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This set was Logans first and favourite toy out of his extensive Thomas the Tank Engine collection. He has recently turned four, but received it as a Christmas gift when he was nineteen months old. The set is made by Learning Curve and is part of the 'Wooden Railway' collection and yes, you've guessed it, all items in this set are made of wood! North American hard maple wood to be exact. The recommended age is two plus on the Learning Curve website although they don't actually sell it there and other retail websites state three plus. I imagine this must be because of the magnetic pieces on the trains which can be very harmful if swallowed, but ours are still securely stuck on all this time later.
There are twenty track pieces, which connect together like a jigsaw to make a figure of eight shape. Although this is the advertised design it is possible to place the track however you please. Each piece is finished nicely, clean and smooth edges with a track pattern printed on both sides, except from the larger straight and the crossroad pieces which have a road pattern on their reverse for some reason. The groove for the train wheels is about twice the width of the wheel, making it easy for younger children to place the trains. Measuring 75cm x 40cm when made up it's not too big, Thomas himself only measures 8cm long, so it is a nice miniature size and perfect for little hands without looking bulky.
Unfortunately, I do have a small problem with this track. There are two short, straight pieces and when these are used they make the track an uneven figure eight. This is fine, but I do find that they are a bit difficult to fit and as a result, distort the track slightly. The adjoining edges don't sit flush, causing a little gap. This doesn't affect gameplay much, but we find it easier to make and play with when we leave those pieces out, I wonder why they were included at all.
Thomas and both of his carriages, Annie and Clarabell and Toby and his carriage Henrietta are included in the pack. Each piece has rounded magnets front and back so they can connect and run in a long line. The main body is wood and the wheels are plastic.
Three wooden flat wooden figures are also included, Sir Topham Hat, a young girl and a young boy. Simply but nicely painted, these fall over when used on the carpet so are usually ignored.
The box is cardboard and the peices are held in a cardboard insert. This is fairly thick, corugated card, which in any other family than ours should be strong enough to keep the toy stored away. There is a nice little story book included featuring Thomas and Toby, but it is printed on normal, glossy paper and easily torn so unsuitable for very young children.
What I like most about this set is the durability - all parts still look great despite the high level of daily abuse. As the box was destroyed after just a few days (flattened and torn after being squashed by a Little Tykes Police Rocker in a high speed chase) the parts are used to being thrown into a large toy box with loads of other stuff. As we fix the track up on the floor, it does get booted about a bit. Logan has loved this set from the day he had it and it has had to endure the odd paddy, as this is the toy he was usually playing with, this is what was usually sent flying across the room in a terrible two's tantrum. Still, two and a half years later, we have no broken parts, in fact, there is very little sign of wear on the track although the little trains and carriages do have a few tiny dents and chips.
For such a simple toy it really gets their little minds working. As Logan was so young initially we had to put it together, but it was only a few weeks before he attempted it himself. Of course, he couldn't do the figure eight, but he still understood how to connect each piece and enjoyed making any shape. By the age of two, he insisted on it being put together properly, as a figure eight and could get most of it right by himself. He also loved connecting the trains by the magnets, but most interestingly, found it highly amusing to 'chase' the trains by turning one the wrong way, using the polarisation of the magnets to move another without them touching. I love how much this toy nurtured his motor skills, precision and imagination, it also encouraged my kids to play together, at first his elder brother would help him put it together and make bridges and tunnels from mega bloks and now his two year old sister Ruby enjoys helping him act out some of the stories he has been read.
I think there is so much life left in this toy, it has been played with nearly every day since it was bought, although as we bought him more track over the years it is impossible to distinguish this original 'figure eight' set from the rest and he prefers to makes much larger and more intricate designs now he is older. It is such good quality it should still be going long after he grows out of the character and Ruby too I imagine. As well as Thomas being a firm favourite for Logans age range, there is also a large range of wooden tracks, trains and accessories to use alongside or in addition. We soon bought an expansion pack to make the track larger and Cranky the Crane, as Logan really enjoyed an episode in which he appeared and most importantly, Tidmouth Sheds, so the trains can get some hard earned rest after a days play. Prices can be expensive, extra trains can cost £10 - £20, but always be on the look out for offers. This set did come from Toys R Us, for a competitive £19.99, much more reasonable than the £39.99 RRP but generally I find them the most expensive retailer.
It's also worth noting, that other wooden train sets fit, Big Jigs and Brio for example and we have picked a few things such as turntables and signals from made by these companies on offer in supermarkets.