When my son first showed interest in wooden train sets at a friends house, I envisioned a giant air hockey-sized train table soon taking over our living room. If the idea of adding a train table behemoth to your home decor makes you cringe, consider some of these creative train table alternatives.
Alternative #1 – Homemade or Repurposed Flat Surface
Consider using a flat surface that lays on the ground and can slide under or behind a piece of furniture for quick storage. This is a good option for carpeted floors to add stability or, add some felt adhesives and use on a hard surface. Be creative and use what you already have if possible. We were about to dispose of a dismantled wood laminate desk when I noticed that one of the large square ends that kept the desk upright would be a perfect surface for my son’s figure 8 train. Because it is cheaply made and not solid wood, it is fairly light weight and easy to move around (hurray for cheap materials!). The top of an old card table might work as well. Visit your local home supply store to check out surface options or call a local carpentry business to see if they might have scraps you can get for low cost or even for free. Be creative! Depending on the surface, consider painting it or even paint one side to look like town and the other like country scenes. For the tentative artist, go with snow — paint white and add some light blue shadowing for hills – makes a great Christmas presentation for a new wooden train set!
Alternative #2 – Play Mats and Rugs
Play mats can be a great alternative to a train table because they give some stability while being easily rolled up and put away for quick storage and clean up. If you stick to a simple design, they can be used for other types of play as well. Also think about using interlocking foam play mats as an easy to put away base for wooden train play. Interlocking play mats can be configured and added to to fit your exact train configuration whether symmetrical or not. You can start with a few squares and add on as your train set grown. They come in many colors and patterns including wood grain and even grass. Be aware that these work best on hard surfaces, but some of the thicker ones that stay together tightly can work on carpet as well.
Alternative #3 – Cardboard
This one may not sound too appealing or durable, but it is definitely economical. If your child receives a wooden train set for Christmas, birthday or another major holiday, chances are that you have some boxes around. Why not take one of them and break it down to use as a pad for setting up your train set? Grab some paints and your kid(s) and make an event out of painting fields, forests and lakes. Or, if you are more of a control freak like I am, wait until nap time or when they are at school and paint it yourself without anyone trying to sneak in neon pink or polka dots into your tranquil scene. If and when it gets bent up, make a new one or use this long enough to determine that a more permanent train table is in order.
Alternative #4 – Make it Part of the Existing Furniture!
Okay, this isn’t for everyone, but why not consider affixing tracks to existing furniture. You could affix wood track along the top of the foot board of your child’s bed for example (if the shape allows). Your little one can sit at the end of the bed and run trains back and forth! You can always use damage-free hanging strips to affix tracks for a less permanent solution. Along the same lines, consider other furniture in your play room or child’s room as a wooden train set surface. This might be the top of a low bookshelf, a window seat etc. If this idea appeals to you, take a look around using your creative eye and see if there is anything that can be transformed. Remember, things might be more useful tipped on a side or even turned upside down.