Tag Archives: Educational Toys

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.

John Crane Wooden Tube Sorting Board

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.

Bigjigs Wooden Roadway

Wooden railway sets are fantastic – there are so many different shaped track pieces, practically all the different brands are compatible with each other and there are accessories to fit every budget – from stations and engine sheds to shipping docks and cement works. Plus all the engines and rolling stock. The main brands are Brio, Thomas Wooden RailwayPlan City and Bigjigs. Brio is great for the serious train fan with a selection of famous trains and great quality sets. Thomas fans have all the Thomas trains to choose from with Thomas Wooden Railway, although I’m not as keen on the Thomas track as it doesn’t connect as well with other brands. Plan City is the most expensive but is beautiful. Bigjigs is the budget range but, comparing cost and quality, it’s also the best value for money.

As well as railway, Plan City has wooden roadway which adds to the play as you can then connect parking garages, petrol stations, airports… You don’t need roadway but the Plan City vehicles are so nice they deserve their own road 😉 There are more serious arguments for roadway: increasing the complexity of a rail/road system gives greater problem solving skills and the varied interest keeps them being played with. I had bought some Plan City roadway for MG and DG, so I was really pleased to see Bigjigs had bought out a range so there is more scope for expanding our existing pieces. I must have missed Brio’s roadway range being released, so I can only assume it’s fairly new too but I love that there is now roadway from three of the major wooden railway brands.

I’m not a huge fan of ‘sets’ when it comes to wooden railways. I feel that it’s nicer to be able to pick and choose pieces to build up the railway, which is why I haven’t mentioned any of the high street store brands when it comes to wooden railways. On the whole, they seem to offer a ‘small’ set and a ‘big’ set and nothing else. With Brio, Bigjigs, Plan City and Thomas Wooden Railway there are a huge selection of track pieces, rolling stock, buildings and accessories to slowly build up a unique and tailor-made set that suits your own children’s preferences (and your budget).

My favourite online toyshop, Play Merrily, very kindly sent me the Level Crossing Set to test for compatibility with Plan City roadway. Looking online, Bigjigs roadway looks like it has been designed to be most compatible with Brio roadway – both have white centre markings and slightly raised edges; whereas Plan City roadway has grey centre markings and slightly depressed edges.

Brio on left; Bigjigs on right:

Plan City compatibility (Bigjigs on right; Plan City on left):

The Bigjigs roadway is slightly wider than Plan City and there are the differences in colour marking and edge but otherwise they fit together well and the differences will make no difference to play value – besides, in the real world, roads do vary 😆


Review of the Bigjigs Level Crossing Set: I am so glad I was sent this set, I’d wanted to get MG and DG a level crossing for their train/road but the cost of the Plan City one had put it on hold (approx £12 + p&p) The Bigjigs level crossing has more play value because the gates not only stop the road traffic, they can be pushed ninety degrees to stop the trains instead. All this for under £5 (+ p&p). If you have no other roadway, it’s worth getting this version of the level crossing because it includes ramps so road play can move onto the carpet if prefered but then there’s the option to add roadway in the future (and it’s the same price as the railway level crossing).

I will definitely buy more Bigjigs roadway, in fact I plan to get the Zebra Crossing Set next. Not only does it look fun to add to the girls’ existing pieces but I can sneak some roadsense education in whilst they’re playing. Even without any other items of roadway this looks like a great set to talk through road crossing scenarios with small children.

Quadrilla Wooden Marble Run Melody Basic Set

[Written: April 2011]

This isn’t just for children, every house should have this set 🙂 I recommend going to YouTube, typing in “Quadrilla melody basic set” and watching the first video that comes up (2min34sec) All of the runs in that clip are made with this one set.

I got this for my eldest daughter’s 4th birthday and she is definitely at the lowest end of the age range for this. When we first opened the box and tried to follow the instructions I have to admit I was a little lost and it seemed too easy to knock down but it was very easy to get the hang of, is very stable when put together properly and the chunky wooden pieces mean that it is possible for even a younger child to start putting tracks together. I think for younger children like mine, the musical tones are needed although I would think older children (and adults) would get hours of fun out of any Quadrilla sets. Watching the marbles is surprisingly therapeutic.

My 21 month old also loves this and under VERY careful supervision it is fine with younger children. One of her favourite toys is a click-clack track and this is an extension of that idea (with so much more fun) so she loves putting the marbles in and watching and listening. However, definitely be careful with younger children in the house – the wooden pieces are generally okay (there are a couple of small pieces but most are a good size) but the marbles are apparently very tempting to suck and tantrums ensue when they’re put out of reach!

All the blocks are colour coded and each coloured block has a different purpose so after a few plays, it’s easy to grab the pieces you need. There are enough pieces in this set to make many different runs (unlike some “starter” sets), and picture based instructions to allow play to start as soon as the box is first opened. The 5 musical tones are actual notes (it’s possible to get extension sets with a full octave) so this is a great extendable present for anyone musical too (search “Quadrilla old Mc Donald” on YouTube!). The quality of the pieces is very high, this is a product made to be enjoyed for a long time.

Definitely a favourite for everyone in my house, and a contender for favoured plaything. If I could, I think I’d give this 6 stars out of 5!

Rubbabu Magnetic Alphabet

[Written: January 2011]

Rubbabu toys are a sensory experience, they are “squishy” but hard wearing, very playable and also cuddle-able. We have the upper case magnetic alphabet letters from Rubabbu, but this review probably covers the lower case letters and numbers as well.

Small children learn with all of their senses and I believe that it’s good to give them the tools to experience, experiment and discover in order to cement their understanding. Which is one of the reasons I love these letters – they are a touchy-feely experience of the shape of letters. They’re big enough to be hugged by small children, and you do just want to hug them. They can be sorted by colours (vowels are all the same colour), put in alphabetical order, used to make small words (although this is just one alphabet so you’re limited to what you can spell with them) but aside from all that, they are fun! They’re attractive so will be pulled off the shelf and played with in all sorts of ways whilst surreptitiously cementing the alphabet shapes into your child’s mind (you can add in the sounds if you get your child’s attention!)

These are magnetic, but we have them in a tub in the play area rather than on a magnetic surface (the fridge is covered with artwork held on by small plastic magnetic letters and numbers so there’s no room for these) They are very eye-catching on white goods in the kitchen as well though, and are a lot harder to lose compared to small plastic letters. The colours are vibrant and just cry out to be played with.

My daughters are 19 months and almost four years old. The 19 month old does try to chew these but she does that with everything 😉 My older daughter got these for her 2nd birthday and has played with them in many different ways, now recognising the letters.

BigJigs Colour Puzzle Set 1

[Written: September 2010]

There are three other sets in this series – another colours set and two shapes sets. “Colour Set 1” is the set that we have, but it’s a matter of preference as to which of them to get. This review applies to any of them – look at the pictures of the puzzles to decide which one you prefer.

The four puzzles come in one box, which is the only problem with them when first introducing them to very young children (it’s the case with many puzzle sets though) but each puzzle can be easily separated into an A4 ziploc bag and a picture of the individual puzzles added to each bag if wanted.

These puzzles are made from lovely chunky wooden pieces so they’re easy to handle, stay together once connected and give a great sensory experience to hold.

The nine pieces give experience of “proper” jigsaw puzzles with “edge” pieces and a “middle” piece. Each puzzle in this set shows nine images in one colour, giving vocabulary building opportunities and reinforcing colour awareness. As a child gets more familiar with the puzzles, they can be presented four at a time in the original box so the child has to match the colours up before being able to complete the puzzles.

Nine pieces are a nice bridge between the 2, 4 or 6 piece “baby” puzzles before attempting 12+ pieces. I know some 2-3 year olds who can do 20+ piece puzzles but my almost-four year old has never been that interested in jigsaws so this size puzzle is perfect to still keep her interest, reduce her frustration but give more challenge than “baby” puzzles.

These puzzle sets would also be good to make party bags for toddlers – put the pieces for one puzzle in a small canvas (or felt or organza etc) bag, add a laminated picture of the finished puzzle tied with ribbon as a name tag.

BigJigs Shape Matching Board

[Written: September 2009]

I would recommend this as the one “must-have” toy from a few months old, probably up to primary school. I have 2 daughters, 2.5 years and 3 months.

The eldest has been playing with this since she was 5 months old – to start with playing consisted of knocking all the pieces out and throwing them around but now she can do the puzzle. I’m now introducing it to my youngest, who has just realised she can control her hands and loves the bright colours.

This is an extremely versatile toy. The bright colours on a black background make it attractive to look at for babies from a young age. The pieces are chunky and bright, perfect for little hands to pick up. It encourages hand-eye co-ordination, colour recognition and shape matching. There are so many games that can be played – putting the smaller pieces in the black shapes, having one circle and shape to practice fine motor skills, giving the child three of the outer circles and one shape so they can work out where the shape fits, putting all the blocks of one colour together, building towers, pretending the blocks are food and the tray is a plate… This is the one toy to take on holiday with a baby or toddler!

It’s a great New Baby, Christening, 1st Christmas or 1st Birthday gift. It’s compact, durable, attractive and very good value for money.