The best part of my job is that sometimes people say things like this to me…with all seriousness. This morning we are looking at the new Wave & Learn Magic Spelling Wand from Learning Curve. Once my intern got over the disappointment of the lack of actual magic….we looked at the purpose of the toy. It’s meant to teach kids the sounds that letters make and teach them how to make three to five letter words. We seem to be having battery issues…stay tuned.
I’m pretty old school when it comes to wooden trains. Having watch kids play with trains sets for a long time, they usually don’t need a lot of bells and whistles. Several years ago (before all the lead issues), train makers were looking for ways to compete with all the electronic toys–so there were lots of trains with lights and sounds. They were ok, but truth be told if you have a child really in the train zone they provide their own scenarios and excitement. So I was pretty skeptical when Learning Curve announced voice recognition technology for their new set, Thomas and Friends Wooden Railway-The Great Discovery Set. I have to say–it is pretty amazing. Sir Topham Hatt greets the trains by name as they go through the station…how does he know? While one of our testers was amused (not amazed) with this aspect of the toy, what I loved was that he continued to play with the setting in a very traditional manner. The technology did not take over the play experience–it enhanced the play possibilities.
Trains are a wonderful puzzle–which is why I do not recommend gluing down tracks or being wed to a train table. Train tracks can take all different turns — I’ve also observed that 4 year olds are better at making train tracks work than most adults. Watch your child as they work out how to make the tracks connect–it’s really one of those moments to enjoy.
This 35 piece set comes with enough for making a figure eight, the Great Waterton Station, Morgan’s Mine, Thomas and Stanley. The trains and accessories are sold separately so you can them to your existing trains. The sound levels are set very high when you demo them in the box–the good news, you can turn down the volume. With BRIO all but gone from the US market–it’s nice to see Thomas the Tank back with all engines a go.
It’s really unfortunate that wooden trains have taken such a hit this past year. Wooden trains are one of our favorite play experiences for preschoolers. Putting down tracks is really an open-ended puzzle (hence our recommendation to stay clear of play tables that recommend gluing down tracks). If you’ve ever watched a preschooler work at the process of putting the tracks down, you can almost sense the brain power involved. I’ve also discovered that somewhere around four, most kids are far better at figuring out the tracks than their parents!
Since Brio was acquired by K’nex, the train line has taken a back seat to their core business. Sure there were a couple of new add-ons shown at toy fair, but I miss the “lines” of trains that had interesting themes. Having covered wooden train sets for over seventeen years (how many people can say that?), it’s sad to see how the line has diminished. The lead issue also rocked the world of parents who believed that they were bringing home heirlooms to their kids when they bought pricey bridges and sets from Learning Curve’s Thomas the Tank Engine line. The bridges, stations, and other accessories are always great from this line. It will be interesting to see if they can regain the trust of parents.
So you can imagine that we were pretty happy to see Plan Toys new Road and Rail set. The handsomely designed station also converts into the storage box for the whole set (pretty neat). We look forward to testing this set. Plan Toys had a number of sleekly designed wooden play settings (garage, airport, etc.) that have that level of design you won’t mind having out in your home. The company also reports that they are phthalates and lead free. We look forward to testing these sets when they’re ready.