Thomas & Friends supports children aged 2 to 5 as they develop important social-emotional skills and the capacity to act constructively on their environment. By modeling characters engaging in positive social interactions and resolving meaningful dilemmas, Thomas & Friends helps to build an early foundation for preschoolers’ success. Born from a decades-long literary tradition, Thomas & Friends continues to offer positive lessons and storytelling with a purpose. The series supports viewers as they become increasingly independent, navigating the world around them with greater control and confidence.
Child development experts and researchers continually cite the importance of fostering three skill sets among young children: (1) engaging in constructive social and emotional interactions; (2) self-efficacy, including mastery over oneself and one’s environment; and, (3) the ability to problem solve and manage failures and frustrations. Thomas & Friends models these key struggles and competencies, weaving them strategically into the characters’ personalities and the series’ narratives.
The steam railway provides a distinctive and powerful backdrop for showcasing such stories. From a developmental perspective, young children’s need for safety and comfort is coupled with a desire for exploration and experimentation. Thomas & Friends represents a model of this journey, offering a variety of adventures and exciting destinations, but within the context of a predictable world that has rules, responsibilities, and reliable mediators (i.e., the conductors) who guide the engines and help them master new skills. The world of Sodor is a compelling metaphor for preschoolers, as the series promotes exploration within the safety of familiar boundaries and adult supervision.
Against this backdrop, the characters interact with one another much like children do on a playground. Viewers will identify with the trains and their everyday ups and downs, as they work through jealousies, rivalries, squabbles, jokes and schemes that do not always have the outcomes they intended. Motivated by always wanting to be “Really Useful Engines,” the trains are sometimes faced with the need to control their impulses or modify their approach to a situation in order to succeed.
As is the case for their real world preschool counterparts, the series’ characters sometimes need to fail as part of the way they learn. But within the context of this safe environment, apologies can be made, solutions found, and positive outcomes accomplished.
The Island of Sodor offers an array of personalities, ages, backgrounds, and temperaments with which children can identify or experience for the first time. In this way, Thomas & Friends also highlights an appreciation of differences and an understanding that communities thrive when its members contribute their unique strengths and skills. The series draws upon a diverse cast to populate a range of entertaining and engaging adventures that resonate emotionally with children, while imparting valuable life lessons. Characters’ personalities are strategically designed to be broad, defined by key features that help to make their behaviors and, therefore, educational purposes clear.
Finally, the series’ content is further reinforced through appealing music videos that spark preschool attention and complement the messages embedded in each episode. With themes like “Determination,” “Learning Together,” “Kindness with Friends,” “Helping Each Other,” and “Giving and Sharing,” these music videos offer children additional, memorable entry points through which they can explore the important themes presented in the narratives.
The series offers three primary goal areas to foster increased competence and positive self-regard as children learn to navigate relationships, contribute to their communities and master the world around them.
Social and Emotional Interactions
Presented with an increasing number of socialization opportunities, preschoolers are beginning to learn how to offer friendship, express themselves, control their emotions, resolve conflicts, and engage with others in conversation and play. Thomas & Friends helps children to develop this new and often challenging skill set. Goals in this area include:
- Being a good friend: Treating others with kindness and a caring attitude
- Making new friends: Strategies for connecting with others
- Perspective taking: Understanding that others may have an interpretation, preference, experience or feeling that is different from one’s own
- Listening carefully
- Helping others
- Respecting and appreciating differences (e.g., in appearance, abilities, perspective)
- Apologizing and forgiving others
- Appreciating one’s community
- Being fair
Preschoolers are beginning to experiment with mastery over themselves, their actions and their environments. Thomas & Friends will help children understand that their choices and behaviors do, in fact, make a difference to themselves and others. The series promotes belief in one’s own competencies, the ability to take initiative, and the capacity to effect significant change. Goals in this area include:
- Making meaningful contributions: Believing in one’s ability to impact individual situations, as well as one’s broader community (i.e., being a “Really Useful Engine”)
- Demonstrating responsibility (e.g., engines have specific responsibilities, like Percy, who delivers the mail)
- Understanding that there are consequences to one’s actions
- Following directions, instructions, rules
- Prioritizing goals
As preschoolers learn to problem solve, they will naturally encounter obstacles, make mistakes, and experience disappointing results. Being able to persevere, manage frustration, think creatively and work with others are valuable skills modeled by Thomas & Friends. Goals in this area include:
- Coping with failure: Managing frustration and disappointments
- Persistence: Not giving up; understanding the value of remaining engaged with a problem
- Flexible thinking: Seeing a problem in a new way; generating multiple, creative solutions
- Applying one’s best effort
- Asking for, accepting and appreciating help
- Teamwork: Cooperating, collaborating with others to achieve a shared goal
- Appreciation of differences: Recognizing and utilizing individuals’ strengths and skills