The Railway Children – Planning Overview

Written by Dan

Last updated

Welcome to The Railway Children planning overview! If you and your students need a break from the everyday classroom routine, this is an excellent way to enjoy and learn through exploring storytelling.

This article will outline how your class can delve into the classic story of E. Nesbit’s novel: The Railway Children, with lesson plans incorporating writing, art and drama.

By focusing on creative writing, interpreting artworks or acting out dramatic scenes in the book, your student’s interest will be sparked throughout their journey!

Related: For more, check out our planning overview on The Crowstarver by Dick King-Smith here.

The Railway Children

Storyline of ‘The Railway Children

The Railway Children is a classic novel by Edith Nesbit. It follows the adventures of three children – Roberta (or Bobbie), Peter, and Phyllis – who are relocated from London to Yorkshire when their father mysteriously disappears.

In the rural village, the children become fascinated with the nearby railway line and start spending much of their free time watching for passing trains.

Through their encounters with railway workers, passengers, and station managers, they also learn about friendship, loyalty, courage and honesty.

When their mother takes in a lodger to help pay the bills, a Russian exile called Mr Szczepansky arrives at the family’s cottage.

With his help, Bobbie manages to save an innocent man from being falsely accused of a crime – leading them all on an exciting adventure involving secret tunnels and hidden treasure!

The Railway Children: Key Themes

Nature and Adventure

The railway children explore the countryside, not just around their new home but also beyond it.

This exploration allows them to appreciate nature and wildlife around them and learn about engineering and technology that help transport goods in the Victorian era.


The importance of family is highlighted through the children’s difficulty adjusting to their new home without their father and how they become firm friends with local people.

They ultimately learn to trust adults again after experiencing various problems when separated from their parents.

Courage and Hope

This coming-of-age story allows the children to grow in courage throughout their experiences, and hope is found even in difficult times, such as when facing trials with their father. Ultimately, these railway children find joy in all of life’s uncertainties.

The Railway Children: Characters

The Three Railway Children

The key characters in the story are Roberta, known as Bobbie, Peter, and Phyllis. They lead the adventure with the aid of their pet fox cub, Jim.

As they adjust to life without their father, they explore nature, build relationships in the village and help those around them with their unique skillset.


Perks is a loyal and devoted railway porter who looks after Bobbie, Peter and Phyllis when their father disappears.

He aids them in finding out what has happened to their father and serves as an essential role model for the children throughout their journey.

Mrs Viney

Mrs Viney is an older woman who becomes friends with the children due to her kind-heartedness and understanding way she deals with others.

She provides a strong moral influence on the children while resolving mysteries uniquely.

The Railway Children

The Railway Children: Teaching Opportunities

Exploring Nature

The children explore a variety of wildlife and nature in the fields and on their walks around the countryside.

They learn about engineering, technology and the railways of the Victorian era. These points can be explored and discussed as lifestyles change depending on geographical locations.

Difficult Situations

The various difficult situations throughout this story allow for teaching opportunities around resilience, courage, relationships and problem-solving skills.

It is possible to appropriately explore real-life issues mentioned in this book, such as injustice or facing fears, with younger audiences.

Humane Values

This story teaches empathy towards those experiencing difficult situations while addressing inequalities between different groups of people and celebrating kindness.

Discussions could inspire students to address moral dilemmas or take positive action towards introducing humane values into society.

The Railway Children

Lesson 1: Exploring Nature


To explore and discuss the variety of wildlife and nature found in different geographical locations.


Begin by asking students to reflect on the Railway Children and explain what they remember about the countryside and wildlife discussed in this book.

If unfamiliar with the story, briefly describe what students can expect before introducing excerpts from the text for further discussion.

Main Teaching Points:

Ask students to identify how engineers use technology or railway knowledge to help them understand their environment.

Discuss types of wildlife found in various geographical settings and compare these settings to what the children experienced in The Railway Children.

Open up discussions around understanding environmental responsibility and discuss how lifestyles are affected by our surroundings; this could include discussing changes made throughout history.


Invite students to reflect on discoveries about nature or answer critical questions such as “What does nature mean to you?” or “How does nature play an important role where we live?”

Provide opportunities for students to create visuals representing their reflections if desired.

Key Questions:

  • How have engineers used technology and railway knowledge?
  • What types of animals did Roberta, Peter, and Phyllis encounter while exploring?
  • What is environmental responsibility?
  • What do we learn from looking at lifestyle differences between different places?

Lesson 2: Difficult Situations


To explore tough challenges families face when facing difficult situations while discussing resilience and courage needed when overcoming obstacles.


Introduce some challenges Roberta, Peter, and Phyllis faced throughout their journey in The Railway Children – such as helping Father recover from his unjust imprisonment or rescuing Jim after getting stuck on the tracks – before exploring how these themes relate to their lives.

Main Teaching Points:

Discuss possibilities for managing difficult situations through problem-solving skills, resilience, courage and relationships with others; this includes looking into personal experiences when dealing with difficulties.

Bring up injustices from past or present times which relate to what happened in the story – such as imprisonments without justification – while allowing time for thoughtful conversations around discrimination or unfairness towards certain people due to race, gender identity etc.

Reflections :

Invite students to reflect on actions taken during difficult situations through related stories shared within a class or answer critical questions like “What have I learnt about myself through these difficulties?”

Offer time for students to express ideas through art if desired (this could be writing stories using details explored during discussions).

Key Questions:

  • How do we deal with tough challenges while staying resilient?
  • What sorts of injustices are mentioned within The Railway Children?
  • How do relationships help us overcome difficult situations?
  • How can we take action against discrimination or unfairness towards others?

Lesson 3: Humane Values

Objective :

To inspire humane values among younger audiences through discussions related to The Railway Children; this includes acknowledging empathy towards those experiencing difficulties and understanding inequalities between different groups of people.

Introduction :

Ask students what they think are humane values before introducing excerpts from particular scenes within The Railway Children which express empathy towards those experiencing difficulty (i.e. Mrs Viney’s kindness towards Bobbie after she finds out her father is missing); highlight any potential solutions which tackle injustice, inequality or unfairness based on real-life issues (i.e. taking positive action against discrimination).

Primary Teaching Points:

Introduce ways individuals can engage with topics regarding awareness (this could include creating posters using slogans/mantras focused on humane values) and understanding others’ perspectives (discussing stories outside class) while encouraging respectful conversations around significant issues covered within The Railway Children (such as poverty).

Let time for brainstorming solutions that bring more humane values into society if desired; provide support here when necessary depending on student ages/backgrounds/experiences etc.

Reflections :

Encourage thoughtful conversations by asking questions such as “In what ways have I shown empathy today ?” Provide space for relating experiences amongst classmates if appropriate coverage has already been achieved surrounding main points. Answer follow-up questions if necessary.

Key Questions:

  • What humane values should we focus on?
  • How do our words/behaviour affect others?
  • In what ways can I make a difference?
  • How can solutions bring forth more humane values into society?

Website Resources

The Railway Children  is a classic novel by E. Nesbit that has been adapted into stage and film productions. It tells the story of three siblings whose lives are changed when their father is taken away from them, and they must move to a rural village in Yorkshire.

West End in Schools provides fun activities for teaching the story associated with this novel, ranging from word searches to art projects and more.

Finally, TES Teaching Resources provides an extensive whole-class reading unit or guided reading plan that can be used to further explore this classic novel with students at all levels!


The power of storytelling through E. Nesbit’s novel: The Railway Children provides a unique and engaging platform for your students to learn and express their creativity.

Whether they are crafting their narratives, deciphering the meaning behind artworks, or bringing characters to life through drama, they are bound to find elements that ignite their passion for learning.

Remember, the goal is not just to teach but to inspire, to spark a curiosity that extends beyond the classroom.

By delving into the rich narrative of The Railway Children, we’re offering them an adventure, a journey into a world where learning is fun and exciting.

So why wait? Step aboard this educational journey and watch as your students grow in confidence and creativity. After all, isn’t that the true magic of learning?

We hope you and your students enjoy this exploration into literature, art, and drama, and we can’t wait to hear about the fantastic work they produce!


Q: What is ‘The Railway Children’?

A: The Railway Children is a classic novel by E. Nesbit that has been adapted into stage and film productions. It tells the story of three siblings whose lives are changed when their father is taken away from them, and they must move to a rural village in Yorkshire.

Q: How can I use The Railway Children in the classroom?

A: There are many ways to use The Railway Children in the classroom, from literature units to art projects! West End in Schools provides excellent activities that allow teachers to teach students about this classic text. TES also offers an extensive whole-class reading unit or guided reading plan specifically designed for teaching The Railway Children.

Q: What age group is this text suitable for?

A: The Railway Children can be used with students at all levels if they possess basic literacy skills. This text offers excellent opportunities for exploring various themes such as family relationships, loss, resilience and more!

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.






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