My son loves his wooden train set, but he also likes staging disastrous crashes that send cars and tracks flying across the floor.
I was tired of stepping on them, and I saw how much he loved playing on train tables at the local toy stores, so I started searching for one for our home.
And I promptly got overwhelmed.
Why was I trying to buy such a large, heavy table for just one type of toy? He also loves blocks and Legos, and I saw that there were tables just for that. I had also been looking at tables for art projects.
Did I really need to buy separate tables, or was there one magical play table out there that could fit all my kid’s needs with one purchase?
After an evening of searching, I figured out that there are three main factors that influence what table you want.
- Edge. Typically, tables made just for toy trains have an edge around the top that keeps all the train parts contained. The edge can also come in handy for containing the pieces of puzzles and games. Tables that are made for art projects and blocks don’t have that edge, though, because it can cramp your style if you’re trying to write or draw.
- Height. Train tables are generally sized for a younger toddler to stand at comfortably and an older toddler to kneel at or sit in front of comfortably, while art tables and block tables are typically sized to fit chairs underneath so kids can sit while they play.
- Surface. Some train tables come with decorative surfaces depicting roads, rivers, streams, etc. Lego tables’ main defining feature is having the Lego surface covering its whole table top. There are at least a few models that have a surface that flips from a Lego board to a train landscape, but typically, kids want a lot more room for their wooden train tracks than they need for Legos (see? this table just has enough room for one figure 8 track).
If you’re not concerned about space, you can buy all the tables you want: one for Legos, one for trains, and one for scribbles and projects and pretending, and replace them all as the kids get bigger.
If you’re interested in a multi-use table, I found a few with an edge around the top that’s short enough to stop trains but low enough that it’s not annoying for other activities, and that can adjust the table height over time.
These tables aren’t cheap, but the prices might be worth it if it you end up buying fewer tables overall.
Nilo play tables come in a variety of sizes, are typically height-adjustable, and come with optional Lego AND Train surfaces. They’re also American made. I thought the holes looked weird at first, but then I saw how many cool things you can use them for and realized that the table also kind of can double as a play tool bench, which makes it even more useful. I don’t have one, but I’ve seen them at toy stores. If you have any feedback, please leave a comment because I’d like to know if these are worth it. I usually use Amazon links for images, but Nilo seems to sell their tables mostly on their own site and in toy stores right now.
This beautiful table from Pottery Barn Kids is great for playing and also looks awesome. A friend of mine actually has this one for her son’s Thomas trains and it works great, but will continue to look really nice in her living room long after he’s over trains.
Look at these tables from the Land of Nod. They’re beautiful. Some would work great for trains, too, I’d think.
The tables in this list weren’t in my budget at my kid’s 2nd birthday, so I ended up buying a used Thomas the Tank Engine train table on Craigslist for $40. It lives in the basement. I still have my eye on that Land of Nod table, though. That one will get a spot in the living room.