Creative Train Play

Toy train sets are a classic and engaging way for children to explore and create while they play. From fine motor skills to imaginative play opportunities, train sets open up many possibilities.

My son has enjoyed them since he pulled himself up the Barnes & Noble train table when he was about 8 months old. He’s shared his love for trains with his sister and she asks for help setting up the “Choo-choo train” all the time.

Today I wanted to share a few of our favorite train pieces, a few things I’ve learned and hopefully a little inspiration for your little engineer.

Our Favorite Toy Train Sets

1. KidKraft Figure 8 Train Set We don’t have this exact set, but it seems like the one we have isn’t sold anymore. This set is basically the same as the one I got my son when he was about 15 months old. The figure-eight is the standard starter set and is just right for younger kids. I considered a larger ‘deluxe’ set, but I think that would have been overwhelming.

2. Bigjigs Rail BJT135 Red Brick Tunnel I bought this tunnel along with a few extra tracks when my son was about 1.5. He really enjoyed passing the train (and other items) through the longer tunnel and it lead to more creative play as he started building his own tunnels with blocks and Duplo.

3. Brio Battery Operated Action Train This train is so adorable and so engaging! It’s actually battery-operated so it travels along the tracks on it’s own. The light on the engine lights up, the coal bin sways back and forth, and the cement mixer spins. We add on other cars and see how many it can push or pull. (It can also just go on the floor, which is fun too.) It’s such a fun addition to any train setup, especially if your kids like the idea of electric trains.

4. Melissa & Doug Zoo Animal Train Set We got this little set the other week at the B&O Railroad Museum gift shop. It contains eight rounded pieces that have really helped expand our basic set. What sold me on it were the little open-basket cars. We can use those for hauling so many things. Of course, my son usually uses it to carry his little animals around the track.

Five Things I’ve Learned About Train Play

1. Most wooden train sets are interchangeable. You don’t need to commit to one brand or purchase a gigantic set! We’ve just bought little things over the years beginning with a basic figure-eight set and worked up to more advanced options.

2. You can purchase tracks (including switch tracks and adapters) individually. If you start with a basic set like we did, there’s always the option of adding a few extra pieces to spice things up.

3. Building the train is half the fun. When kids are really small, it may be frustrating for them to build their own tracks, but with a little fine motor skill practice, they’ll take great joy in just setting it up. And that leads me to my next point…

4. You don’t need a train table! I know, they seem so great when you’re out at a store or museum. There’s a beautiful setup and you want to translate something like that into your home. But train tables will limit the amount of creativity your little engineer has when building. Let the train tracks sprawl and see haw many different ways the pieces can be used.

5. Create your own world. Encourage kids to build their own bridges, towers, cities or landscapes for the train to pass through. You don’t have to limit play to just what’s meant to go with the train. We use everything: blocks, Duplo, Lego, Magnatiles, markers and paper, boxes, even just rocks to make an interesting play space.

How We Play With Trains

This week we’ve been constructing a zoo that has a train to carry visitors around it. I was actually surfing around Pinterest and my little over-the-shoulder reader was very inspired by this post. We went through it looking at how they had built it, what items they used. We talked about what we had or didn’t have and brainstormed what we might use to make our own. We even sketched out a plan. It was a perfect opportunity for practicing comparisons, critical thinking and spatial reasoning.

Around the World Zoo Train

I hope you got some ideas and inspiration of your own! Follow my Train Play board on Pinterest to get more ideas and I’ll see you here tomorrow for a little train-themed literacy activity.

What are your favorite toy train sets? How do you like to play with trains?

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