Train Tables

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Train Table or Play Kitchen?

Sept 2008

My daughter is almost 2 and we would like to get her a toy that will last and grow with her. We were considering getting either a train table or a play kitchen. We don't have the space for both so which one in your experience will hold her interest longer? She always looks forward to playing with train tables at stores and seemed equally interested in the play kitchen at her grandparents house who we see only a couple of times a year since they live on the East Coast. toy help

Play kitchens can be easily improvised, and (in our experience) were just as much enjoyed as the ''real thing.'' Train tables are great because they make it more comfortable to reach and move the trains around (as opposed to laying out temporary tracks on the floor), so the kid will usually stay at it longer. In either case, however, be prepared for the kitchen or the trains to be largely ignored for the majority of the time! :-) These toys never seem to be as compelling in one's own home as they are somewhere else - that's a huge part of the attraction. anon

My daughter is a little over 2 and has a small train table and a small figure 8 style train set (not a big table). She LOVES them both. I would hate to choose. She is probably more emotionally attached to the train (she loves Thomas) but gets more pretend play enjoyment out of the kitchen. I know you say you don't have enough room for both, but maybe you could get a small kitchen (we have the French Kitchen by Educo) and a small train set that could be put away in a box when done. That way you can see which ones she likes better before investing in anything too big. Both can be expanded upon over time as she expresses an interest. But if I had to choose I would do the kitchen because of the imaginative play options. - Mine cooks food for Thomas

I would go for the play kitchen. Train tables are not really all that great to own-- sure they're nice in other places, but when your child really wants to build cool stuff with the train tracks and such, the table is just too limiting. It is way better to build trains on the floor where you can have the track be as big or little as you'd like, and not have to fit in a rectangle. My kids LOVE trains, and still play with them, but I'm glad we never got a table... We also have a tiny play kitchen (a little sink and a little stove) that they love... if I were to get it over again, we'd go for this one: Ours is very simple and can be packed away in the closet when we want to mix it up. But it is well worth it! We got our small play kitchen from fuseaction=category.display_ID=80 but I don't know if they carry it anymore. :) happy mama

You might consider something like Melissa & Doug's activity table. It's great for trains, but when trains get boring the table can be used for play-doh, or art, or even kitchen play....and it keeps all that stuff off the floor! We have a very small play kitchen and this table, and if I had to choose one, the table would win!

My daughters, ages 6 and 8, still use our play kitchen pretty regularly. We got it when the older one was 2. The way they use it has changed over the years, but they still seem to find creative things to do with it, even at this age. Maybe get the play kitchen now, and then get trains later, but just keep them in a box. My kids are happy to play with trains on the floor, anyhow. I vote for the kitchen

Go with the play kitchen! We have both (our kids are ages 7, 4 and 4 months) and though the train table has been a hit, it is a phase. Our 7-yr old would never play with it again. Our 4-yr old barely plays with it now. However, the kitchen has been played with since we got it. It's the one thing that is popular at play dates as well. joj

Get the kitchen. Train tables are too limiting - my son prefers to build tracks on the floor as you can get more creative with shapes, go under things, etc. The tables are very limiting. Kitchens on the other hand, are great fun and take up less space. My twin girl and nieces can play with them for hours. anon

Play kitchen! My 21-month-old finds playing with trains not that much fun -- gotta keep them on the track, and that's hard. But she loves her play kitchen! All sorts of things you can do with that... kevin

To me, the balance is in favor of the kitchen for two reasons: 1) they take up less floor space, and 2) train tables are readily available in public places like Barnes & Noble. We bought a play kitchen for our daughter when she was 18 months old. She still plays with it quite a bit at 3, and I can see potential for it to continue. How she plays with it has changes as she's grown. She loves train tables, too, but it has worked for us to go visit train tables instead of having one at home. The downside of relying on public train tables is that there aren't always that many cars available, and sharing can be an issue depending on the child's age and mood. Happy playing

My daughter had both, a train table and a play kitchen. (The train table we already had from our older son.) She, too, always played with trains in stores (still does at age 9), but didn't play with them too much at home. I have to say she got way more years of use out of the play kitchen. She and her older brother would play trains, but there was only so much they could do with them. The kitchen offered a lot more interactive, creative, and role play opportunities. She would play house or restaurant. She would make a set of menus, then get a pad of paper, a pen, and an apron, take our orders or those of our guests when we had friends over, then make up the orders with her fake food from her kitchen, and serve us. Sometimes her brother would play the short-order cook for her. It was really funny. This went on for years. She did an amazing job of emulating what goes on in a restaurant. Then sometimes, she'd just hang out with her kitchen pretending to make food for her stuffed animals. We eventually moved it outside and because it was plastic, it held up well out there. This toy got serious use for 4 or 5 years, which I think is pretty darned good. The train table got kind of boring for them. Order Up!

We have a boy so I can only speak to that, but we have both and he enjoys both but he plays with the train table far more than the kitchen. However, this I'm sure is related to placement since the kitchen is crammed into a corner of our real kitchen and the train table is open in the living room. Still, he loves trains anyway. Could just be a boy thing. Trans vs kitchens

Based on our experience, I would definitely go with the play kitchen. Our now 7 year old daughter loved playing with the train tables at stores and was a big Thomas fan between the ages of 2 and 4. In reality, though, some of her best train set-ups were just done on the floor. At the same time, we started acquiring a few play kitchen pieces which she played with then, and STILL plays with them a lot! I find that her friends also gravitate toward the kitchen stuff. They play restaurant a lot, or are in the kitchen ''cooking'' when I'm cooking, feeding their baby dolls, etc. HTH._ Alison

I got a play kitchen for my daughter when she was 2 and she still plays with it at 5 and a half. We've never had a train table so I can't comment on that. I vote kitchen

I was a train and play kitchen-loving girl. Suggest you get the trains and track (and accessories) for your daughter, improvising the train table or skipping it, thus leaving room for the play kitchen too. Some tips so that the trains don't take up so much money or space: A train table is more quickly outgrown than the trains & track. For my train-loving son, we found a free used coffee table the same size as a train table and used it as our living room coffee table, getting rid of a glass topped one that was a hazard (cut my arm badly getting rid of it too). We put bins under it just like the $195 train table, only our bins were wicker baskets which looked nicer under the table in our small living room. They don't need lakes painted on the table -- you could paint that or paint chalkboard paint on it or just leave it wood as we did. It does lack sides but that never bothered us. We received nice hand-me-down Brio trains and some new knock-off track and train sets. Ikea had some trains for $5.00. We saw Brio collections for sale in the classified ads too. People like to give them as gifts once it's known a child likes them. When I was a little girl I had both a play kitchen and the plastic precurser of Brio trains. We still have my trains at Grandma's - it's a classic. My son loves his Brio/Thomas knock-off trains and has not outgrown them at age 9 (although most kids do), but he never uses the table anymore (because the track set-ups are too large and elaborate to fit on the table). mother of a train freak

Train table vs. regular toddler table

Dec 2006

I want to purchase a table for my 18 month old son. I had been planning to just purchase a regular toddler size table (height around 18 inches or so) that he can use for art projects and such. In trying to plan ahead, I am wondering would I be better off purchasing a train table/activity table that has some sort of a cover on top that he could use for both purposes? If my son gets into trains (not there yet) do I really need a separate train table (does the floor work ok). If I go with the train table will this be comfortable enough for sitting at and doing art projects (some of them have sides that would make it difficult to put your legs under when sitting in a chair and they also tend to be shorter). Thanks for any advice. Anon

No, you don't need a train table, but Yes, having a train table is great, if you have the space. Train tables are large, much larger than an art/activity table --I would suggest mapping out the dimensions on the room you would put it in to see. Our son played happily on the floor with his trains for years, though he would have loved a table, and when we moved to a bigger place we got him one (he's 4 now). Actually, it's a Nilo table, which I really recommend. It's sturdy, can be used as a train table, lego table, or just an art table if you take out the train mat. And it has leg extenders you can buy for later. It has a small lip, but would be fine for art projects, and you can definitely sit on a chair and work at it. Good luck! Train lovin' Mama

My son prefers to play with trains and cars by standing near a low table. In our family room he uses a large coffee table with a shelf underneath for storing the bins of track, trains, and other table top sets. Unlike a set up on the floor that we'd need to pick up when play time is over, the trains stay set up out of the way until he prefers a different set. He also uses a side table for puzzles, snacking, coloring and playdough. It has a shelf underneath, too. If we're entertaining we can put everything in the bins and store them on the shelves underneath the tables or move the bins into a closet. We bought the tables cheaply so it wouldn't bother us if he banged them up (and they certainly are looking a little distressed) but unlike a train table, they're useful for entertaining

While some kids stick with the train obsession for a year, others outgrow it REALLY fast or never get into it at all. I can't tell you how many hundreds of parents have told me about the train table taking up space in the garage. I found a really wonderful table on sale now at pottery barn kids that's 35 inches across, chalkboard top, and has a central storage compartment for toys, chalk, etc.. I set it up in my waiting room and left both chalk and trains on top: kids alternate between coloring and drawing and playing with the trains. Pretty much every kid who has come in has wanted to do BOTH activities. I think the favorite activity so far has been pulling the magnetic trains around off the track and then letting them ''derail'' into the center storage area. The storage area is great for encouraging cleanup at the end of play, and the table is well made. The other advantage of this table is that it encourages the kids to put pieces together and work on their fine motor skills and spacial relations instead of just pulling trains around. I checked around on the internet, and there are cheaper chalkboard tables; I went for this one because of the storage compartment and because it is so very well made. karin

We got a train table and my son (just turned two a few months ago) almost never uses it for the trains. We end up using our wood floor for the trains because we can build really large train set ups on the floor, and it's easy to take apart and put away when we are done. We still love the train table though because it's such a perfect height for our son so he and his friends play with other things on it. We plan to have another baby in a year or so and the edges are rounded so it will be safer for the second kid. We got a train table with two very large storage drawers underneath and they are great for storing tons of toys and his trains and tracks. Some kids we know use their train tables for trains so your child might like that. We are happy with our table even though we don't use it much for trains. That may change and someday he may build trains there, who knows. Andi

Check out this table:

We have this one and LOVE it. (Ours is an older model -- the playboard is solid green rather than ''graphic'' and they weren't offering the trundle yet, but it's otherwise the same.)

The double top is genius. The lower surface makes a fantastic train table that keeps everything contained (even when a boisterous toddler decides that smashing everything apart is more fun than just running trains around); just plop the upper surface on to get a functioning play table for other activities - - WITHOUT having to remove the train layout! -- or a spacious coffee table for adult use after bedtime or for entertaining. Ours (in the wood finish) is, in fact, in our living room where you'd expect to find a coffee table, since our small home does not boast a playroom or family room. The space under the top of the table is also great for the quick-pick-up blitz before parties!

It's even reasonably priced. Ours has a few nicks and dings in the corners after four years of daily use, but overall has held up very well and still looks nice. It's used more as a general play table these days than as a train table (our older child having mostly moved on to other things and our younger not being as train-obsessed as her brother was) and I foresee it working well for that purpose for quite a few more years. Holly

MOre variety for layouts on train table?

April 2006

We have been handed down a nice collection of Brio and Thomas train stuff. We purchased a train table, so we know the boundaries of the layout. I'm going slightly mad trying to figure out something more than a very fundamental layout from the many pieces we have and keep thinking that someone must know how to determine potential layouts from an inventory of on- hand track, perhaps with recommendations for other layouts, based on adding specified parts.

Does anyone know how to figure out layouts? Know of a cad/cam program set up for Brio? Our son's quite impatient to be enjoying his trains, and doesn't understand why I keep schlepping him to Barnes & Noble and other public train tables. I'm close to deciding that I'll just inventory the pieces on the B train table, match those against what we've got, purchase to fill in the spaces and then duplicate their layout.

Also, I'd welcome any thoughts on how to secure the track to the table (without mangling it for future layouts). Any help? Many thanks. Jono

Personally, I've always thought part of the fun for my son in having a train set was building with it and putting the track together in different ways and then tearing it down and trying something new. Do you really need to create the perfect layout and glue it together? You wouldn't do that with Legos, for example. Maybe you're over-thinking things, as we all tend to do from time to time. Just a thought

Concerning the Brio track set up, so much of the enjoyment for kids is letting them set up and discover how to do their own train track configurations. I don't know how old your son is, but when we gave Brio trains to our son he about two years old. He needed help @ first but soon began his own experimentaion w/ new set ups.

The trains were really secondary, it was all about the tracks and discovering new pathways and whether or not the trains could go around and through these inventive and sometimes outlandish track configurations. His closest buddies were those little boys who also enjoyed discovering new ''travels'' for the Brio trains. We experienced the same exploration w/ Legos over the years. My son is now almost

20 years old. I have saved all the Brio tracks and trains, they give my husband and I such wonderful memories and I hope someday my son will turn them over to kids of his own. My advice? Just put everything you have out on your train table and let loose! Work together w/ your kid a bit, I'll bet he'll be off and on his own in no time! Have some fun! Brio mom Brio mom

For the Brio-Buffaloed parent. Do wait until some authority has checked out the layout for compliance with Thomas/Brio guidelines and best practices and also wait until you have, in hand, the corresponding train schedules and play scripts for using each layout. You should also place some kind of perimeter around the train set-up to prevent any chance of unstructured play with these delicate, exacting tools. In the words of that sage Amber Cole, ''Thank God for the model trains, you know? If they didn't have the model trains they wouldn't have gotten the idea for the big trains.''

If you wern't kidding (which the above assumes) then go buy a small thomas kit and in it there are several designs laid out on paper (as I recall) to help promote the sales of additional pieces (which you have stacks of, lucky you.) The parts are made up of standardized lengths and radii so set ups will tend to just flow together as you put down pieces. You can build yourself into a corner but then you can usually see where you might make changes to get things to join. If they had lots of track there are also probably in your stack of parts some problem solving pieces (parts with doubled female ends and short pieces and the like.) Put those one-of-a-kinds in a separate pile and appeal to them when you feel like you are soooo close but the parts don't go together.

Finally, just take a breath and remember that 6 year-olds are doing it even as you read this and that most kids have no problem just dragging the train on the floor or backing up when they get to the end of the track. I really hope you were kidding...

Your question made me laugh a little. Don't worry about perfection. You don't have to use all of the pieces. Let your son help build the track. We have most fun putting the tracks together in different formations each time. I love to dump the pieces out on the floor and see how much of the floor space I can use. My six year old has really gotten into seeing how creative she can be while the two year old is happy to have a simple circle to push the train around on. I think that the beauty of the wooden track is that it is so flexible and grows with your child's abilities. My eleven year old nephew was visiting and had fun putting together a cool track for the kids to play with. I have been to people's houses where the train table is perfect and everything is nailed in place, but it doesn't seem as fun to me. Joan

It's not rocket science! Just dump a bunch of tracks on the floor/table/whatever and have at it. I'm not a big fan of the permanent train track layout anyway. My kids are 8 and 5 and still enjoy playing with Brio. They wind them in and around chairs, under the couch, over blocks, etc. The fun part for your child is being able to play with the trains: building his or her own track, running the train along the track, and experimenting with new ways of construction. Let your kid play with the trains and don't worry about the set-up. laurel

For our kids, ages 2-5, a lot of the fun is building a new configuration every day or two. I bet if you let your son do whatever her wants, he will come up with some great configurations without your having to do anything but admire his creations! Our kids, even the youngest, build things I would never have been able to think of. And for securing them to the table, we just rely on gravity, and it has never failed us. Don't fret--just let them have fun! -another mom of train lovers

OH MY GOD. Let your kid set up the track. When my brother and I had brio trains in our childhood, this was not a problem. If your child is too young, do it for him and a simple loop or figure 8 is fine! You do not attach the track to the table. You don't even need a table. They are bolted down in bookstores, habitot, etc, so kids don't walk off with the pieces. choo-choo

With 3 sons, I am the veteran of many, many hours of train play. I strongly suggest that you do not attach the pieces to the table. More than half the fun is re-constructing different layouts - particularly as your child gets older. If he is knocking the pieces off as he moves the trains around, maybe you could use a small bit of quakehold (earthquake clay) so that pieces can be easily repositioned. Train mom

I think you'll have better luck if you use the floor instead of a train table, and let go of some of the control - I find the boundaries of the train table way too restrictive. We set up and tear down the train tracks every day... the set up is part of the fun. And we have a different layout every day. One thing that is doing is teaching my son to be creative about getting to the result he wants. It doesn't always work out that all the loops can connect, etc... but that lets my son be creative about making up storylines about the trains going into ditches and rivers. We do have a LOT of track - but we still have gaps that would make certain setups easier, like we need more curvy pieces, specific kinds of connectors and junctions. We're not going to go buy these pieces. Having gaps lets my son stretch his creativity about finding solutions. We even sometimes say that we have ''pretend track'' there to complete the layout. Mama of a train-lover