Tag Archives: Imaginative Play

Review: Edtoy Magnamobiles

Edtoy Magnamobiles from Play Merrily Toys

Last year, when choosing some of our favourite things from Play Merrily, I mentioned how I loved the look of the Edtoy range so when the chance to review two of the vehicles came up, I asked very, very nicely if we could be chosen! We were sent two of the Magnamobiles to play with: an SUV and a racing car.

Play

Edtoy Magnamobiles SUV and Racing Car in pieces
Edtoy Magnamobiles are wooden vehicles made from about nine pieces that cleverly click together due to rotating magnets. The pieces will therefore always connect, and never repel each other.

Because of the strength of the magnets, they can be played with just like any other cars and vehicles – although if they have a severe crash, they might need to be rebuilt!

They can also be taken apart and played with as a construction toy. There is plenty of play value with these toys covering imaginative, creative and construction play. The cars are easy to manipulate for small hands and manipulation of the pieces will improve fine motor skills.

This video shows how the pieces click together to build the racing car:
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSuZHn0DUpE]

MG (6) and DG (4) both loved this addition to their car box, and cars became the central focus of their imaginative play for several days after the Magnamobiles arrived. Creating new cars from the pieces was a huge hit. The only reason I don’t have any pictures of them playing is because they’re at school all day and the light is terrible in the evening so the pictures are rubbish!

Here’s some playing with the pieces to construct new vehicles – I’m nowhere near as creative as my children are I’m afraid! Note that the wheeled piece can be either side up to make different creations:
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99yT0Jm_Di4]

Practicalities

The first thing I want to point out about these cars, which has very little to do with the cars themselves, is that the boxes are very easy to open and unpack. You know the scene: it’s Christmas (or Birthday) morning, the shiny wrapping paper has been torn off, the boxes have been played with, and now your little one wants to play with what’s inside! The box is opened, and… two hours later you’ve at last finished untwisting wire tags, snipping through plastic ties, tearing apart cardboard packaging that appears to be glued to the toy. With the Edtoy Magnamobiles, you open the box, lift out the contents and hey presto there’s a toy to play with. This really is a huge selling point for me!

These vehicles are exceptionally good quality. They’re made from chunky pieces of wood that are easy for small hands to grasp and manipulate. Although the packaging says they are suitable for age 3+, this is probably due to the magnets. With supervision, I think children from around 18 months will get lots out of these and interest in them should hold for many years.

The magnets are strong enough to withstand the cars getting battered. I made two videos testing the magnets, which you can view on YouTube. Showing magnet strength can be found here, and magnet rotation can be seen here. The click when the magnets come together is very satisfying, and you might notice in the videos above that I love twisting the pieces to hear the magnets click!

The number of pieces quoted on the outside of the box is puzzling. The vehicles include two plastic pieces that connect the wheels together, and these seem to be included in the count. But even so, that makes ten total pieces for the SUV rather than nine. I’m not sure what the plastic connectors are for, as they restrict wheel movement and look more like packaging.

There are some limitations to how you can fit the pieces together due to magnet configuration. As you can see in the picture below, they are either single or in pairs and you can only connect them if the configurations match. However, this also adds to creative skills needed for young children to put them together, which can only be a good thing.

Edtoy magnets

Price

Edtoy Magnamobiles with other cars for scale

The image above shows the two Magnamobiles next to an Imaginext Motorised Batmobile (RRP approx £26) and a Wow Toys Dynamite Daisy (RRP approx £11) plus a standard Corgi-style car for scale. Compared to the plastic vehicles, the price of £17.95 (correct November 2013) is in the same range. Given the added play value of being able to mix-n-match to create your own vehicle, this makes the range very attractively priced.

Summary
A great toy with varied playability. The limitation in connecting pieces due to magnet configuration is a little frustrating, but the durability and play value more than make up for it. A single vehicle contains lots of play value and creativity in itself, having more than one just increases the fun. MG (6) and DG (4) have played with them daily since they arrived and think they are “brilliant” and “fun”. In MG’s phrasing, they are one thousand fun! There are lots of other vehicles to choose from, including a fire engine, buldozer, helicoptor and ambulance. Recommended for children from 18 months to 8 years, and their parents.

Disclosure: We were sent two Edtoy Magnamobiles by Play Merrily Toys in exchange for an honest review.

The Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat

The Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat: Coral Rumble & Charlotte Cooke (Parragon Book, 2013)

The Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat: Coral Rumble & Charlotte Cooke (Parragon Book, 2013)

I don’t say this lightly, but this is a near-perfect morsel of a picture book. It came about from conversations between Charlotte Cooke and her mother, who wrote the text, and started life as a university project.

There is something very special about books written and illustrated by people who know and love each other well. I have written before about books created by friends, and books created by family are even more special.

This story follows a girl and a boy who have imaginary adventures in a cardboard box boat in their living room. The girl is dressed as a cat with face-painted whiskers and cat ear headband. The boy has glasses (yay!), feathers in a band, and a cardboard beak. With inspiration drawn from Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat, the story takes its own path but with some lovely tie-ins (the boat is called the Petit Pois!)

What is so absolutely special is the lack of gender stereotyping. This is a story for girls and boys regardless of interests. Any child who has pretended a cardboard box is something that it isn’t (which is any child) can appreciate the story here.

The tale speaks to children and their active imaginations. We start on the living room floor but are taken out to sea for adventures with seals, sharks, octopuses, sea orchestras, pirates… The first and last spreads show the ‘reality’ of cardboard box but the other spreads show the adventures in their own imaginative reality.

The illustrations are gorgeous. The two child characters are irresistibly cute, and the illustrations are full of tiny details that make the book a joy to read and re-read. My personal favourite is the octopus, but the swordfish fighting with a pirate is a close second!

The poor little brother doesn’t seem to come out well in many of the encounters – I think that’s true of most younger siblings being dragged on adventures by their older siblings, at least it seems to be in our house – but the love between the siblings is evident and having a boy and a girl having fun together without gender segregation is a joy to see.

There appears to be a habit with some picture books to force rhymes where they are unnecessary. Children love rhymes, appears to go the thought, therefore let’s make this rhyme. You then end up with a book written in the same boring rhythm with words that make little sense and terrible scansion. The Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat, however, has a rhythm that works, introducing children to the fun of playing with words and sounds. It also ends on the perfect note, echoing the original Owl and the Pussycat inspiration.

This is a shorter than average picture book and, although I want more, it doesn’t suffer for it. Both MG and DG enjoy the story. MG (6) can easily read the text now, and DG (4) can make her own stories from the pictures. There is a lot of scope for children to make their own stories from the pictures, and to be inspired to create their own cardboard box adventures.

This book almost got lost when the original publishers, Meadowside Children’s Books, sadly ceased trading. Fortunately it didn’t and is now a shining beacon in Parragon’s list. I really can’t commend The Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat highly enough. Get a copy, read it, and see for yourselves.

There are two great interviews with Charlotte Cooke at Parragon Books (including behind the scenes pictures and a lovely story behind the puffin picture) and Read It, Daddy (including fab questions from a five-year-old Charlotte).

I’d like to thank Charlotte for a copy of the book, a wonderfully illustrated envelope (my favourite creature from the book, you must be psychic), for taking the time to clear up some of my questions (any mistakes in this post are my errors), and most importantly for creating wonderful art. Thank-you 🙂

Disclosure: We were sent a copy of The Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat by Charlotte Cooke for review. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.

Cultivating Creativity – or Mess?!

I seem to have developed a fairly laissez-faire approach to parenting (quickly googles laissez-faire to make sure it means what I think it means… Yeah, that’ll do.) Or maybe it’s just that I’m a terrible parent who ignores her children! I’d like to lead by example and be a wonderfully perfect person with manners and a tidy, clean house but I’m not so I do try to explain right and wrong and we have all sorts of discussions about things in the world too. But sometimes I do just hide behind a screen and leave them to it.

Which results in things like MG’s book The Lonely Bear that I’m serialising this week. And a whole bunch of paper and felt tips soaking into clothes and covers as they (the felt tips) are left with lids off leaning on them (the clothes, bedsheets etc) that are also left lying around. Not to mention the mountains of paper and other art materials that appear to breed (see Clutter Creep).

I am neglecting DG in this description. There is a reason she is called Destructo-Girl but she is also incredibly creative and imaginative. She loves small world play and will make up stories for hours on end with all her favourite toys – mixing Sylvanians and Budkins, soft toys and dolls’ clothes, wooden food and trainsets… Until the entire house hasn’t any spare floor space from top to bottom. But if you look carefully, it’s not mess. You can see her creativity shining through:

 Creativity or Mess

Creativity or Mess

Shame I have to tidy everything up, and all the teeny bits seem to get lost all over the house though!

Gloop

Gloop is a fantastic substance. It feels solid but runs through fingers like liquid. On top of that, all it is made from is cornflour and water so is quick and easy to set up for messy sensory play.

Gloop

We currently have a ban on gloop after the mess caused by the last two sessions! One of the main problems being that I wasn’t sure on the cornflour to water ratio and when you give small children a jug of water they tend to empty the entire jug in one go so we ended up with very wet gloop.

Gloop

MG and DG didn’t mind at all. They were far more interested in pretend playing cooking than feeling the sensory qualities! I added food colouring and scent to the water to make it more interesting. The trays are cat litter trays – they’ve never been used for that purpose though.

Gloop

For a more successful gloop session, have a look at Rainy Day Mum 🙂 There are also some interesting videos about gloop here.

John Crane GoGo Magnetic Blocks

I bought these blocks about six months ago and they have been very popular with MG and DG from the start. The box contains 32 wooden blocks and 2 axles, 28 of the blocks have magnets on some sides and 4 are wheels. There is a sheet with twenty ideas of things to build and a cotton bag for keeping the bricks in if you don’t keep the box. The box has been sturdy enough to survive the last six months intact so we’ve used that instead of the bag, apart from when the blocks turn into shopping for other imaginative play.

The magnets in these blocks are quite strong but are also very easy to part so constructions can be made and played with but easily re-made when required. I managed to hold up 9 bricks under one magnet, but that was stretching the magnet’s strength. In the picture there are seven bricks held by one magnet, and that fell apart soon after, but they are that strong. There are more than enough blocks for one child to construct and play. When both MG and DG use the blocks together it’s possible but not as much fun for them, but they’re sisters so fight over everything most of the time 😆

The age says 3+ but these blocks are great for toddlers because they reduce the frustration of blocks falling apart. Of course you need to be careful with magnets but these are well fitted into the blocks and after six months of being battered around they’re showing no signs of wear so it’s extremely unlikely that the magnets would stray and the blocks are big enough to be difficult to swallow!

One of the things I love best is that you can build shapes that don’t quite follow the rules of gravity. It makes for some fun constructions. MG has followed some of the patterns because she likes to do that, and DG has insisted I make something from the patterns for her but generally they both make their own constructions and the ease in which the blocks connect mean even younger children can make fairly complex constructions.

I was going to write that the only downside is the price, when compared to non-magnetic blocks they do seem expensive. However I’ve just done some searching online (Google, Amazon and eBay) and found that (a) there are not many magnetic building block sets available in the first place, (b) these John Crane / GoGo blocks appear to be the best value for wooden magnetic blocks and (c) Play Merrily are very competitively priced.

These are not just standard building blocks though, they are magnetic and this does add significantly to the play value. MG and DG barely look at “ordinary” building blocks (and we have some really beautiful Haba ones) but will play with these for hours. Not to mention all the educational value they’re getting learning about forces and gravity and magnets of course… We love these blocks and don’t hesitate in recommending them.

Disclaimer: I was not sent these blocks by PlayMerrily for review but I have had a discount account with PlayMerrily since August 2011 and therefore paid a reduced price for this product. All my reviews have been written because I loved the products and are for items I freely chose to buy for my daughters, unless otherwise stated. I choose to review for PlayMerrily because of their fantastic and friendly service.

BigJigs Roadway Zebra Crossing Set

When Merry from Patch of Puddles put out a Twitter call for reviewers for Manhattan Toy products, I jumped at the chance before remembering that actually I don’t have any children young enough any more… However Merry also offered products from the BigJigs Road and Rail series, which we love.

It is no secret that I adore wooden toys, and I do think that wooden rail sets are up there as one of the ‘must have’ toys for children (right up the top of the list with boxes, sticks and mud!) I’ve been fortunate to be sent the BigJigs Level Crossing Set to test for compatibility with other Road sets, and when I was looking at that I fell for the Zebra Crossing Set which Merry kindly sent to us for review.

The first lovely surprise on receiving the package was how the set was presented in its box. Often these sets are in closed boxes with only pictures on the outside but with this you can see what you’re actually getting, which was very exciting for DG as she helped me unwrap.

The box had already been torn before I took the picture, but I glued it back together. Sharp eyes will see the join! The box has been battered somewhat so just look at the lovely things inside...

As a hit on its own, it worked as DG instantly tore the box open and started playing (and has selected it independently on many occasions since). However, we do have other road and rail pieces so these were soon added into play, along with other cars and trains. DG got the first play because MG was at school when the parcel arrived, but MG has also stolen it from DG played with it regularly too.

Here's the Zebra Crossing in action with some Plan City roadway. DG is driving a train carriage over the road bridge, of course... This is a set-up in order to take the picture because I stupidly didn't take any when the girls were actually playing with the crossing, but it looks fab doesn't it?!

This set includes a zebra crossing road piece, two other road pieces, one car, two orange beacons, a street lamp, a children crossing warning sign and two wooden children. The fact that the whole set is based on UK road signs is a huge bonus, and therefore can also be used in conversations to talk about how to cross safely. My children quite enjoyed running over the wooden people at this point, I don’t think that was quite what I meant to get across to them!

Zebra Crossing Set and Level Crossing (no other sets included in this picture). Please don't take the fact that our Level Crossing is broken as any sign of the quality of the product. It's just my children leave their toys in weird places and some idiot in big boots didn't notice it was on the floor where it shouldn't have been and stepped on it *cough*

As a toy in isolation, this set probably isn’t quite enough to keep attention for too long. However, it doesn’t need a huge amount to give it longer play life. It would be great with one of the starter road sets, but the addition of the Level Crossing Set not only gives a connection to any existing rail sets you may have but also includes two slopes that make the transition from carpet road to wooden road easier for the cars, trains, trucks or whatever vehicles the children have chosen to use.

There's a reason she's called Destructo-Girl... I think she might be running a child over in this, back to the drawing board with road sense education...

All in all, a definite hit with MG and DG, and a great addition to any wooden road and/or rail sets. I’m really grateful to Merry for giving me the opportunity to review this. If you don’t already read Merry’s blog then I also heartily recommend going to Patch of Puddles to catch up.

Disclaimer: We were sent a BigJigs Zebra Crossing Set from Play Merrily Toys in exchange for a review post. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own.