas Makes a Mistake” season 23, episode 8
The story: In India, a daydreaming Thomas accidentally delivers an important load to the wrong station. He chooses to race back to fix his mistake before anyone finds out. In his haste, Thomas causes more problems—bringing the wrong cars to the right station, losing a load of silks to a still wind, and hitting a car full of mangoes, spilling them onto the tracks. It’s only when he receives the help of others that Thomas can fix all of his mistakes.
The lesson: “Everyone makes mistakes, Thomas, but you should have told me sooner. I could’ve helped you sort it out before the problem got bigger,” Charubula tells him when he finally comes clean. Admitting your mistakes despite your pride is, of course, just as important a skill for humans as it is for trains.
The episode: “James the Second Best” season 10, episode 27
The story: Edward is chosen for the holiday poster, disappointing James. The other trains tell James that Edward was chosen because he is always gentle with freight cars, doesn’t mind dirty jobs, and always on time. Determined to become poster-worthy, James works hard the next day. He shunts coal cars, which makes him very dirty, which means it takes a long time to get him clean. Running late to pick up passengers, James uses Gordon’s express line, and he’s forced to stop suddenly on the unfamiliar tracks. Edward naturally runs into him, propelling James through one of the posters. Edward’s cylinder is damaged, which is bad news for the children who want to go to the seaside with the engine from the poster. James pushes Edward and his passenger cars to the ocean, earning the love of the kids in the process.
The lesson: When James tries to best Edward for glory, he makes huge mistakes. When he just tries to help out his fellow engine, he earns the love of the children he wanted all along. Doing good things without reward is often the best way to feel fulfilled.
The episode: “Henry’s Forest” season 3, episode 9
The story: Henry is a green train who’s also green in his love of the forest on the island of Sodor. He transported the saplings that grew into many of the great trees in that forest, so he’s upset when a violent storm takes many of them down. He helps clear the fallen logs and takes them to the timber mill, but knowing the wood would be put to good use isn’t enough to cheer him up. Sir Topham Hatt sends Toby, who is worried about Henry, to take young trees to the forest for planting. Terrence and Trevor help the workmen clear the branches and plant the new trees. Again, the forest becomes a place of happiness for Henry.
The lesson: Henry’s sadness is understandable, but he only starts to feel better when he sets about rebuilding. In other words, it’s natural to feel despair, but taking action can make you feel better.
The episode: “Fish” season 8, episode 19
The story: Thomas is dispatched to help take Sodor’s fishermen’s largest-ever catch to the docks. He hates the smell of fish and wants to get the job done as quickly as possible, so he disregarded Arthur’s warning to only take five trucks. He shunted all of them into a long line, but the troublesome trucks decided to wiggle and giggle and pelt him with fish, making Thomas wish he’d taken fewer trucks. They also wanted to go fast down the hill, which they could do because there were so many of them. An out-of-control Thomas braked as hard as he could but he failed and the fish trucks smashed into Salty, covering him in fish. Thomas was admonished, and when he tried again with multiple trips with just five trucks he made it just in time.
The lesson: Like the dad who wants to carry every grocery from a packed trunk into the house in one trip, Thomas learns that it’s better to take your time and do a good job than to hurry and risk doing a bad job.
The episode: “Gordon and Ferdinand” season 15, episode 1
The story: Gordon is grumpy when Ferdinand, a new engine, is assigned to share his special assignment transporting a Lion of Sodor statue to the Duke and Duchess of Boxford. He takes the quiet track so no one will see them, but they still come across workmen and schoolchildren who love Ferdinand. An upset Gordon recklessly goes too fast and the statue falls into the muddy marsh. Ferdinand springs into action, fetching a crane to retrieve the statue. Recognizing his mistake, Gordon decides to have Ferdinand be the front engine and to take the busiest route so everyone can see his friend.
The lesson: Gordon’s mistake is letting his pride get the better of him, but he eventually learns that sharing the spotlight with your friends is better than hoarding it and not having any.
The episode: “Thomas’ Animal Friends” season 24, episode 21
The story: Thomas is dispatched to bring monkeys to the habitat at the new animal park, but when he arrives at the docks he finds they’ve escaped. Thomas knocks over the fruit crates, luring the monkeys to the feast, and he eventually brings them to the park. Thomas is decorated to look like a monkey so that he looks festive to pick up the children who are visiting the park. The other trains he sees make fun of him and his enthusiasm is replaced by embarrassment. Thomas sulks until Rebecca tells him he looks brilliant and suggests that he imagines anyone who laughs at him as an animal. He does exactly that, and suddenly the insults don’t bother him any more.
The lesson: Thomas goes from upset to happy when Rebecca helps him realize that you don’t have to let other people determine how you feel.