Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Trains for Toddlers

Bowen is a train fanatic. He says so himself, and I'm not sure I can disagree. The big problem with train sets is that there's an annoying number of standard, and some of them (but not all), are cross compatible. We ended up with two different non-compatible sets.

The wooden sets are mostly cross-compatible. The best way to get started is to buy the track pieces separately from the trains and the special pieces. That's because if you buy them together, you end up with an extremely expensive set. The best deal on the tracks can be found on Amazon where you get 56 pieces of the track pieces in various configurations for $29. This is much cheaper than the big brands, and more importantly, comes with the male/male and female/female connecting pieces. You cannot beat the price and the quality in my experience has been great. What you want to do is to avoid the kits that come with fragile pieces like railroad crossings. Those will get broken due to the poor packaging that inevitably come with the cut-rate prices.

For the special pieces, you can buy the name brand ones. Even though those are more expensive, they won't be broken easily (either by the child or by shipping). We bought the Brio railroad crossing and he loved it so much that he took it with him to the train station and used it to imitate the real crossings. It was hilarious at first but he never gets tired of doing this so now I'm annoyed.
For the turntable we could get away with the cheap ones because those aren't fragile.

Trains from brand name manufacturers are always expensive. The best thing to do there is to wait for a sale and then pick them up. I first bought a battery powered Salty, but it turned out that he prefers to push the trains around the track himself (or better yet, get daddy or mommy to do it for him), so now I buy the cheaper non powered wooden trains. We haven't gotten around to any of the special overpasses and things like that, but I'm sure the time will come when he's ready for it.

The other non compatible set  we started with were the Take-n-play series. These are quite a bit fancier, but turned out to be far more expensive. We started with the Great Quarry Climb, which has a fun mechanical climbing bit, and great rolldowns as well as a turntable, and then followed up with the Misty Island package. To my surprise, the packages do actually fold up and put away nicely when you're done, and the constrained design means a younger toddler can play with them fairly easily. The little play pieces are also fun. However, you can't buy cheap knock-offs, so you end up with expensive connector sets that aren't comprehensive or satisfying. And forget about railroad crossings and other such fun things. Those don't exist in the Take n play world.

The net result has been that we're likely to expand the wooden sets but unlikely to add to the plastic sets. Or maybe he'll just outgrow playing with trains eventually.

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