Open accessibilty tools

Small-world play: Train set (1960s) and farm (1950s)

Rail travel as we know it today began in Darlington, in 1825, with the now famous Stockton & Darlington Railway. This was the first ever public railway in the world.

Talking about old toys

Use the questions below to talk with children about old small-world toys. Talk about the image here, or use the questions to explore an old train set or small-world play set you or the children may have brought in to your classroom or setting.

Try turning it into a game. Look at the toy for one minute and then take it away or close your eyes.

How many details can you remember? Look again:

  • What did you remember?
  • What did you forget?
  • What else can you see this time?
  • This is an old toy train engine.
  • It’s a wind-up toy. It uses clockwork to make it go.
  • Here are some pictures to give you some clues.
  • The pictures are of a model of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, when it first opened. It’s the oldest public railway in the world.
  • There could be train tracks, carriages, a train driver, passengers, a station, houses, countryside with animals and trees, a bridge, shops…





What else can you see?

This farm was homemade in the 1950s.

It wasn’t made in a factory like most toys today

Explore through play

Encourage children to use their imaginations by re-situating animals and characters from small-world play sets.

  • Try placing animals and people in the sand pit or water tray.
  • What might your small-world people and animals do in your outdoor space?
  • What happens if the animals escape from the small-world farm and end up in the small-world train station, or the doll’s house, or the pirate ship?


Small-world rooms

  • Children can make a small-world bedroom from an old shoe box.
  • It could be a fantastical room with everything they had ever wanted inside it.
  • It could be a bedroom from the past – they could interview adults at home or from your school community to find out what toys, furniture and other things might be in there.
  • They could make one of each. What is the same and what is different?

Old toy Bingo

Use the ‘Toys and games from our past’ grid here to play a game of Old toy Bingo in a group of about 6.

  1. Print out 4 – 6 copies of the grid.
  2. Cut up the pictures and use them to make 6 Bingo cards, each with 6 old toys from the grid, and each slightly different.
  3. Give each child in the group a different card and 6 post-it notes. The Bingo caller calls out the names of different toys from the original grid, in a random order.
  4. Each time a child spots the toy on their grid, they cover it with a post-it note.
  5. When all the toys in their grid have been covered up they shout “BINGO!”
  6. The first to cover up all their toys wins.

Talk about the toys as you play.
The Bingo caller could make it harder by describing the toy rather than naming it.

Young historians

What questions do children have about old small-world play sets? Encourage them to think carefully about something they would really like to find out about old train sets, farms or an old small-world play set in your classroom. They could take it in turns to hold a picture of a large question mark, and think of a question beginning with Who, Where, Why, What, When or How to share with the group or class.

Where could they find out the answers? They could:

  1. Contact or visit their local museum
  2. Ask older people in their families or the school community
  3. Research online, including using the links below
  4. Research using books.


  • Click on the ‘Playing in the past’ tab to find old pictures of children playing with toys and games.
  • Find out more about the Stockton & Darlington Railway with our theme for schools here.
  • Take a look at a model railway in action in this video.