Product Type: ELC Toy Train
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ELC Happyland Country Train Set
Member Name: sandemp
ELC Happyland Country Train Set
Advantages: Lots of pieces, easy for Freddy to operate, the sounds
The Happyland Country Train Set comes securely packed in a cardboard box, now personally I feel that far too much packaging was used. While there weren't that many plastic ties to undo, there were several, empty cardboard boxes within the outer box, the only purpose of which would appear to fill in gaps. All of the separate pieces were also wrapped in plastic bags, which meant there was a considerable amount of rubbish that needed disposing of. Apart from unpacking the train set from the box the only real setting-up that needed doing was inserting two AA batteries into the engine and connecting the track together. On a scale of one to ten, I personally would put the difficulty of setting this up at about four and would say it took me under ten minutes to have it ready for Freddy to play with.
Now as there are so many different parts to this train set, this next section is going to take a while as the outside of the box really doesn't do justice to the quality and detail. The track itself comes in six pieces all of which are made from strong, durable plastic. When put together they form an oval that while not huge, does take up a good amount of floor space at 120cm by 60cm. As an adult, I found it very easy to fit the track pieces together and as they are quite chunky I would imagine that any child of about two years upwards should be able to manage with a little assistance. The track pieces also hold together quite well and don't come apart with every little knock, meaning it doesn't have to be put back together every few seconds.
One of the two straight track pieces also doubles up as a level crossing, complete with pivoting barriers and warning lights. The level of detail on this crossing is really quite amazing (as it is across the whole set), with the gates and posts being set among lots of very sweet looking flowers. The barriers themselves did need to be slotted into place, and although they are easy to lift up and down, it is quite difficult to keep them raised, which does lead to a little frustration, when trying to get a car through before the train starts approaching. Along with the track a small country station is also supplied, and again it's all the little details that make this extra special, I especially like the addition of the clock and hanging baskets. We live in the country and have a country train station that also has hanging baskets, so for us this is quite a realistic touch. The final building is a station name board, which is again set among tiny flowers. All of the buildings are extremely well made, feel very durable and perhaps my only gripe is that there are a few places where stickers have been used rather that the details being painted or moulded on.
The train itself is of the old-fashioned steam variety and comes in three parts all of which connect together via movable peg and hole type affairs. The actual engine is powered by two AA batteries (not supplied), which are hidden behind a flap that is secured with a tiny screw. The red, black and yellow engine is a good size for little hands to hold, but because it contains a motor it is quite heavy. Along with the actual engine there is a coal compartment and passenger carriage which are both a lot lighter. The wheels on all three sections run fairly freely even on a carpet, meaning that a child could just push them along the floor, but then they miss out on this train sets extra special features.
Once the train is placed on the track all that's needed to make it go is to the place the driver (or any other Happyland character) into the engine and then the train starts making it's way round the track. Although the train doesn't move particularly fast, it chugs it's way round the track in about thirty seconds making lots of noise as it goes. As the train makes it's way round it makes some very satisfying steam train sounds with a sort of 'chugga, chugga' and 'whoo-hoo', but this still isn't the best thing. On the bottom of the engine are some sensors that correspond to different areas on the track and cause the engine to react in different ways. As the engine approaches the crossing, it actually gives off an alarm just as you get at a proper railway crossing. And as the engine gets to the station is stops for a short period to allow passengers to board and alight, before setting off once more. The only thing I'm not keen on, is that the train continues to make it's way round and round the track, even if the driver has been removed, with the only way to stop it being to lift the train.
So I've covered the buildings, track and train, but there are still more pieces in this set, making it even better value. Firstly there's a racing car, that is part of the Happyland retro racers range, an old-fashioned, yet stylish green car, that's a great size for little hands and fantastic for racing games. This isn't a family car though as it only has room for the driver, who fits neatly onto a little peg. The car driver is one of three characters that are supplied in the set, along with the train driver and a passenger. All three characters are made of chunky plastic, and while not posable do have a remarkable amount of detail. I am a little disappointed that the characters are rather stereotypical though, it would have been nice to see either a female train driver or racing driver, but as all the characters from the different Happyland sets fit in the engine and cars, so far a variety of different people have given the train a drive (including the elderly postmistress).
As a parent I think this is a wonderful train set, that delivers far more than I would have imagined from either the product description or indeed the box. As I would expect from a Happyland toy, all the pieces are well made and easy to wipe clean. And while it does make a noise, it's not really that loud, I would say that it can only really be heard in the same room, and it sort of melds into the background after the first ten minutes. As for how often the batteries need changing, well this has been played with for at least half an hour at a time, many, many times and the ELC batteries we bought for it are still going strong. As for gripes, well the sheer number of pieces means that storing this between plays can be a bit of a pain. Personally, we've bought a plastic storage box, which is working pretty well, but I wouldn't really recommend using the original box as it quickly gets tatty.
We first set this train set up for Freddy while he was having a nap and then sat him in front of it once he woke up. As soon as he saw the set, Freddy's eyes lit up as he recognised that it was a 'dain', as we do live in a small town where trains are the only option for travelling (if you don't have a car), Freddy is very familiar with trains. After allowing him a few minutes to just stare at the set, I showed how to make it work by putting the driver in the engine, and the look on Freddy's face was just a picture. It's not a word of a lie, to say the Freddy will now put the driver in and then sit and watch the train go round and round the track for about half an hour at a time. He gets really excited as it stops at the station and he puts one of his people into the carriage. Freddy does, however, get a little confused that the train still works once he's taken the driver out, but he's starting to work out he needs to lift the engine to make it stop.
As well as playing with the train on the track, Freddy will also spend time playing with just the different parts of the train, pushing them along the floor and in the engine's case setting it off by putting one of his many people in it. Freddy also loves to play with the car, which he finds easy to push, in fact a little too easy as it moves faster than he can crawl. As with some of his other sets, Freddy does find it rather difficult to fit the people onto the little peg in the sports car, he just can't press quite hard enough.
As well as allowing Freddy lots of time to explore this set on his own, both Mummy and Daddy love to spend time playing with him, both with this set on it's own and in conjunction with the other sets. There are so many pieces in this set, that's it's all too easy to forget that we're all grown-up, as we race the car against the train, stand at the platform waiting in the cold or run for the train to just miss it. Oh and we're not the only ones who think this train set is brilliant, so do visitors, from 9 months to 90 years. As for Freddy, well he knows where this train set is kept and right now he's trying to tip the box up, so something tells me it's time to set it up again.
==The School Train==
Although the recommended age range for this set is 18 months to four years, there are absolutely no small pieces that would cause a hazard for younger children. Freddy is only eleven months and loves playing with this (as he does all his Happyland toys), and although he probably doesn't get the most from the set, he is still learning from it. Of course, Freddy's imagination is only just starting to emerge in it's most basic form, but by us playing with this train set with him, we are encouraging that imagination to develop. This set will also encourage communication skills, as we talk about what we are doing and allow Freddy to make sounds and say words. Freddy does already say a few words when playing with this, the most noticeable being his version of train (dain) and I'm sure that as he gets older then this will increase.
The actual engine is also a lovely way of encouraging hand-eye coordination and helping your child learn cause and effect, as they put the driver into the cab to start the train moving. Freddy is already pretty good at this, but I have noticed his movements become more precise as he tries to get people into the carriage before it starts moving again.
Along with these aspects there's something even more important that this train set can teach your child, especially if like us you live in an area where there are lots of level crossings. By talking about track safety and making sure that the people behave in the right way near the train, I'm teaching Freddy that he must not go across level crossings if the barriers are down or run across tracks or run on platforms. I know that he's very young now, but young children do understand a lot more than they can say, and they find it far easier to learn these things through role play and repetition. (After all we've waited for the green man since he was born and he does look for him now when crossing roads).
This is a first train set that any little boy or girl would be proud of, whether they have any other Happyland sets or not. It's wonderfully made and has an immense amount of play value. Believe it or not, one of my older children had this sets processor, and I'd bought this on the back of knowing how good that was. But this is even better, the attention to detail is almost unbelievable. But it's not just me that loves this train set, Freddy adores it and will happily sit and play with it for up to an hour, which is almost unheard of for an eleven month old. I therefore have no hesitation in giving this set an almighty five stars out of five and recommending it for children aged from about ten months (sitting independently) to three years.
Summary: Fab first train set
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