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My son is obsessed with trains so when I spotted this cute Wooden Stacking Train in a Toys R Us sale during the summer I decided to treat him. I'm a big fan of wooden toys and the design of the toy really appealed to me, I was certain that the bright colours and differently shaped 'blocks' ensured it would capture David's attention - although to be honest I knew he'd adore it based simply on the fact that it's train shaped so it didn't take a genius to work out this was going to be a good present.
It looks fabulous and arrives packaged in a well shaped plastic container designed to showcase the train from all angles, this is good as you can check over the toy before you've bought it which is important when buying this type of activity based toy so you can better judge suitability. I've bought lots of toys in the past which have looked fantastic in the box (and seen only from the front) but have been disappointing once you get them home and open them up, with this train I knew what I was getting as soon as I picked it up. Please note here that the train has been assembled beautifully using all of its various components - once your little one gets their grasping hands on it the toy will never look the same again, I sometimes even check the Toys R Us website so I can copy the photo as the original set up looks so excellent when the train is sitting on a shelf!
The train comprises an engine and two carriages, with there being stacking posts on each component. The three sections come apart but it's been well designed so that when it's put together you can lift the whole train by holding the end sections and it won't fall apart, obviously you need to lift it carefully and evenly but although David hasn't got the knack yet (oooh, many tears!) I find it great when tidying up time rolls around. The engine section has just one post for stacking and here it's pretty self-explanatory as to which blocks you need to use due to the fact that you're making the back part of the engine (ie. where the driver sits) so you know you need to use two thick blocks and the roof shaped one - easy! The two carriages are shaped for more 'free fun' and it doesn't really matter which blocks you put where - much more entertaining for a child like David who really doesn't like to be told what to do!
The blocks all slide smoothly and easily onto the posts, with the majority of them being the same thickness to make for easy building. There are roughly seventeen blocks making up the toy, plus the three main parts of the train. Most of them are easily lost so I'd recommend close supervision when it's being played with, the round blocks in particular you need to keep an eye on due to the fact that they roll under just about anything and move so silently that you won't know where they've rolled to until you start shifting furniture! Because of the bright colours and overall appearance of the blocks they're easily found again - just glancing now I can see we're about six blocks short but guarantee they're all underneath the settees and coffee table...!
The posts aren't stuck rigidly to the body of the train, they don't come off but bend in all directions thanks to short pieces of strong elastic which hold them in place but allow a good degree of movement too. I'm assuming this is a safety feature (or at least can't see any other reason for it!) to prevent running children from stabbing themselves if they happen to trip or fall while holding the train - it's a good thing I suppose, but feels a little bit strange to begin with as I'm so used to kids toys being of a more solid construction. Sometimes this movement of the posts can be a nuisance for David as they shift as he's trying to place a block onto the train, I've noticed he finds this frustrating but over time has learned to place the blocks more carefully to prevent the posts bending. I've been impressed with the durability of the train and all of it's components, David doesn't have the lightest touch (that's maybe the understatement of the century!) but looking over the toy now I can see there isn't so much as a scratch or chip anywhere on the wood - a minor miracle considering they've been thrown, kicked, stood on (ouch!!!) and even chewed when David had his final couple of teeth coming through last month!
As far as what David gets from it, well I'm confident he not only has a huge amount of fun from the toy but has also learned a lot in the few months he's had it. The recommended minimum age is two years but David received his when he was around nineteen months old; this meant he wasn't immediately able to make full use of it, but the action of simply stacking the blocks got him used to the construction of the toy and definitely improved his hand to eye coordination as well as teaching him a little about the effect of adding too many blocks to one post (ie. they won't fit). He does get a little annoyed that he can't always make it 'train shaped' and at this point he'll bring it to me saying 'no choo-choo' so I know what the issue is, at other times the very free moving wheels will annoy him because he'll be trying to stack the blocks only to have the train move across our wooden floor making it harder to build - it's much easier on the rug and now he's a little older he's beginning to work out to play with it there rather than on the bare floor. I also made use of the different blocks to teach him about colours and shapes, although to be honest we have much better toys to use for this simply because there aren't a huge amount of different colours once you take them all off the train.
For the price I paid (£14.99) I heartily recommend the Wooden Stacking Train and the sheer amount of play time David has had from the toy has absolutely made it money well spent as far as I'm concerned. I can't see him becoming bored of it any time soon, in fact he's playing with the toy right now and I can see he still absolutely adores it - although a word of warning here, it does hurt when he clonks you on the head with the engine. His dad can testify to this, as he rubs his head...