Wooden train sets have been a popular toy with children for many years and doesn’t seam to be losing popularity. Many parents will have experienced that time when trying to get on with their shopping whilst your toddler wants to play with the wooden train set on display in a toy shop.
The main advantage of the wooden train sets over many of the die-cast or electronic play sets is that they are suitable for young children who can pick them up and play with them, but looking at the packaging that doesn’t seam to be the case any-more.
In the past some sets used to have younger recommended ages, but these days almost all have a minimum recommended age of 3+. I’m not sure whether this is due to toy regulations getting more strict, due to manufacturers trying to “cover their back” or if this is a reduction in build quality.
There certainly seam to be a problem with the cheap inferior train sets; which I don’t think are suitable to giving to toddlers that may be tempted to put things into their mouth. We had one of these cheap wooden train sets which was given as a gift. The Acorn Play table and Train Set, we were given, broke during the first day of use when one of the wooden pegs separated from the track. Fortunately our children were not likely to put those into their mouths, but that could have been a significant choking hazard for toddlers.
I believe that some of the better brands are much better. They is now a wide range of different trains, tracks and accessories (including of course Thomas the Tank Engine), which do appear to be of good build quality. Even with the better quality sets you will need to be careful if a train breaks or with some accessories that may be small enough to be a choking hazard.
There are still train sets available that are suitable for younger children such as Tomy My 1st Train Set, but these are very basic and a 2 year old my find them a little boring.
For a 3 year old child then the wooden train set would have to compete with the more realistic looking die-cast train sets (such as Thomas Take-N-Play), or battery operated trains (such as Thomas Trackmaster or Tomy sets), both of which also have a minimum recommended age of 3.
Toddlers will certainly still enjoy playing with them, but the minimum age on the box suggests that you need to take safety into consideration.
I do NOT recommend giving toys to a child when they are under the recommended age, but if you are going to give a wooden train set to a young child then stick to the better quality makes and make sure that the toy is in good condition with no lose parts and that they are under constant supervision.