Wooden Train Set – Learning To Play A Different Way

I would like to introduce Jane who blogs over at www.ethans-escapades.co.uk, She blogs about family life with their son Ethan. Ethan is three and was diagnosed with autism in February this year. He is non-verbal, loves noise, lights and loves to spin! He is always smiling, has a fantastic laugh and sense of humour.

For Ethan’s second birthday he was sent a lovely package from his Auntie and Uncle in Australia, it contained a wooden train set, something he had never had before.


Previously all of Ethan’s toys had had buttons, flashing lights and made lots of noise. This was clearly a toy that would require use of imagination, I was very excited to introduce this toy to him.

On it’s first outing Ethan wouldn’t let me put the train track together, every time I tried to set it up he would pull the parts apart. It caused him to get very distressed so I decided to put the train set away and try again at a later date.

The next time we tried to play with the wooden train set we were able to show Ethan how to push the train around the track, but he only wanted to do this with one carriage. It didn’t hold his attention for very long and again the train set was put away.


It was around this time that the realisation hit that Ethan could possibly be autistic, and it was well over a year before we tried to play with the wooden train set again.

Our year of realisation and diagnosis has been a tough one, and any toy that we felt required imaginative play was avoided. We stuck to electronic cause and effect toys, the more buttons and flashing lights the better. Ethan also discovered tablets and it is his item of choice.

After Ethan’s diagnosis we started to receive family support key worker visits. Though these visits I have seen, and continue to learn, how we can use non-electronic toys to harness Ethan’s learning. Instead of being scared of introducing these toys to Ethan I now look at how I can use them with or without imaginative play.

Ethan has also been attending nursery now for a year, and you can see the change in his play. I know that he is now watching other children and is copying them, another fantastic way for him to learn.

With all this in mind I thought it was time we tried playing with the wooden train set again as he might be ready.

Ethan was very interested in the box when I brought it down and helped me by taking out the track pieces, he even tried to put some together.


With a little help I put the track together for him and placed the train carriages on the track, naming all the colours used as I went.

colors-and-bridgesEthan was very happy to push the train up and down the track and even under the bridge.

I tried to show him how to push the train over the bridge but the fact that it kept falling off of the track caused Ethan distress. To keep him engaged I removed the bridge and turned the tack into a circle, Ethan was happy to push the train around the new track.


We played with the wooden train set for over an hour, which is a fantastic achievement for both of us.

We have since played with the wooden train set again and I have even been able to show Ethan how to make the train go over the bridge without it falling off of the track.

I have had to learn how to engage Ethan in a very different way when we are playing with toys that would normally involve imagination. I used to love to indulge Ethan in his passion of cause and effect electronic toys but I love seeing the results we can get when we push ourselves out of our comfort zone.

It hasn’t been an easy journey and I still have so much more to learn from our key worker, but I’m determined that this Christmas our gifts from Santa will not requite batteries.


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