Are there any words more tempting for a kid than "do not touch"-particularly when they're surrounded by toys practically crying out to be played with by enthusiastic little hands?
That's why I took my 2-year-old nephew to America's Best Train & Hobby Shop, a dream come true for his choo-choo crazy self. The inconspicuous shop doesn't look much like a toddler playground until you step inside.
Half of the store is devoted to toys-it claims to have one of the largest selections in the state. The narrow aisles are packed full of fun products, and yes, lots and lots of trains. Pop culture favorites like Thomas and Chuggington get a lot of shelf space, with everything from playsets to PJs begging to be bought.
But the highlight of the store isn't quite as obvious. Tucked into the back corner (where there are also spacious restrooms) is the Kids Station, a room containing eight different train tables for visiting kids to use.
On a quiet Monday morning, we had the room all to ourselves. Aidan loved maneuvering choo-choos from track to track and table to table-and not having to put them away afterward.
There's also a Calico Critters table for those who prefer woodland animals to planes, trains and automobiles.
It's best to hold your little one's hand in the other half of the store, where model trains abound. Aidan loved the large model train platform with, by my count, five different engines. Stools allow kids to get a close-up view, and they'll love spotting everything from jack-o-lanterns to playground swings. If you ask, the employees may even turn on the trains for a show.
Best yet, our outing would have been completely free, had I been able to resist buying a conductor hat and a train-shaped lollipop to remember our hands-on, train-filled day.
Elizabeth Diffin is the associate editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Wheaton.
See more of Elizabeth's stories here.