Getting started for a six year old

zookie Dec 21, 2018

  1. zookie

    zookie TrainBoard Member

    I have built, yet never completed, a number of layouts and my six year old would like to build a very simple layout on one of the 4x4 pieces left over from a 4x12 layout I had years ago.

    I know what he really wants is to make the train go forward/backward, and then have some things to interact with (switches, lights on streets, buildings, etc). I've taken a break from the hobby for a number of years and I've never built an N layout so I am unfamiliar with the brands, reliability, features, etc. A couple years ago I bought him the O Polar Express and he loves the lights, sounds, smoke, remote, etc. But it gets put up after Christmas time due to the size so he wanted to have something year round on a board I already have standing.

    This is obviously not a professional build and does not need the top end stuff both for price (this is for a six year old) and purpose but I also know myself and as we move forward I may want to keep advancing the layout. But for starters it will be as simple as one can image. My child won't notice the realistic differences between various rail, etc. But he will notice if it can't go round and round or the electric switches don't switch.

    The catch is I am struggling with which track to go with. My searches are yielding results from well over a decade ago and while things may still be similar I see the shift in standards, etc so I thought I'd just ask. Even if I buy a kit to just get started quickly I'd still like to start with a kit that has the right track so we can expand without wishing we had started with different track.

    I know this could start an opinion thread but hopefully the background story keeps it centered on the fact that the purpose is to get my six year old involved and engaged (which takes things that move (switches), crossings maybe, make sound, have lights etc) and that isn't a nightmare to deal with.

    For locos, I like DCC but is there a brand I should lean towards?

    I'll keep searching as well but I'm hoping someone can read the intent and help me shortcut this process a bit with some recommendations.

  2. Carl Sowell

    Carl Sowell TrainBoard Supporter


    I too have done that for my 2 sons, but that was 50 & 56 years ago. So, take my suggestions with a grain of salt.

    1. Track - KATO Unitrak
    2. Locomotives - Atlas diesels with ESU Loksound installed

    BTW, you mentioned N scale on a 4x4 board. You actually, for a 6 year old, might be better off with HO as a starter.

    Always, have fun,
  3. mtntrainman

    mtntrainman TrainBoard Supporter

    With a 4x4 you could make a nice oval of Unitrack with a siding or two and still have room to put the power supply on the same board. Unitrack switches have slider switches built in and can be easily be thrown by need to really wire them up. I have about 15 unitrack switches and 2 double crossovers on THERR RV and throw them all by hand (y)


    Unitrack can take fumbling little hands...and adult fumbling hands too. Its sectiional track with built in trackbed so you and he can easily change the trackplan at any time. Its DCC compatible. Start him with DC and see if he stays interested before investing in a DCC setup.

    Fifer has starter sets on his site..

    He also has 'expansion sets'...

    As a starter set you cant really go wrong. (y)(y)
    Carl Sowell likes this.
  4. u18b

    u18b TrainBoard Supporter

    Yes, it's code 80.

    But kids will enjoy changing layout track like leggos. Build .... rebuild.

    I've started at least 2 kids with it.

    As to HO or N, it all depends on the kid's dexterity.

    Give him a test (I did). See if he can put N scale stuff on the track. If so.... N all the way.
    I started my son in HO at age 5 (maybe 4). But he has always been meticulous (still is!).

    Wish I had gone straight to N.
  5. DCESharkman

    DCESharkman TrainBoard Member

    Kato makes the best locomotives....
    mtntrainman likes this.
  6. SknarfWl

    SknarfWl TrainBoard Member

    Started my son with a Kato Metra starter set when he was 6. He had a lot of fun with it and expanding it so we both could run trains with DCC. That was 4 years ago and he has joined the local Ntrak club and enjoys running several different trains of his own.
    Carl Sowell and mtntrainman like this.
  7. Onizukachan

    Onizukachan TrainBoard Supporter

    I will 3rd the Kato suggestion, but not the wait on dcc.
    I’m getting a little Kato track set from fifer to set up on the kitchen table.
  8. MK

    MK TrainBoard Member

    I started mine at 3 years old on N and he could rail anything I throw at him. Something about acute vision for small kids. :)

    But the most important thing is now you can say your purchase was for him/her. (y);)
  9. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    I see some good ideas and suggestions. :)
  10. Carl Sowell

    Carl Sowell TrainBoard Supporter

    I certainly agree with all of the above comments. I most certainly agree, IMHO, that KATO's are the best. However you mentioned DCC and yes you can get KATO with DCC and/or DCC sound. Their pricing is a bit higher than Atlas and I can say that my new Atlas SD35 with ESU sound is an excellent runner and sounds great.

    The most important thing is to get your son "into trains" at a young age.

  11. u18b

    u18b TrainBoard Supporter

    In my humble opinion, remember that a child is going to break things. That's why I think the first loco should be a wide body loco with no handrails.

    So my suggestion is a Kato F7 or E8 as a first loco. About the only thing to break is the steps and the couplers.
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2018
    acptulsa likes this.
  12. John Moore

    John Moore TrainBoard Supporter

    I would also stay away from steam as the driver rods and valve gears are delicate and easily damaged by small hands gripping them. There fore something like an F unit I agree with.
    Carl Sowell likes this.
  13. zookie

    zookie TrainBoard Member

    I want to thank everyone who has replied here. The unanimous way to go looks to be Kato and I'll get the Unitrack. This alone was very helpful to get me going. I'll spend some time based on the comments to pick the right loco to start with but here again you all have given me a huge head start.

    Thanks again!
    mtntrainman likes this.

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