If your kids aren't ready for a classic electric train yet, there are still lots of safe, educational and fun toy trains available. Powered by imagination, these toys will provide years of enjoyment while teaching important lessons about the world around us. With a plethora of add-on track and accessory options, most of these toys can do anything an electric train can in kid-friendly form.
Most of the popular-sized wooden trains are advertised for children ages 18 months and up. With great compatibility between brands and an almost unlimited array of track pieces, engines, cars and accessories, these toys can be a child's favorite for years and years.
There are train tables available, or you can let the child's imagination and tracks run wild across the floor. Building elaborate track designs with these toys is both a great educational tool and preparation for more sophisticated toys and electric trains in coming years.
- Brio: The Swedish wooden toy firm that set the standard for wooden trains, Brio has earned a reputation for quality and safety. Toys are available for children as young 6 months.
- Learning Curve: Makers of wooden versions of Thomas the Tank Engine characters.
- Melissa and Doug: Fully compatible with other sets, Mellissa and Doug tracks and trains are more affordably priced.
In between wooden pull toys and electric model trains is a world of battery-powered action toys. Unlike the wooden train sets or scale model trains, most of these toys run on proprietary track systems. Although this limits you to one manufacturer, most have extensive product lines that still push a child's imagination.
- Geotrax: Made by Fisher Price, feature radio-controlled and non-powered trains and other vehicles along with track and accessory sets that create action-packed worlds centered on transportation. Tracks are easy to assemble and controls are easy to learn. Appropriate for ages 3 and up.
- Lego: Trains are just one part of the great world of Lego; limited only by the imagination. In addition to prepackaged sets, numerous free-lance plans and designs are available online. Train-themed sets, including Thomas, are available for children as young as 2.
- Rokenbok: Rokenbok toys look less like traditional train toys, but perform many of the same educational functions. Radio controlled trams, trucks and accessories load, haul and dump plastic beads. Appropriate for ages 8+.
American manufacturers recommend electric model trains for ages 8 and up. Depending on your child, and especially your willingness to work with him or her, you may be ready to start much younger. There are many good choices for getting started with electric trains. Former Guide Randall Roberts offers his opinions and recommends considering the cost and size of the trains as the top priorities. In addition, product availability and personal taste are important considerations. The companies listed here are only a few possible good choices.
- Playmobil: Electric trains compliment the other play sets in the Playmobil line. Trains are compatible with G scale track and accessories. Large and rugged, suitable for ages 3 and up, an excellent choice for a first electric train.
- Lionel: Many model train manufacturers offer product lines suitable for children ages 8 and up. Lionel is perhaps more associated with childhood trains than any other company. Lionel also has an online guide to parents that you won't find everywhere else.
- Bachmann: With more than a century of experience, Bachmann has long been a major player in the HO and N scale train set market. Bachmann also now has an extensive line of Thomas the Tank Engine characters.
If you're looking for Thomas electric trains specifically, they are also available in many other scales from many manufacturers.