With it now being reasonable to talk about and plan for Christmas in a serious manner, I thought I’d share some of my favourite online places to get presents from. The first of these, PlayMerrily, is my go-to shop for presents all year round. I have been a huge fan for several years, I think they price very reasonably and they’re an example to all small businesses with their customer service and online presence. The ranges are excellent, and I can happily spend hours (seriously!) browsing through. They test and stock the best new imaginative and educational toys available.
There’s been the Dream Toys list (yuck in my opinion!) and the Slow Toys list (yay!) but here are my top five Christmas presents from PlayMerrily based on my daughters’ (and friends) testing:
I became a convert to Hama Beads only about a year ago. I’d seen the midi sized beads in the shops but they looked too small for my girls. I was encouraged to try the Maxi beads (My First Hama Duck Car & Girl Set) and they were an instant hit. We quickly moved onto the midi beads. There are so many things you can do with the beads – not just actually making designs but colour sorting, making bowls and all sorts of decorations by melting in the oven. Bead Merrily and Simple Crafts have loads of ideas. So my first gift recommendation is either one of these box sets if you’ve not tried Hama before or go wild and treat the family to an enormous tub of beads.
There are so many Budkins dolls to choose from, I’ve written about them and their bus before. I love how versatile these little dolls are and they are the centre of many, many imaginative games in this house. They cover many traditional tales, fairies, knights and pirates so are perfect for most interests. They may seem expensive for a small doll but they are robust. Personally I’d spend the money on the dolls and then make a cardboard house or pirate ship with your children to play with, they’ll probably turn an empty cardboard box into whatever they imagine anyway MG and DG’s interests have been fairies and pirates, so that’s most of the dolls we have. I tend to ensure they have a good mix of genders and ethnicity, and avoid anything overly stereotypical!
Miniland Snap Circuits
These kits are so much fun! We have the Electrokit but I’m so close to buying the Car and Boat kit. Both these are snap circuits – the electronics are housed in robust pieces that ‘snap’ together (like poppers on clothes) to make the circuits. There’s a huge booklet in the Electrokit listing the 88 circuits (yes, there are 88 but lots of them just involve swapping one switch for another etc, even so there are still plenty of options – there are not 88 pieces, but enough for plenty of play) plus another booklet on electricity. The set is aimed at 8+ so to be honest we haven’t read through the educational booklet as it’s above their level but the kit is still more than usable with 3 and 5 year olds (with supervision in case younger children break the lightbulb and fan which are more delicate); the 5/6 year olds who’ve played with it have managed to follow the circuit diagrams without supervision. Great hands-on learning with lots of playing around finding out what happens with different layouts. The fan can get so fast then if you turn the switch off the plastic bit flies into the air which puts all of us in hoots
Wooden Train Set
I think wooden railways are fantastic, they have tons of play value and every time they’re different because you make the tracks in different ways. We’ve been collecting various sets and add-ons since MG was about one so we have a huge collection. Neither of my girls have been that interested in puzzles, but they’ll put train track together which I think covers that skill very well. There are phases when the track is out constantly, and times when it’s not seen for weeks on end (we’re in one of those at the moment so I expect they’ll come back in fashion again soon!) I’ve generally bought accessories separately rather than huge sets but for an easy one-box present, there are a huge variety of starter sets available. BigJigs are great value for money for both rail and road, and I think if I was starting from scratch then this combined road and rail set with station and parking spaces or this wonderful rail set with airport (including runway!), bridges, station and garage would be great.
Magnetic Blocks & Building Sets
Magnetic wooden building blocks really add an extra dimension to building blocks. We’ve got the John Crane set (reviewed here) but I love the look of the Edtoy sets which weren’t available when I was looking for magnetic blocks. If my girls were interested, I’d start with the architecture set and maybe a fire engine or helicopter, but they’ve started on my old Lego sets for their construction needs so I can’t justify more wooden blocks. These look fantastic though and knowing PlayMerrily’s attention to quality I’m adding them to my recommendations!
At the moment almost everything at PlayMerrily has 10% off so it’s the perfect time to get your Christmas shopping in. I think the discount is on until the end of November, but do check with them to be sure.
Posted in Unsolicited Review
Tagged Budkins, Christmas, Christmas 2012, Christmas Top Ten Toys, Christmas Toys, Craft Merrily, Crafts, DKL, Dream Toys, Electronics, Hama, Hama Beads, John Crane, Le Toy Van, MakeDo, Marble Run, Miniland, Play Merrily, Quadrilla, Top Toys
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.
Posted in Unsolicited Review
Tagged Building Blocks, Educational Toys, GoGo, Imaginative Play, John Crane, Magnetic Blocks, Magnets, Play Merrily, PlayMerrily, Wooden Blocks, Wooden Toys
I bought this to put aside for Christmas so this is a sneak-peek review before it’s been really played with. I thought my two-year old would enjoy this (she likes putting things inside each other) and as she was napping I opened the box to have a look inside.
“Ooh, can I have that?” asked my 4.5 year old
“Okay… It’s a present for Christmas so you can’t have it but you can test it out for me.” I handed it over.
She put all the tubes in their spaces on the board, matched the shades of colours inside each other and then mixed up the colours putting them inside each other.
“So what do you think?” I asked.
“It’s boring.” she said, as she made a tower with all the cylinders and then started matching the sizes together again. Eventually I managed to retrieve all the pieces and pack it back away for Christmas before her sister woke up.
I’m not sure what the game is, as there were no instructions in the box, but I’m sure my girls will make up many games themselves. They never follow directions anyway! I really liked this sorting board. It’s got tons of educational appeal: different diameter cylinders (biggest/smallest) shades of colour (lighter/darker) making towers fitting correct sizes into the board sequencing widest to thinnest, tallest to shortest… It’s a tactile, sensorial game too: the wood is beautifully smooth and the colours are vibrant. It would not be out of place in a Montessori toddler room. Forgetting the educational appeal, its beauty will shout out for children to choose it for play and its versatility will keep it in play again and again.