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East Lyme - Children clustered around a miniature landscape of railroad tracks, trains and animals at the Children's Museum of Southeastern Connecticut on Friday afternoon.
They happily played with well-known toys, pushing colorful trains along wooden tracks and assembling new creations from plastic building blocks.
Along with these familiar playthings was one the children had never seen before: a plastic platform to connect the two types of toys, which its inventor hopes will inspire creativity.
"Now you have more possibilities, and you're not constrained by the pieces in the set," said Thomas Chantrell, founder and president of Dreamup Toys, the East Lyme-based company that created the new toy.
Called a wooden railway block platform, the toy unveiled at the museum on Friday acts as a hybrid between railroad tracks and plastic building blocks. For example, children can connect the platform to wooden railroad tracks and glide trains over it, then stack Lego Duplos or other toys on the platform's two sides flanking the tracks.
Chantrell, who was born in East Lyme and is raising his three children here, said he designed the platform to create more uses for classic toys and to foster inventiveness and creativity. The toy is his first one, and he said he plans to create more types of toys in the future.
He came up with the idea for the train platform one day as his family played with trains. He said they wanted to build a complex design for the trains, but the tracks kept wobbling and falling down.
On Friday, he demonstrated how to create a bridge from the platform: he attached plastic building blocks underneath the platform to elevate it, then attached train tracks to slope downward from the platform.
His business partner, Dick Schlueter of Clinton, said the two are engineers and want to encourage children to learn how to build things.
Looking on as children busily played on Friday, Peter Claffey, the museum's executive director, said the toy encourages "open-ended play" and, in turn, learning.
The toy will be part of a permanent exhibit at the museum. Claffey said he was excited to unveil the toy at the museum, located on Main Street in downtown Niantic, and support a local business.
"We feel we are here for the community, so it's just such a great fit for the museum," he said.
Kylene Thompson said her 2½-year-old daughter Christy - who was playing Friday at the exhibit - loves trains and is now getting into playing with Legos. She said her daughter is going to love being able to combine the two.
"It's a great idea," she said.
The toy is for ages 2 and up. For more information on the toy, visit dreamuptoys.com.