Berkeley Parents Network >
Advice about Playing >
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.
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.
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&category_ID=80 but I don't know if they carry it
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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,
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
mother of a train freak
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.
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.
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.
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,
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
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.
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&N 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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
this page was last updated: Feb 2, 2013
BPN is now a 501(c)(3) non-profit and we are transitioning to a new website during
The opinions and statements expressed on this website
are those of parents who subscribe to the
Berkeley Parents Network.
Disclaimer & Usage for
information about using content on this website.
Copyright © 1996-2015 Berkeley Parents Network