A guestpost from Bubbablue and me
Are wooden railways seen as a rite of passage for most children?
Whenever a birthday or Christmas (or both in N’s case) approaches, the question of what to buy crops up. Once babies are past the ‘baby’ toy stage, it’s always hard to know what to get them as they’re too young for 3+ toys, but can be too old for some of the 18 month+ versions.
I think you can never start too early with wooden train sets. Ok, so they might say over 3, but unless you’ve got a child who still chews everything in sight, a wooden railway can be an option much earlier. I bought a small Ikea starter set for N, which at around 20 months he was happy to try putting the tracks together and push the train around (and spend a lot of time sitting on the track). For his second Christmas just before he was two, he received a basic Carousel set as a gift to extend the track possibilities that we could build.
With a logical mind, I love working out different track configurations, although we are slightly limited to a couple of bridges and plain track at the moment, and it seems that N’s also got my gene as he’s happy to give it a go building his own tracks alone, before asking for help. Nothing like his 4 year old cousin who insists on asking for help straight away. As for his dad…well, let’s just say that males aren’t always the best at building train tracks!
Now it’s approaching Christmas and birthday time again, and I’ve been asking round my friends for ideas of presents for a 3 year old. Guess what the first ideas were from parents of both boys and girls? Yes, wooden railways. It seems that whatever the parent’s background, railways are seen as a rite of passage for most children.
So what do we like about them so much?
For N, it seems to be both the role play aspect and building. N’s not that keen on building blocks, but he does enjoy getting his box of railway bits out, choosing the train and carriages, and setting it up. We get lots of noises while he plays and now I get commentaries of what the train’s doing. He’s happy to play alone, but when his cousins are around or at nursery, the train set can keep them amused for a good while before they want a change.
Of course while he’s playing, N’s learning and developing different skills that will help him as he grows. Where else can you learn science (gravity), art (creativity in creating shapes and patterns), maths (logical problem solving), geography (where the train’s coming and going from) and history (different types of trains and vehicles) in one game? I’m sure there’re even than those involved.
I have to say that any shop we go in with a wooden railway made up to play with, he’s there to investigate whether there are other children playing with it or not. They seems to bring children together, which is great to see enjoyment in what is a classic, timeless toy.
I think the versatility of wooden train sets is brilliant. They are enjoyed by any age, by boys and girls. Last Christmas at his cousins’ house, N was told he could only touch certain trains, as his older cousins (ranging from 4 to 12) had set up an elaborate configuration of their numerous boxes of tracks that they didn’t want him to break. And as their set proved, using track that had been their dad’s when he was a boy, wooden railways last for years. Maybe that’s why they’re so hard to come by second hand as they’re toys that parents want to pass on to their children years later?
Every time you bring out the box and set it up, the track will look different, so the only limit is your creativity and the time you have. It’s immensely satisfying being able to use the final two pieces and see them slot together as a whole track. With most brands being interchangeable, the skies the limit on availability. The brand everyone mentions and recognises is Brio; it’s definitely the set that we’re coveting in terms of our next purchases. All we need now is to find some more interesting pieces like tunnels, collapsing bridges, stations and sidings, then N (and I) can really go to town with his options.
Hopefully N will continue to enjoy his train set, and we’ll be able to build on it over time. He’ll be able to gain ideas from the sets he plays with at his two nurseries, bring those ideas home and vice versa. Once he starts linking different toys together in his play, he’ll be able to make giant play sets with his railway being the central piece.
And of course, him enjoying his railway, gives me the excuse to get down and play as well!