Construction and Big Machines

Ages Under 2 to 3

Why I Made This Kit

  Curator Tibby W.

Curator Tibby W.

About a year ago our water district began drilling a new well which meant a fleet of big machines were cruising around our small neighborhood. My daughter was over the moon. Every time we drove past their parking lot she insisted we stop and look and we took many walks down to the construction site to watch the excavators in action.

It doesn’t matter, young or old, boy or girl, kids love big machines and construction. I suspect it’s because they are always so curious about how the world works and construction is a behind the scenes, lift-the-flap glimpse into how things are put together. Plus, those big machines are really impressive. Tap into your child’s interest and help them learn a little bit more about the world around them.




B is for Bulldozer: A Construction Alphabet by June Sobel

Construction workers spend a year building an amusement park. ABC books are great ways to organically teach letters and letter sounds to children. By choosing an alphabet book that uses a topic they are interested in, such as construction, they will be attentive and engaged with the book and the concept.


Roadwork & Demolition by Sally Sutton

Shows the process of how a road is built. Roadwork is a fun book for younger kids who are interested in the construction process. The text is simple but still give a sense of what is going on and in what order. It is also full of great sounds to make to go along with the construction. There are plenty of big machines and trucks here, too.


Demolition by Sally Sutton

What’s the best part of construction? Demolition of course! Sutton’s Demolition not only shows children the deconstruction of several buildings, complete with noises, but how the materials are reused. The book ends with the transformation of the site into a playground. The final page features most of the big machines seen in the pages of the story for the construction equipment fan.


Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton

This one isn’t technically a construction book, but Katy still counts as big equipment. Snow plows may even be familiar equipment to those who live in snowy climes. This one seems unusual in that Katy is female. While she can do many things, Katy really saves the day for all of Geoppolis when a big blizzard brings life to a halt. The illustrations in this one also include several maps that encourage a long look. A good book for girls interested in big machines.


Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton

A classic construction book. While it’s a story about a steam shovel and about problem solving, I think the real comfort of this story lies in the theme of obsolescence. When Marianne becomes outdated she finds new life as a heater for the town hall she helps build. Kids will see their own toys, routines, friends, and nicknames that they are outgrowing but still hold an emotional connection. I think it’s comforting for kids to see the resolution to the story that allows Marianne to remain present and important, but changed. 


Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherri Rinker

What better way to end the day with your little construction worker than with a review of the day at the construction site and a good night send off for each of the big machines?


Machines Go To Work by William Low

Lovely illustrations paired with big flaps for small hands to open and close make this a great book to share with big machine fans. The final page spread has another small picture of each machine seen in the story accompanied by a few facts about them. There’s a wide variety of machines here that includes a container ship, helicopter, and freight train as well as the standard excavator and tow truck.



Mister Rogers Neighborhood Dump Truck

I think parents may enjoy the nostalgia of this one as much as the kids will enjoy the video. The narration by Mister Rogers and his friend is simple, describing what it going on as the dump truck is filled and moves dirt around the construction site. Perfect for little ones, providing the vocabulary they need to interpret what they are seeing and tell others about it.


Timelapse of Demolition

This is a video from the school where I worked. They recently removed an old building to make way for a new one. The excavator they used for this project was enormous, as was the dump truck. Kids will enjoy watching the whole process take place in a shortened time period.


Dump Truck by Twenty Trucks

A quick scan of the comments on any of the videos by Twenty Trucks and you can see how popular they are with kids. The songs are catchy and paired with video of the machinery working they make for an instant hit. Be sure to check out any of their other songs that might appeal to your child.


Kikki’s Workshop

A great website that features pictures and videos all about a large variety of heavy equipment. Definitely check out the Great Picture Book of Construction Equipment. There is a big selection of machines grouped together by type with lots of really good information here about the parts and what the machines do. Some of the content may be a little complex for a younger audience, but there is so much here.


Depending on your child’s interests and age they may enjoy one or more of these apps. All are available free with the option to purchase more content.

Kids Vehicles: Construction HD Lite for iPad (Yaycom)

This app shows you a construction vehicle and labels different parts. With a simple touch or tap Jeff the construction worker says the name of the part and the action it takes while the noise the machine would make rumbles in the background. The free version features 3 vehicles and the paid ($1.99) version has 10 vehicles with the promise of more with future updates. There are some coloring pages included too, but the app is really good for kids who are curious about what to call different machines and their parts.


Big Trucks and Constructions Vehicles Jigsaw Puzzle for Preschoolers (Jens Blom)

For kids who like puzzles. This app features real pictures of construction equipment. Pieces snap to the correct orientation when picked up and the child only needs to place the piece close to the correct place and release and it will snap into place, a really nice feature for small hands. This app could grow with your child as it has options for 4, 6, ,9, 12 pieces for each picture. Free version features 4 puzzles. Upgrade for $2.99 and get many more.


Whopping Diggers (Appsipaja Oy)

Videos and pictures of big machines working. The free version features several videos and pictures with sounds, but also includes ads. Get access to all the videos in pictures in HD with no ads for $3.99. Simple to use, a swipe left advances to the next video or picture. There is also a memory game for older kids featuring cartoon drawings of various big machines.


Wood Blocks for Kids (Netox)

Would your construction worker would like to build their own structure? This app is blocks without the mess. Easy to use, however you have to select each block one at a time from the block menu. Beware! Blocks can be knocked over, so build carefully just like on a real construction site. While there is the option to purchase several block sets the single set that comes with the free version would be plenty for younger kids. Also comes with a template for a building that you can build on top of, but you can also simply build your own.


Coloring Book: Cars and Trucks for Kids (Apps Kids Love)

For all construction artists. This app includes several tools (crayon, pencil, eraser, and paint brush) and lots of colors. The paint brush also allows kids to paint with a variety of textures and patterns, like gravel and sparkles. Younger children may need a quick tutorial on how to switch between tools and between the fill bucket and thicknesses, otherwise very easy to use. The free version comes with 4 pictures to color, but $1.99 buys you more pictures and the ability to color or draw freehand on a blank canvas.


Kids Car, Trucks & Construction Vehicles- For Toddlers (Pixel Envision)

Simple puzzles for younger children. Puzzles feature cartoon cars, trucks and construction vehicles broken into 4 pieces. Free version includes 4 puzzles. Unlock all the puzzles for $1.99.


Fingerplays & Songs

The Construction Worker Song

(sung to the tune of “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”)

This is the way we pound our nails, pound our nails, pound our nails

This is the way we pound our nails, so early in the morning

Pound fist into open palm

This is the way we...

saw the wood (draw hand back and forth in sawing motion)

drill a hole (turn hand as if turning a screwdriver)

stack the bricks (stack imaginary bricks into a wall or tower),

stir the paint (move hand in stirring motion)

paint the walls (move hand up and down as if rolling a paint roller or brush on a wall)

The Dump Truck Song

(sung to the tune of “One Little, Two Little, Three Little Indians”; place your child in your lap and bump them along with the dump truck, then dump them by sliding them down your legs on the last line)

Bumpity-bumpity comes the dump truck,

Bumpity-bumpity comes the dump truck,

Bumpity-bumpity comes the dump truck,

Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuump out the load.

Source: Pre-K Fun

Construction Sensory Bin

 Source: Talking All Caps

Source: Talking All Caps

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 plastic bin or bowl
  • rice, beans, sand, or shredded paper
  • large spoons or scoops (measuring spoons work very well), little bowls, small pitchers, tongs or salad tongs
  • a few blocks

What To Do:

Fill the bin or bowl with rice, beans, sand, or shredded paper. What you use may depend on the age of your child and how likely they are to place the media in their mouth. Place the spoons and bowls either in it or next to it. Allow your child to scoop and pour the rice. Encourage them to use the spoons like the bucket of a digger, scooping backwards. Can they make a big pile of rice or sand? Have them try using the tongs to pick up the blocks like a crane or excavator. Can they pick up the blocks with different tools? Are some tools better than others for picking up, scooping, dumping, and making holes? For inspiration watch this segment from Sesame Street.

Why This Activity:

Sensory bins give children a lot of tactile feedback as they play with the rice, beans or sand. They are also great for children to practice the wrist and hand control when they pour and scoop. Talking about construction equipment while playing in the bin builds their vocabulary and encourages them to think about applying what they have observed to their play. It also allows them to experiment with ideas like deciding which equipment is better suited to a particular job.


Be the Wrecking Ball

What You’ll Need:

  • your imagination OR
  • a book like Diggers Go by Steve Light or Tip, Tip, Dig, Dig by Emma Garcia
  • some space

What To Do:

Big machines make all sorts of noises and move in all sorts of ways. Have your child pretend to be different construction equipment by using their body to move in the way the machine would and make the sounds the machine would make. They could start out small as a hammer pounding a nail and move up to a wrecking ball smashing into an old building. Try being a crane, standing on one foot and leaning over to pick something up with your hand. Call out names of different machines and tools for your child to be and help them make the sounds. Bonus points if you do the actions with them.

Why This Activity:

Young children need to move. This is a great activity to engage that need to be in motion and hone their gross motor skills. Certain machines require that they use different physical skills like balance, coordination, and control of motion. It is also a great way for them to think about the sounds they hear the machines make and the ways they move.


Block Construction Site

What You’ll Need:

  • set of blocks or boxes
  • hard hats (optional)

What To Do:

This is a great opportunity to talk with your child about what goes on at a construction site. What would they like to build? How and where should you start? What kind of machinery would you need? Have them pretend to be a dump truck, excavator, steamroller, etc. and move the blocks around the site and into place. Can you build a school? A house? A city? A railroad line?

Alternatively you could use the blocks to help tell one of their favorite construction stories.

Why This Activity:

Blocks are great for imaginative play. They can become just about anything, from a roof on a building to a road. By constructing a variety of buildings or sites your child will stretch their imagination. As they run into problems they will need to use their problem solving skills and creativity to come up with a solution. Don’t be too quick to jump in and do it for them or make a suggestion. Allow them the time to think about a problem and come up with a solution on their own. As with any of these activities, blocks also become a good conversation starter.

Suggested Family Activities

Construction Site Visit

What You’ll Need:

  • Your family
  • Pad of paper
  • Pencils
  • Camera (optional)

What To Do:

Most everyone loves to watch big machines operate in person. Keep your eyes out for a construction or roadwork site nearby. Take a walk or drive to the site to observe what goes on. Most construction sites are surrounded by fencing to keep people out, however you can usually see through the fencing to watch the work. This will keep you at a safe distance, but get you close enough to marvel at the machinery. If you or your child would like, bring paper and pencil or a camera to draw or photograph their favorite machines and to make notes about what they have seen. Encourage them to listen to the sounds the machines make and notice the smells (exhaust, tar, etc.). If you’ve read a few books beforehand don’t be surprised if your child can name much of the construction equipment. 

Why This Activity:

There is nothing like seeing this stuff in person. In fact, it’s probably what got your child interested in the first place. Going out to talk about and observe what goes on at a construction site can spark conversation and wonder in the whole family.


Other Activity Suggestions

  • Using a book or pictures as a model, your child might like to use a variety of materials to make a model of their favorite construction machine: clay, playdoh, wire, Tinker Toys, or recycled materials. Be sure to encourage them to include all the pieces. You may label them with the terms once they are finished. Younger children may need help and might enjoy directing you to create the pieces of the machine. A variety of drawing materials like markers, oil pastels, crayons, pens and pencils paired with a book or pictures can encourage them to draw their favorite machine.

  • For an easy observation, watch the garbage truck or street sweeper that comes by your house. Be aware they can be loud and this can frighten young children, at least initially. Many kids, with your reassurance, will get past their uncertainty and come to enjoy watching the garbage truck every week.

  • An interest in construction and big machines is an excellent opportunity to build your child’s vocabulary. There are a lot of names and terms to choose from. Don’t underestimate your child’s ability to learn the correct, complex terms for different parts of the equipment. When there is interest on the child’s part, the sky’s the limit for teaching them. A book, website, or app can get you up to speed on the different types of machines and their parts and you can then share them with your child as you encounter the machines in books and in your neighborhood.

About Tibby W.

Tibby, a curator from the Bay Area, was born to love books.  Seriously.  Her parents named her after a nickname from a children’s book!  Anyone remember the Betsy, Tacy, and Tib” books?  There you have it.  Even stranger, Tibby’s best friend from high school is the granddaughter of the illustrator of the series.  Now, that is someone almost born with a book in her hand!  Tibby is a former teacher and children’s librarian, currently staying home to spend time with her little one.  She is a dynamic member of our curator community, and we’re thrilled to have her!  Let the questions begin, and if you have more questions, leave comments or visit us @zoobeanforkids!