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. [update 2013: both kits have now been thoroughly tested, and are well played with!] 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! [update 2013: The Edtoy vehicles are excellent.]
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. [deleted 2012 offer]